Demetri Martin and Special Guests at Just for Laughs | Live review + photos
If only more of the world knew who Demetri Martin was. Perhaps then there wouldn't have been a smattering of empty seats at the Chicago Theatre for last night's dream-team "alt comedy" show featuring Martin along with Kumail Nanjiani, David O'Doherty, Hannibal Buress, Kristen Schaal and Paul F. Tompkins.
Martin hosted, and probably clocked in the most stage time with his banter between comics. The man behind Comedy Central's now defunct Important Things with Demetri Martin, enjoys playing around with words and finding the absurd in the everyday. He described salt and pepper at restaurants as a chance for diners to correct the chef. "Nice try asshole," he said as he mimed adding a dash of each to his plate. He pondered important questions like, "I wonder when the first Civil War reenactment was," and "I wonder how long it took to make the first clock?" He took jabs at late comers. "I love that all the late people are in the front row. That's some cocky shit." He discussed how gay boxing is, "It's two guys fighting over a belt, in their underwear," and noted other extreme sports. "I never went bungee jumping. The closest I ever came was being born."
I last saw former Chicagoan and first comic Nanjiani at an open mic in Los Angeles last summer that was co-created by Maria Bamford. That LA show featured was a lot of professional comics testing out their most experimental shit and Nanjiani killed hard. Not so last night. His set was pleasing, but slight. He discussed monkeys at Pakistani birthday parties, being called Kumar by a racist in Orange County and the cinematic masterpiece Freddy vs. Jason (one of his more amusing tangents).
I'm not too familiar with David O'Doherty, an Irish musical comedian who hopped the pond for what was essentially a ten-minute set. He wore a cape which he never explained and waxed funny about being 35, "Age is nothing but a number, but it's also an accurate barometer of how old you are," and offered up funny quips about racists DVD players, facebook status updates and the difficulty of pronouncing the word hyperbole.
Former SNL and 30 Rock writer (and Chicago native) Buress was in fine form as always. I would argue that he's becoming one of the most formidable joke-tellers in the country. I've seen him three or four times in the last few years and he's killed every time. Buress talked about getting pulled over going 80 in Indiana, noting that the car could go speeds up to 160. "You should be lucky I was going only 80." He also had harsh and hilarious words for a recent encounter with former President Jimmy Carter. "He doesn't need three secret service agents. Why don't we let time kill Jimmy Carter." His most poignant bit involved a racial slur at a grocery store while buying Mott's apple juice. It was simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious, but mostly his jokes were unadulterated silliness. "I never put a napkin on my lap because I believe in myself."
"I'm thrilled to keep this mother fucking giggle coaster going," shouted chirpy-voiced New York comic Kristen Schaal, one of the few bigger-name female comics appearing at this year's fest. I love Schaal. She's great at selling the nuttiest ideas and really commits to her material. "I want to find Amelia Earhart," she said. "Everyday that goes by I worry for her," and in a swipe at Eve Ensler: "I'm going to do two monologues, one regular, one vaginal." Actually, it was a taint-ologue that Schaal ended up delivering as her final bit. An ode to the skin between her "two black holes," it was an epic and satisfying end to her set.
"I'm just a simple country comedian," quipped Paul F. Tompkins, the final comedian of the night. Tompkins spent about half of his short set bantering with the crowd, including an audience member who kept taunting him for the abundance of bottled water he had on stage. The ornate interior of the Chicago Theatre reminded him of John Wilkes Booth. "He was a good actor," said Tompkins. "I like to look past the politics." But Tompkins is a storyteller and he regaled us with a story that he first told in Chicago at the Beat Kitchen in 2010 about working at a hat store called Hats in the Belfry. The story rests largely on the idiots who would come to the store to try on hats, including several customers who would ask to try on the store's crown but would call it a "king hat." And will you be buying this king hat with your "value papers," and leaving through the "go away hole?," Tompkins asked. Hilarious.