Florinda's Reviews > Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
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Mar 01, 12

Read in October, 2011

Despite the popular catchphrase associated with him during the peak of his stand-up comedy career in the late ‘70s, it turns out that Steve Martin never was much of a “a wild and crazy guy” after all. He actually took being funny very seriously, although until he wrote this book, he hadn’'t taken a serious look back at that part of his professional life since he stopped doing it on stage every night.

]As the book description says, Martin “exploded” onto the comedy scene, but he hardly came out of nowhere. He'’d been working toward it ever since he got his first job at Disneyland during junior high, collecting jokes and developing a magic act. By the time he started college (as a philosophy major, eventually), he'’d moved on to the company at the Birdcage Theatre at Knott’s Berry Farm. After a few years, he left the theme parks and most of the magic tricks behind, taking his increasingly offbeat comedy to bars and clubs by night while writing sketches for popular comedy/variety shows during the day, until he quit the TV work at 28 and gave himself till the age of 30 to make a living as a stand-up comic. He made the deadline.

I was in high school during Steve Martin'’s heyday...and I remember not finding him as funny I thought I was supposed to. After revisiting his comedy in Born Standing Up, I'’m pretty sure I was just too young to get it at the time, because the bits he quotes in the book cracked me up. I was fascinated to see how it developed, and now able to appreciate just how groundbreaking it was--surreal and subversive and non-topical, fearless, simultaneously brilliant and stupid. Martin approached it with professionalism and craftsmanship, evolving as an artist; in his arc, I saw some broad similarities to Patti Smith'’s artistic evolution as recounted in her memoir Just Kids, (although it'’s possible that I inferred those similarities partly because I listened to both books on audio, read by their authors).

By his own admission, Steve Martin is a very private person, and it makes sense that he’d focus a memoir on his work--and just a portion of it, at that--than on the more personal stuff of his life. But he did some pretty interesting and memorable work, which I appreciate more now than I did before I read this--and I got the sense that, in writing about it, he may have come to appreciate it better himself. I enjoyed his narration of the audio, and the transitional banjo music between chapters that he wrote and performed himself (a replacement for the photos in the print edition); while he may never be as famous for his work subsequent to stand-up, he’s been pretty successful as a bluegrass musician and author. It turns out he makes an excellent subject for a book, too.
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