Martin’s act was founded on surrealism and non sequiturs, bits that zagged where every other comic had zigged. He counted on the audience knowing entertainment conventions; the joke was how those conventions were being subverted. “My act, having begun three years earlier as a conventional attempt to enter regular show business, was becoming a parody of comedy,” he wrote of his creative evolution. “I was an entertainer who was playing an entertainer, a not so good one.”
His comedy was dubbed “anti-humor” for the way he toyed with traditional forms of jokes and entertainment; Martin would play similar games in his movies and theater work. It can be difficult to appreciate how revolutionary this was at the time, given how his sophisticated relationship toward entertainment has since taken hold in pop culture. While conceptual comedy has largely vanished from major stages, you can see Martin’s influence in almost every notable comedy of the past 30 years. If Louis CK doesn’t owe him a debt, Louie does.