Monday, February 1, 2010
Born Standing Up
Steve Martin uses this wonderful biography* to chart the development of his stand-up routine. It starts with his first job selling guidebooks at Disneyland and ends with him walking away from that life on the road to make his first movie, The Jerk. He is by turns harsh to the people that never followed through on showbiz promises made and kind to comedy giants such as Johnny Carson and Carl Reiner. His relationship with his Dad and women on the road are a little too intimate for me, but this is a fascinating and well-written book.
The wonderful thing for me was discovering the genesis of his act and seriousness required to make it hum. His stories of failed attempts and stumbles are as entertaining as his impressions of Saturday Night Live alum like John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd. His anecdotes and clever approach to being silly really makes me want to go back and listen to that old vinyl. It almost erases the stench of some of his recent movie projects.
More importantly for those of us who make a living with stories of 'jokes and punching' is the constant analysis of what he was doing and what he learned from that. In the beginning, he carefully considers breaking the old structures to create something new in comedy. There are dozens of entertaining and charming parallels between the writing life and the comedy writing life. This should be a primer for anyone considering a life in entertainment.
* I know the term is autobiography. But he makes the point that he is writing about the man he used to be, so I am using his terminology.