Book review: A grab-bag of witticisms

Published: July 20, 2011

A decent share of amusing lines.

Book: This Is a Book

Author: Demetri Martin

Genre: Humour

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (2011)

Excerpt:

“Who am I? That is a simple question, yet it is one without a simple answer. I am many things — and I am one thing. But I am not a thing that is just lying around somewhere, like a pen, or a toaster, or a housewife. That is for sure. I am much more than that. I am a living, breathing thing, a thing that can draw with a pen and toast with a toaster and chat with a housewife, who is sitting on a couch eating toast. And still, I am much more.

I am a man.

And I am a former baby and a future skeleton, and I am a distant future pile of dust. I am also a Gemini, who is on the cusp.

I am “brother” and I am “son” and I am “father” (but just according to one person, who does not have any proof but still won’t seem to let it go). Either way, I am moving very soon and not letting her know about it. I am asking you to keep that between us.”

After serving as the ‘Senior Youth Correspondent’ on The Daily Show, Demetri Martin has gone on to star in his own Comedy Central series called “Important Things With Demetri Martin”, and appeared in various movies, including the lead role in the 2009 film Taking Woodstock. He has done stand-up, released comedy albums, and has now transformed his quirky style and wry humour into the shape of a book. Using the same comedic styling that he has employed in his performances, the comedian’s first book offers a variety of unrelated pieces that see the writer put an interesting spin on an assortment of ideas.

Titled This Is a Book, the tome serves as a grab-bag of one-liners, epigrams, drawings, charts and graphs, palindromes, and short humorous pieces. There is much on offer here on a variety of different topics. For instance, Ebenezer Scrooge gets a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future Perfect in a deleted scene from ‘A Christmas Carol’ (“I am here, Ebenezer Scrooge, to show you what shall have happened to you on a Christmas that will have passed at some point in the future.”); a person describes his many super powers in ‘My Powers’ (“I am immune to poison, unless I ingest it”), and “the guy who was raised by the guy who was raised by wolves” airs his frustrations in ‘Dad’ (“Dad hated fairy tales. If you even mentioned one to him, he’d launch into one of his long, self-righteous speeches about wolf stereotyping and the damage done to the wolf community by the “prey-biased fairy-tale media.””).

The writer also presents some suggestions for updating old flags (“The Olympic Flag: A white flag that has the words “Nice try, Finland” printed across the middle of it.”), offers some zingers (“Coffee Shop — Me: (paying at register, looking at jar that says “Tips” and then knocking it over) Yeah, I guess it does.”), and shares some tongue-in-cheek statistics (“100 per cent of the people who give 110 per cent do not understand math.”).

While some ideas work better than others, the book is generally amusing, making use of smart observations, taking an offbeat look at situations, and playing with linguistics. That said, Demetri’s humour isn’t for everyone; some find his routines amusing, while others simply don’t. So if you’ve seen his performances and find his style grating, then it is very unlikely that the book will generate a different result for you. Even if you think  Demetri is funny but that his humour should only be taken in small doses, then This Is a Book might still work for you, as each piece in this book is generally short and therefore a quick read; and if you’re a fan, then chances are that you won’t be disappointed.

Overall This Is a Book is a whimsical collection of clever musings that take a dig at everything from a cappella groups to healthy lifestyles. While on the whole it isn’t exactly an indispensable masterpiece, it is very readable, is especially suitable for sporadic reading, and is likely to please readers who enjoy creative humour.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2011.

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