Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
A Book by Steve Martin
First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2008, Volume 15, #2
Written by Matt Parish
Mon February 18, 2008, 04:00 PM CST
Twenty-seven years ago, Steve Martin faced his final curtain and bowed out of performing stand-up comedy. He had become exhausted from the grueling and demanding nature of the insane level of fame he had established for himself as well as by the loneliness of life on the road. As a result, he abruptly ended this phase of his career. Wanting more of a "social" existence, Martin immersed himself in movies, and he began writing books. In the process, he became, as he calls it, "famous just right."
Born Standing Up: A Comicís Life, Martinís latest book, is a wonderfully thorough love letter to his former profession. It also serves as the diary of a man who unwittingly was changing the very nature and future of comedy. This very personal retrospective not only covers how Martin came to hone and perfect his stage act, but it also documents the flopping, riffing, and eventual reconciliation that he had with his most disparaging heckler: his own father.
Martin began his career in "show biz" by selling guidebooks at the newly opened Disneyland, and subsequently, he became a frequent visitor and then an employee of Merlinís Magic Shop. This enabled him to "place my small hand on Opportunityís doorknob," and it introduced him to the wonders of an assortment of vaudeville-type performers, including card tricksters and balloon animal makers. He drew subconscious inspiration from all of them. "Well Excuse Me for Living!" ó an exclamation used frequently by Irene, a fellow employee at the Tiki Tropical Imports Shop ó eventually morphed into one of Martinís more iconic catch phrases: "Exuuuuuuuuuse Me!" In a similar fashion, a postcard that showed the outlines of four feet, two pointing up and two pointing down, as well as the saying "Happy Feet" became one of his favorite stand-up gags, during which he would shout, "Uh- oh, Iíve got Happy Feet!" as he danced spastically around the stage.
These random encounters helped to form and forge what would become the act for the largest concert draw in the history of stand-up comedy. It wasnít all coincidences and good-natured pilfering, however, that made Martinís act so successful. It was his almost fanatical attention to detail and his craft that made the hardest of his visual gags seem random and effortless. Logic classes at Long Beach State College introduced him to the wonderful world of Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland. Carroll considered himself a "logician," and his word-game writings helped and inspired Martin to further develop his nonsensical style of comedy. In Born Standing Up: A Comicís Life, Martin details these experiences, and so much more, in a heartbreakingly funny way as he describes his most unexpected and hilarious encounters with famous and soon-to-be elevated celebrities.
Borrowing an off-the-cuff joke from his then-roommate and fellow comedian Gary Mule Deer, Martin impressed Tommy Smothers enough to land a job as a staff contributor for The Smothers Brothers Show. This further allowed him to develop his comedic skills alongside some of the best comedy writers of the era. Yet, stand-up was Martinís true calling, and soon he was out on the lonely road again, testing and writing new material until finally the audiences caught up with him. Fueled by daytime talk show appearances and a few Tonight Show successes, his gigs started to get bigger and bigger, until they ultimately became ridiculously huge. All the finite nuances and subtle gestures that he had been crafting carefully for years suddenly were reduced in value as he became "a white dot in a basketball arena," a reference to the image of his trademark suit as it was juxtaposed against the gigantic halls that his rabid fans now were filling.
Martin felt he had a responsibility to repeat favorite routines, so as not to disappoint his legions of followers. Nevertheless, he began to receive hurtful reviews from the press, which called him "lazy." This, however, couldnít have been further from the truth. Just like The Beatles did, when personal appearances became impossible, Martin started to feel like, "an overly plumed bird, whose next evolutionary step was extinction." He walked away at the height of it all, and he never once looked back until now.
Born Standing Up: A Comicís Life is a remarkably personal book, and the way Martin has crafted his memories for the reader to experience is truly extraordinary. You can smell the sawdust; you can taste the tears of emotional arbitration. Most important of all, though, you can feel, in Martinís exhale, a sincere appreciation for his past and for how these unique experiences brought him to where he is today.
Of Further Interest...
Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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