Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, by Steve Martin

I was introduced to stand-up comedy by finding my father’s old LPs of the Smothers Brothers and Bill Cosby. I wore out a needle (there is a reference that won’t be around for another generation!) listening to these; the memory of Cosby’s plaintive wail, “But Dad, I’m Jesus Christ!” still brings a smile to my face after all these years. Steve Martin was the first comedian that I found on my own when I bought A Wild and Crazy Guy, admittedly because I liked King Tut. I discovered Saturday Night Live not long afterwards and that cemented Martin’s spot as one of my favorite comics. When his autobiography was suggested as the book of choice for my book club I was quite pleased.

Martin is an excellent writer. He admirably conveys both the difficulty of performing and the exhilaration one feels when it goes well. The stories he tells of his shows before he was a superstar are amazing; I would have loved to be in the audience when he took everyone outside the nightclub in which he was performing, hailed a cab, and then left to end his act. (This was a huge hit, although the club owner made sure the audience had all paid their tabs before Martin tried it again the next night!) It isn’t all about the comedy, however; he touches on his weak familial relationships and occasionally waxes philosophical as well. “All entertainment is or is about to become old-fashioned” is one of the lines that struck me as fairly insightful; clearly it was important to Martin as well looking at how he continually reinvents himself: magician, comedian, actor, writer, and producer to name a few successful careers he has tried. The closest I’ve ever been to Martin is once seeing his art collection on display at the Bellagio in Vegas; this book paints a much more complete picture of him.

First Sentence:
I did stand-up comedy for eighteen years.

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