I decided to read Steve Martin’s autobiography Born Standing Up. The book focuses on Martin’s career as a stand up comedian. It’s a strange thing to think of when it comes to Steve Martin, as he stopped performing stand up comedy before I was born.
The book starts at his young days learning the craft while working at Disney Land in the magic shop, and slowing follows his career.
The book is more than just a plain telling of his story, one that I don’t think had been told before, but instead Martin is writing a how-to for stand up comedians. Martin began, not as a comedian, but an entertainer, and through much of his early career, that’s how he saw himself. As an entertainer, his comedy act was able to take on elements that really pioneered a new kind of comedy. He incorporated magic, banjos, fake arrows through his head, and even tours of the theatre’s vicinity with audience in tow.
Steve Martin talks about how to build up one’s material, and how to master it through performance. He worked hard, and long to get where he ended. Much like The Beatles who mastered their craft while playing hours on end in Hamburg, Martin would play hour long sets to three people with ten minutes of material. There he mastered his craft, eventually taping his shows so he could listen and evaluate and help his comedy evolve.
If you know anyone who says they’re a “comedian” and by that they mean they play a tiny club in Toronto and no one laughs, buy them this for their birthday.
The book inspired me to rewatch The Jerk. Apparently much of the film is based on Martin’s stand up act. It was my second time viewing the film, and it didn’t seem to hold the same appeal it had during the first viewing. I won’t say I was bored, the film kept my attention, but it wasn’t as funny as it was the first time, unlike The Three Amigos, which I could watch a hundred times (and probably have).