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Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  54,368 Ratings  ·  3,739 Reviews
In the midseventies, Steve Martin exploded onto the comedy scene. By 1978 he was the biggest concert draw in the history of stand-up. In 1981 he quit forever. This book is, in his own words, the story of "why I did stand-up and why I walked away."

Emmy and Grammy Award winner, author of the acclaimed New York Times bestsellers Shopgirl and The Pleasure of My Company, and a
Hardcover, 207 pages
Published November 20th 2007 by Scribner
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The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankThe Glass Castle by Jeannette WallsNight by Elie WieselAngela's Ashes by Frank McCourtEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Best Memoir / Biography / Autobiography
91st out of 3,306 books — 3,780 voters
The Glass Castle by Jeannette WallsAngela's Ashes by Frank McCourtThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankNight by Elie WieselEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
Favorite memoirs/autobiographies
29th out of 1,249 books — 1,166 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jul 09, 2015 Diane rated it really liked it
This is a very enjoyable read. I like Steve Martin's writing, especially his novels Shopgirl and The Pleasure of My Company, and this memoir is a good behind-the-scenes look at how he came to craft his hyper-silly comedy routine of the 1960s and '70s.

I was interested to learn how much philosophy Steve had studied and how he evolved his brand of comedy. Rather than cue the audience for a punchline, he got rid of the punchline altogether and went on with another bit, waiting for the audience to c
Jan 04, 2008 J.P. rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: comedy fans, biography fans
I usually avoid these types of books like the Plague. Celebrity autobiographies---ego unchained, coupled with a "Then I went here, then I did this, then I went there and did that. . ." boring-ass format. Nine times out of ten, books like these put me to sleep.

Not so, Steve Martin's BORN STANDING UP. First of all, it's more focused than most celeb tell-alls. It centers around Martin's life leading up to and including his career as a standup comedian, not as an actor/filmmaker. So "Three Amigos" f
Jason Koivu
Mar 12, 2015 Jason Koivu rated it really liked it
Shelves: comedy, humor
"I was born a poor black child," I shouted repeatedly as a very little boy on our family trip down South. I'd heard Steve Martin say it in a movie that I didn't understand, but I did understand that it was an absurd thing to say, and that was enough for me! It was too much for my super white New England parents on that trip down through the Carolinas, Georgia, etc.

At that young age and for years after, Martin's humor resinated with me and I never fully grasped why until reading his autobio, Born
Jan 03, 2008 Patrick rated it really liked it
If, before I read this, someone were to tell me that I would only laugh one time in the whole book, I would be like, “No way,” and he would be like, “Seriously, at one point a bird craps on Steve Martin’s head and that's literally the only time you’ll laugh in the whole book,” and I would be like, “Come on, really?” and he would be like, “Well, think about it: think about his material during this period and try to imagine how it would translate onto the page, and then think about where he is now ...more
Jul 12, 2012 Flannery rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves Steve Martin, memoirs, or author-narrated audiobooks
I loved this book so much because it was everything I subconsciously wanted it to be and nothing that I expected it to be. I thought it would be mostly about Martin's career as a primarily comedic actor and it basically ends at the onset of his film career. I thought it would be hilarious and filled with jokes and I think I actually laughed out loud about five times. And a part of me harbored some sort of belief that every person who saw Steve Martin do stand up comedy must have known they were ...more
Jason Pettus
Jul 18, 2008 Jason Pettus rated it really liked it
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

I hope this isn't too embarrassing a thing to admit, but when I was a kid I used to have Steve Martin's old comedy albums literally memorized; and I mean, literally, back in the late '70s and early '80s when he was at his commercial height, back when I was ten, eleven, twelve years old, I could litera
Joe Valdez
Oct 01, 2014 Joe Valdez rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs
By 1978, Steve Martin was the biggest selling act in the history of standup comedy. The idea that you could sell out the Universal Amphitheatre in L.A. with fans who wanted to hear your comedy was unheard of, kind of like Martin's act itself, which might be the very definition of "you-had-to-be-there". Plenty wanted to be, but by 1981, Martin left standup and never looked back. Until this memoir, that is, a crisp, clear shoot through the rapids of Martin's life from 1955 to 1980.

I was being book
Colleen Venable
Jan 20, 2008 Colleen Venable rated it it was amazing
I count my idols on one hand. When I was 18 I took a cross country road trip with my father during which we listened to Martin's LET'S GET SMALL on repeat for the entire length of New Mexico. The trip confirmed a few beliefs, yes my father was the greatest man on the planet, and yes Steve Martin was a close second. Martin's stand-up has still never been rivaled, a perfect blend of absurd with a straight face, as if his goal was to make the joke fly over the audience's heads. Many times there wer ...more
Aug 01, 2009 Lena rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, humor
I was just a kid when Steve Martin became Steve Martin, the biggest touring comic of all time. His absurdist brand of anti-humor did wonders to enliven my dull suburban childhood and I thought his Cruel Shoes essay, "How to Fold Soup," was one of the most brilliant things I'd ever seen. Born Standing Up is the story of how Steve Martin found his way into my suburban living room.

