Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
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The riveting, mega-bestselling, beloved and highly acclaimed memoir of a man, a vocation, and an era named one of the ten best nonfiction titles of 2007 by Time and Entertainment Weekly.
In the mid-seventies, 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.”
Emmy and Grammy Award–winner, author of the acclaimed New York Times bestsellers Shopgirl and The Pleasure of My Company, and a regular contributor to The New Yorker, Martin has always been a writer. His memoir of his years in stand-up is candid, spectacularly amusing, and beautifully written.
At age ten Martin started his career at Disneyland, selling guidebooks in the newly opened theme park. In the decade that followed, he worked in the Disney magic shop and the Bird Cage Theatre at Knott’s Berry Farm, performing his first magic/comedy act a dozen times a week. The story of these years, during which he practiced and honed his craft, is moving and revelatory. The dedication to excellence and innovation is formed at an astonishingly early age and never wavers or wanes.
Martin illuminates the sacrifice, discipline, and originality that made him an icon and informs his work to this day. To be this good, to perform so frequently, was isolating and lonely. It took Martin decades to reconnect with his parents and sister, and he tells that story with great tenderness. Martin also paints a portrait of his times—the era of free love and protests against the war in Vietnam, the heady irreverence of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late sixties, and the transformative new voice of Saturday Night Live in the seventies.
Throughout the text, Martin has placed photographs, many never seen before. Born Standing Up is a superb testament to the sheer tenacity, focus, and daring of one of the greatest and most iconoclastic comedians of all time.
several of his punch lines had been unintelligible, and the audience had actually laughed at nothing but the cue of his hand slap. These notions stayed with me for months, until they formed an idea that revolutionized my comic direction: What if there were no punch lines? What if there were no indicators? What if I created tension and never released it? What if I headed for a climax, but all I delivered was an anticlimax? What would the audience do with all that tension? Theoretically, it would
every moment with content, was keeping the audience engaged. The act was becoming simultaneously smart and stupid. My version of smart was to imbue a hint of conceptualism into the whole affair: My sing-along had some funny lyrics, but it was also impossible to sing along with. My version of stupid: “Oh, gosh! My shoelace is untied!” I would bend down, see that my shoelace was not untied, stand up, and say, “Oh, I love playing jokes on myself!” I had the plumber joke, which was impossible to
writing was a laugh on every page. But my favorite line in the movie was an ad lib, one that is mildly obscured by traffic noise in the finished film. My character, Navin Johnson, is hitchhiking in Missouri, headed for the big city. A car pulls over, and the driver asks, “St. Louis?” “No,” I answer, “Navin Johnson.” We made the film and went off to preview it in St. Louis. As much as I loved the comedy in the movie, my favorite moment was when Bernadette Peters and I sang a simple song on a
it off to an archivist, Candace Bothwell, who did an outstanding job of sequencing and preserving whatever she could. Later, I collected other cardboard boxes from my parents’ house, some moldy from garage floods. Inside were sedimentary layers of collected junk, ephemera, snapshots, and yellowed newspaper clippings. Like a geologist, I was sometimes able to date items by their position in the stack. As much as I enjoyed the writing of this book, researching it was a new thrill for me. Finding a
Fischl, Adam Gopnik, Bruce McCall, Joan Stein, Ricky Jay, Mike Nichols, David Geffen, Pete Wer-nick, Anne Stringfield, and finally, the Internet: I have learned that people are uploading their lives into cyberspace and am convinced that one day all human knowledge and memory will exist on a suitable hard drive which, for preservation, will be flung out of the solar system to orbit a galaxy far, far away. Photograph Credits Photographs were provided courtesy of the author except for the