Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Comedian's Craft

A confluence of events yesterday led me to Barnes & Noble bookstore to spend my Christmas gift card. One of the books I bought was "Born Standing Up" by Steve Martin. It's a very readable book about his early years and has quite a few surprises.

The biggest surprise is the story itself. When Steve Martin burst on the scene in the mid-seventies, we all thought he was a new comic. In fact, what we were witnessing was a performance artist at the end of the road. Weaving music, magic, salesmanship, and just plain entertainment, all the while taking classes in philosophy, psychology and art at Long Beach and UCLA, Mr. Martin developed his craft for the better part of two decades. This is the story of a guy who was willing to lay it all on the line for two dollars a show in near empty rooms.

Another thing I really liked about this book is there's not much name dropping. The names are largely unfamiliar; Magicians at Disneyland, theater actors at Knott's Berry Farm, and nightclub managers in San Francisco. Occasionally, he meets someone I'd heard of before, but not often. It was a tough life. It's the kind of life only the most dedicated romantic could stay with.

Mr. Martin also includes some pretty personal stuff about his family. This is not a tell all, but as he explains it"...a complicated childhood can lead to a life in the arts. I tell you this story of my father and me to let you know I am qualified to be a comedian." For all the silliness of his stage act, Steve Martin is a serious, logical thinker. This heartfelt telling of his own story shows a complicated man struggling to create something new, and once created, walking away from it to create something else.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Steve was on NPR this last week (Terri Gross) playing music and talking life. It's recommended.