Martin writes with thoughtfulness and clarity about the path he followed from his first job in a Disneyland magic shop
Apr 24, 2016 Licha rated it liked it
Shelves: comedy, memoir
This ended up getting three stars because you can't help but like Steve Martin. He's such a likable guy. I'm not familiar with his stand-up comedy (not sure if I should be anyway, age-wise), but I am somewhat familiar with his movies. (Bowfinger and Roxanne being two of my favorites).

So I was a little disappointed that this book was a little boring for me as he explained how comedy and his act had changed throughout the years. I'm sure a lot of the jokes were going to fall flat in the book since
Mar 24, 2008 Trebro rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books
I am a huge fan of Steve Martin, to the point that even though I was probably a bit too young for it, Mom took me to see Roxanne in the theater. His SNL work and standup and early movies were a big part of forming the peculiar sense of humour that I have today.

So next time *I* am laughing hysterically while the rest of the room looks on in silence, remember kids, it's all Mr. Martin's fault.

This book, which I listed to as read by the author (I think it would have been funny to have it started to
May 23, 2008 Michelle rated it liked it
Recommends it for: People interested in comedy or the history of comedy
Shelves: non-fiction
I enjoyed reading Steve Martin's memoir of his years in stand-up comedy. His job handing out guide books in Disney Land as a pre-teen led him to a love of magic, then to a love of performing on stage. I loved the hard work and thought he put into his act; honing it after years of trial and error.

I think so many people today break into "the business" because of nepotism, but Martin did it by persevering. I first knew of him as the guy in the movie The Jerk, but he was also a writer for The Smoth
Aug 04, 2008 Kara rated it did not like it
Wow. Big disappointment. I was hoping for some insight into this this man who was so hilarious in the 70s, yet disappeared to later reemerge as a family-friendly "light" comic actor. But this is an impossibility due to the fact that Martin seems to have little insight into himself.

His book reads like a Filofax diary of who and where and what. What's missing is any genuine humanity or emotion. Is he married today? Has kids? Who knows because it's not addressed.

He also appears to have less emotio
May 04, 2008 Patrick rated it liked it
Shelves: 2008
I'm not the biggest Steve Martin fan, but I watched "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" a few months ago and my brother gave me his book "Cruel Shoes" in college, so I was interested to read his take on his stand-up years, which were a kind of anti-comedy that employed the banjo and purposely bad magic tricks. The book is only 200 pages, so it's concise and interesting thoughout. My favorite part was when he explained his theory of what he was trying to do:

"What if there were no punch lines? What if the
Mar 11, 2008 James rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone.
This probably gets an extra star for my undying love for Steve Martin.

When I was a kid, I had three heroes: Han Solo, Kermit the Frog, and Steve Martin. Two of them are fictional, so only one can tell his life story, and damn, he f'n did it. It's a story of perseverance, and how to persevere under what I would call whelming odds. Not overwhelming, but enough that you might see where he would want to pack it in. Sometimes.

I love his approach to this book. He doesn't really write too much about p
Austin Kleon
Jan 06, 2010 Austin Kleon rated it really liked it
A book that moved quick and didn’t bullshit. Great writing, very subtle and smart jokes.

My map of the book:

born standing up by steve martin
Aug 22, 2008 Sarah rated it it was amazing
I listened to this book on my iPod while driving around town running errands---I've been listening to a lot of memoirs this way, lately---and I thought it was just so good. Steve Martin reads it himself and it's really interesting to find out everything that went into the development of his standup act, and why he no longer does it. A great read.
Sarah Fay
Jan 31, 2012 Sarah Fay rated it it was amazing
Having read and enjoyed "An Object of Beauty", I remarked (naively) to a friend in the entertainment world that I was impressed Steve Martin could move from being a performer to such a well written author. Duh! Steve Martin actually began as a writer, first creating all of his own comedy material, then for years he was a TV writer (Smothers Brothers, Sonny & Cher), and of course, he wrote the screen plays for blockbuster movies, "The Jerk", "L.A. Story", etc. My friend, swiftly sent this bio ...more
Jan 04, 2008 CJ rated it liked it
Recommends it for: steve martin fans
Recommended to CJ by: Jillian
Shelves: 2008-books
I heard Steve Martin talk about this book a couple of weeks ago on NPR and he was brilliant. He's so low key about his celebrity it makes me want to sit and have a cup of coffee with him.

In Martin's own words this book is "a biography, because I am writing about someone I used to know." It chronicles his childhood entrance into show business and follows him all the way through playing stadiums in the 1980s.

What interested me most is his approach to doing stand up. I've often wondered what it's
Mike (the Paladin)
Mar 25, 2015 Mike (the Paladin) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
A while back I got Tim Conway's memoire, the audio. It was not only an interesting story it was filled with laughs. Since then I've "read/listened to" a few biography/memorie type books.

