Steve Martin - Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life

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Supernova

Feb 21, 2009
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Fascinating look at the rise of a comedy superstar.

Cons:Nothing comes to mind.

The Bottom Line: You'll fly through this description of Steve Martin became, for a time, the biggest act in comedy -- much to his own amazement.


Those of a certain age will remember just how big Steve Martin was in the late 1970's.

And they'll probably agree with this statement: No comedian has ever been bigger.

Most comics played clubs, or at best theaters holding a couple of thousand people. They were happy if they did the odd television appearance or landed jobs for weeks at a time in Las Vegas.

Steve Martin filled hockey rinks. His records sold millions of copies. Those of a certain generation not only could recite his catch phrases (and did), but could recite whole sections of his act.

Now Martin looks back on his standup career, with an insightful memoir, "Born Standing Up." As he puts it, looking back on those years was more fun than he realized.

Every entertainer is an overnight success that took several years to succeed, of course, and Martin was no exception. He started out in "show business" selling programs outside of Disneyland as a child.

From there it was on to Knott's Berry Farm, where Martin slowly discovered that he was interested in performing in front of people. But as what? He learned magic, learned the banjo, learned how to tell a joke. That's an odd combination. Somehow, Martin picked up jobs along the way while he was attending college or working odd jobs. He picked up some writing jobs for the Smothers Brothers and Sonny and Cher, and then went into performing full time.

What's striking is how slowly Martin's act evolved. You never get the sense that Martin had a fully formed idea of what he was doing and where he was going. But he got there. After years of practice, Martin was ready to cash in when he realized he was good. And a few appearances on some relatively new show called "Saturday Night Live" didn't hurt either.

Once Martin hit the mountaintop, he knew there was no place to go in terms of standup, so he quit cold turkey. Movies and writing beckoned -- a little less celebrity was fine at that point.

Martin tells his story with great skill. He has plenty of insights into how his family relationships affected his life and his career choices. Martin is generous with praise for others and tough on himself at times.

Surprisingly, there are fewer laughs here than you might expect. Most of them come in the final third in the book, when Martin explains how some of his bits came to life. Remember "Exxxxccuse Me!"? It's an almost spur-of-the moment joke in a theater that worked. Reading this is almost like reading a songwriter's story about how songs came to be.

'Born Standing Up" is a little short -- its 207 pages need only a day to read. It's obvious that 20-somethings probably won't be as interested in this one as their parents. But if you want to see what all the fuss was about back then, as well as how this comedy star came to be, Martin's book will more than satisfy you.


Recommend this product? Yes


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