Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Steve Martin’s autobiography is a charming, witty, humorous, and at times sobering tale of his life as a stand up comedian, including everything that led up to that point. It starts with his family, when he was a boy in Southern California. He had very poor relations with his father, which obviously impacted him, and not much better relations with his mother and sister. He started working at Disneyland when he was 10, eventually moving into the magic store to sell its wares while he learned how to be a magician. Later, he moved to a theater at Knott’s Berry Farm, played the banjo, did bits of stand up and magic, recited poetry, and did a little bit of everything. I was happy to recall that he enrolled at one of my alma maters — Long Beach State (or as it’s now known, California State University Long Beach), where he majored in philosophy. He was also trying out at places to do magic and stand up. He took his studies seriously, but eventually got a gig up in LA, so he transferred to UCLA (another school I also attended) and found it to be much harder than Long Beach. LOL! Eventually, he was traveling around picking up gigs — this was in the mid-60s — and found some up in San Francisco. When we think of Steve Martin, we often think of his records and the crowds he packed in, but we don’t often realize he paid his dues for 10 years, traveling the stand up circuit around the country, playing to crowds of three and four at a time, making next to nothing. He decided, at some point, that he would start making jokes without punchlines, and while at first, audiences didn’t quite get it, eventually he started winning them over with his wackiness. He landed a job as a writer for the Smothers Brothers and eventually got on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He writes he didn’t really get recognized until he had been on that show 16 times. I think he’s being truthful is writing that. When SNL came out, Martin was both flabbergasted and elated, because he had thought he was the only one in the country doing “new comedy,” but here was an entire group of talented people he could relate to. He was soon asked to host, and went on to host numerous times. Finally, his manager got a record out, and it sold a million and a half albums. He started to get the recognition he had sought for so long. By the early 80s, he was playing to crowds of 45,000! It was crazy. And it got to him. He was booked for two years straight, and the life on the road — alone — really got to him. So he got out, in 1981. Left stand up for acting, and never looked back — until this book. Eventually, he reconciled to a degree with his family, shortly before his parents died, and that was nice to read about. Martin doesn’t go into great detail about his personal relationships, but does mention a few, as well as some of his relations with other performers. (Did you know Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks opened for him?) This is an introspective book that tells of a hard climb up the ladder to comedic success, and leaving it for the unknown with no regrets. It’s a quick read; I read it in one day. It’s very entertaining and very interesting and I certainly recommend this, not only for fans of Steve Martin, but for anyone.