Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life

Steve Martin’s style of standup comedy has always been somewhat of an acquired taste. One eventually got it, or one did not, and I admit that I was one of those who did not. I figured out quickly enough what Martin was trying to do; that was not the issue. It was simply that his style of standup silliness more bored than entertained me. His stage act had a limited shelf life for most people, meaning that its popularity would peak and begin to decline relatively quickly - something that Martin, in fact, addresses directly in Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life.

Hearing Martin explain in great detail how he came up with his material, and how difficult it was for him to write enough of it to fill even a twenty-minute performance, did not make the gags any funnier to me. Born Standing Up did, however, make me better appreciate Martin’s comic vision and how hard he worked to find his eventual success. Steve Martin beat the odds to become one of the funniest men in Hollywood and this memoir, beginning with his childhood and ending at the point he gave up standup for good for a movie career, tells exactly how he did that.

Steve Martin was born in Texas but moved to California when his aspiring-actor father moved the family there. Just a few years later, Disneyland would open within two miles of the Martin home and ten-year-old Steve would become one of Mr. Disney’s earliest employees. He would spend several years working in the theme park, most importantly in the magic shop where he developed his love for magic and the magic act he would eventually use to break into “show business.”

In Born Standing Up, Steve Martin takes a serious look at how he became the Hollywood star he is today. He details the dysfunctional relationship he had with his father, his days as a semi-professional magician, his experiences as a young television comedy writer, his move to standup, his relationship with Saturday Night Live, and finally, his transition into movies. Along the way, he reminisces about old friends, including high school buddies who founded the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and some of the women he was involved with during those years – including his chaste and short-lived pursuit of Linda Ronstadt.

Martin reads the audio version of Born Standing Up himself, but his reading is surprisingly dispassionate and dry at times. He also provides several short banjo interludes as breaks between distinct sections of the book. This one will appeal especially to Steve Martin fans and “nuts and bolts” comedy fans interested in how Martin’s material developed over the years.

Rated at: 3.0


  1. no comedian ever matched Laurel and Hardy and after that, I cannot really tell you any so called funny men I have seen. Most use profanity and sexual innuendos and I never laughed at Steve Martin either and obviously Hollywood is filled with who you know people.

  2. Mark, I like the sharp, intellectual humor that was so popular a couple of decades ago. No one seems to be doing much of that anymore and that;s a shame.

    I do enjoy Steve Martin's later movies; he seems to have mellowed a bit in the last few years. I just don't enjoy his slapstick and absurdity but he doesn't go for that anymore. I'm not sure it would work these days anyway.