Born Standing Up by Steve Martin: A-

From the inside flap:
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.”

Having heard that Steve Martin is somewhat of a difficult person, I had some trepidations going into this book. I really needn’t have worried. This memoir of his stand-up years is affectionate above all else, with liberal sprinklings of self-mockery scattered throughout.

There are some personal details in the book, about his family or certain romantic milestones (never sordid), but the majority of the book deals with the influences on and refinement of his stand-up act. I thought he did a really great job in chronicling its evolution from the early days, when it was just magic tricks cobbled together with one-liners gleaned from various sources, through the middle period, by which time he wrote all his own material and had completely eschewed the traditional “jokes must have punchlines” approach, until its final days, where the ability to experiment was lost and everything felt like it was on automatic pilot.

It probably wouldn’t even be necessary to be a fan of his stand-up act to find this description of the process fascinating. And, for what it’s worth, if I had experienced some of the instances where he was treated more like a product than a person, I’d probably be rather difficult myself.

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  1. I was considering reading this. I’ve only seen Steve Martin material a handful of times and don’t actually know that much about him, but I’ve somehow irrationally linked this book to Gene Wilder’s autobiography even though the two have nothing to do with one another. I’m kind of expecting it to be a little funny and somewhat touching in the same way Wilder’s was, even though I’ve got no reason to think this.

  2. Y’know, I really should read Gene Wilder’s.

    Interestingly, the next SNL after Gilda died was either hosted by Steve Martin or he made a special appearance at the beginning to introduce a tribute clip. It was a completely wordless sketch where he and Gilda spied each other across a room and did a 5-minute dance routine all across the set and everything. It was great.

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