This is much more a bio than the Conway book. Here we will get a lot of the background story of what made "Steve Martain, Steve Martain". Moving from beginnings to the present we get the workings of his mind, what he hoped to achieve in his life. He talks about his insecurities and even his "process" (if it can b
Feb 26, 2016 Kiwi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed reading Steve Martin’s memoir of his early years, his sad family relationships, the stumbling first steps towards becoming a successful artist. This book reveals the bright and profound man that he is. 3.5 stars

Despite a lack of natural ability, I did have the one element necessary to all early creativity: naïveté, that fabulous quality that keeps you from knowing just how unsuited you are for what you are about to do.

Through the years, I have learned there is no harm in charging onese
Mar 31, 2015 Joe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: listened-to
Steve Martin knows a valuable truism that he uses to great effect with this book: Always leave them wanting more. This is an autobiography of extremely limited scope. Martin goes through his early life and the performance and comedic influences that shaped his life from banjo playin', to rope twirlin', to joke tellin'. He also mentions that he had to work hard to stop dropping the 'g' from words due to his regional accent.

I loved reading about his early years working at Disneyland. He also brief
Shellie (Layers of Thought)
Apr 08, 2009 Shellie (Layers of Thought) rated it liked it
Recommends it for: readers who like memoirs/autobiographies
Coming of age in the 1980's Steve Martin sits in my youthful consciousness as a stand out/up celebrity. I laughed at his movies and all my high school and community college friends loved him. I remember everyone imitating him in conversations and at parties in attempt to be funny or contemporary. So when trying to find a comedian to read about for an April fools day challenge I chose his memoir Born Standing Up. I expected the book to be funny - it wasn't. So if your looking for humor this is no ...more
Jan 09, 2015 Rebecca rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Patty!
for me, this book read just as if it were a one-sided, long conversation with the only thing forcing story progression being when steve would remember his original point and refocus on the story. he veered off on related tangents and then would jump back into the plot very quickly.

that sounds much more critical than it should. the man has done a lot in his lifetime and i'm sure it's hard to put all of that into a book cohesively. even thought it was a bit scattered, i would still recommend it.

May 27, 2008 Maggie rated it really liked it
I was born in 1978, a particularly good year for comedian Steve Martin. That was the year he won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album with Let's Get Small, the year he released "King Tut" on 45, the year he appeared in the movie Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, made so many appearances on SNL that he seemed more like a regular fixture than a guest host, and was basically as successful as any comedian can hope to be. But since I wasn't exactly cognizant in 1978, all this was lost on me. By the ti ...more
Feb 28, 2016 Dana rated it really liked it
It was interesting to read about Steve Martin's comedic journey, but I feel that because many of his jokes were visual, they didn't translate well to page. Despite that, I thought this was a good book, even if it did drag in the middle. I really liked the last two chapters in which he talked about his rising fame and then his decision to leave the stage behind. What I found most thought-provoking was when he mentioned his inability to judge how well others viewed his acts/remembered them years l ...more
Sep 12, 2008 David rated it it was amazing
The secrets of Steve Martin's (or any highly skilled professional's) success revealed! 90% perspiration, 9.9% desperation, 0.1% inspiration. Hard work. Years of poverty and hand-to-mouth living. Practice, practice, practice. Rejection. More hard work. More practice. More rejection. Then a lucky break and a breakthrough, and the rest is history. But for the break to produce success on the level Martin has had, he had to be prepared for it, and he was. This book tells us what being prepared means ...more
Aug 28, 2015 Gail rated it it was amazing
I'm a HUGE Steve Martin fan. Have been.... basically forever, but in recent years, the love's been taken up a notch reading two of his novels, Pleasure of My Company and An Object of Beauty. Now it's stratospheric after an audio reading of his comedic memoir Born Standing Up, which I highly, highly recommend—especially if you're an artist of any kind (Steve does the reading, which makes it five stars for me.) Did you know, in the mid-70s, he performed his stand-up at sold-out STADIUMS? It's incr ...more
Jun 11, 2012 Ben rated it really liked it
I often feel like I'm either not smart enough or not weird enough to really "get" Steve Martin. Nonetheless, while this didn't have as many laugh out loud moments for me as another recently read comedian's memoirs (I'm looking at you, Fey), it was fascinating to hear the long journey from Disneyland hawker to stadium comic. I read the entire book in one evening, if that says anything.
Troy Blackford
Feb 11, 2014 Troy Blackford rated it it was amazing
I don't know a lot about Steve Martin, and I'm not really that familiar with his work. But this short and blazingly honest retrospective of the dawn of his career and the period he spent doing stand-up comedy was incredibly interesting. He's a very accomplished writer, and the story he has to tell is worth hearing. A very engaging book.
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Stephen Glenn "Steve" Martin is an American actor, comedian, writer, playwright, producer, musician, and composer. He was raised in Southern California in a Baptist family, where his early influences were working at Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm and working magic and comedy acts at these and other smaller venues in the area. His ascent to fame picked up when he became a writer for the Smothers ...more
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“Thankfully, persistence is a great substitute for talent.” 472 likes
“Through the years, I have learned there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.” 144 likes
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