Saturday, September 14, 2013

Book review: "Born Standing Up" by Steve Martin

As a teenager in the 1970s, I was among the legions swept up in the Steve Martin craze. I listened to his albums repeatedly, memorizing much of the humor and entertaining (well, sort of) my classmates with adaptations of Steve Martin comedy routines. When Martin sang "King Tut" on Saturday Night Live, my friends and I sat in my family's living room laughing heartily.

To us, Martin's comedy was a revelation: It was unpredictable, unconventional and, well, wild and crazy. It was irresistible.

What I didn't realize until reading this book is how much careful, even meticulous, preparation went into Martin's act. "Born Standing Up" is a fascinating look at how Martin spent years delicately manicuring his on-stage zaniness.

At age 15, Martin got his start working in a Disneyland magic shop, developing showmanship skills while performing tricks up to eight hours a day. Later, he gradually shifted into comedy, first at the Birdcage Theater at Knott's Berry Farm, and then on his own as a stand-up performer.

Martin's early career was filled with plenty of ups and downs as he continually tried to win the laughter of audiences. He was often broke, but showed a remarkable persistence. Many people would have given up and found a real job, but somehow Martin knew that comedy was his calling.

There is an undercurrent of melancholy to the book, fueled by his cool relations with his family, by the insecurity of his profession and also by the fact that while Martin had many acquaintances, he seemed to have few close friends. Even once he hit success, he was nagged by doubts that it would last, and then troubled by the loss of privacy brought on by celebrity. Still, he ultimately admits to enjoying many of the perks of wealth and fame.

Martin is a wonderful writer he seems to have a knack for choosing just the right details to include and "Born Standing Up" is a pleasure to read.


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