Friday, August 8, 2008

The Ramblin' Guy Speaks, er, Writes

Earlier this week, I started reading Steve Martin's memoir Born Standing Up which looks at the development, rise, and eventual demise of his stand-up career. It's a relatively short book and amazingly quick reading and also a really fascinating look at how Martin toiled and fretted and crafted a pretty revolutionary stand up persona.

What I find particularly interesting in reading this book is Martin's philosophy of comedy and what he wanted his persona to be. I don't know that I've ever read such a thoughtful analysis of comedy and what makes something funny.

I can vaguely remember Steve Martin the Stand Up from when I was a kid. I remember the arrow through the head and the catchphrases. I had "King Tut" on 45 that I would listen to frequently, particularly after my parents drug me to see the exhibit when it hit Chicago. (I think I was only excited to go BECAUSE of the Steve Martin record). I can remember my mother hating him and saying how stupid she thought he was -- an opinion which makes sense as I read how Martin crafted a comedy that eschewed any sort of punchline and often mined humor from the lack of any discernible comedy. I remember, too, my older brother finding Martin absoluely hilarious, but he was a teenager and perhaps more in tune with the shifting trends in comedy. Perhaps his constant refrain of "Well, excuuuuuuuuuuuse me" had a little something to do with Mom's hatred. (I will say, though, that Mom DOES like Steve Martin the Actor and seems to have forgiven/forgotten her 70s loathing of him) I've heard Martin's comedy albums years after Martin had retired from stand up and can remember sitting on the floor of a friend's apartment laughing until I thought I would pass out from lack of oxygen. I can only imagine what it would have been like to experience them as "new" rather than cool nostalgia to a bunch of Gen-X slackers.

I also really admire this book because Martin isn't afraid to bare his demons and discuss his insecurities and the anxiety attacks that often left him sure that he was about to die and which led him to swear off drugs completely. Steve Martin is an intelligent, sensitive, tortured man -- so much more than the "character" we have come to associate with him.

If you get the chance to check out this book, take it. Even if you're not a performer or a fan of Steve Martin's, it's still a really entertaining and fascinating read.


Peter Von Brown said...
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Peter Von Brown said...

I'll get to it someday, sounds good. But not right away, as I just finished a similar book. I read Leslie Jordan's My Trip Down the Pink Carpet. It's not for the faint of heart or those with "sensibilities" as he can be quite cutely explicit. But it made me love him all the more. Since I already love Steve Martin, I'll be willing to love him more, too. Thanks for the suggestion.

dbz said...

your mom and my mom have in common - my mom can't stand Steve Martin the comedian but had to begrudgingly agree after watching Parenthood that Steve Martin the actor is actually pretty good