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Born Standing Up: A Comic's Lifeby Steve Martin
At times uproarious, often sentimental, and always laced with the wit and charm we've come to expect from Steve Martin, this is a warm and enjoyable portrait of his life in stand-up from childhood to his last show in 1981.
Synopses & Reviews
In the midseventies, 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.
"Neatly combining his personal and professional worlds, beloved comedian, filmmaker, author, magician and banjoist Martin (Pure Drivel) chronicles his life as a gifted young comedian in this evocative, heartfelt memoir, which proves less wild and crazy than wise and considerate-though no less funny for it. The typically reticent performer shares rarely disclosed memories of childhood-his father, a failed actor, harbored increasing anger toward his son through the years-and the anxiety attacks that plagued him for some two decades, along with his early success as a television comedy writer, first for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and the evolution of his stand-up routine. Sharp insight accompanies stories of his first adult gig (at an empty San Francisco coffee house), his pioneering 'no punch lines' style ('My goal was to make the audience laugh but leave them unable to describe what it was that had made them laugh'), appearances on programs like The Steve Allen Show and breakthrough moments with small, confused audiences. Though vivid and entertaining throughout, Martin doesn't dish any behind-the-scenes dirt from Saturday Night Live or The Tonight Show; rather, he's warm and generous toward everyone in his life, including girlfriends and colleagues. Tellingly, this intimate early career recap ends not with Martin's decision to give up live performance or his film debut The Jerk, but with a visit to his parents and Knott's Berry Bird Cage Farm, where he first performed as a teenager." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Steve Martin has become such a reliable and (if we can just blot out the memory of his Clouseau film) such a beloved figure in film and TV that it's hard to recall that time — roughly the second half of the 1970s — when he was one of America's first great counter-countercultural comedians. Somehow, when we least expected it, the politically barbed satire of Lenny Bruce and George Carlin was supplanted... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) by a banjo-strumming 'rambling man' who wore an arrow through his head and repeatedly assured us (as if we doubted him) that he was wild and crazy. With his yokel grin and his white three-piece suit, Martin delivered an act that was willfully silly and weirdly wholesome and, by design, politics-free. More than that, content-free. Like Andy Kaufman, Martin was a funnyman who made it his business not to be funny. ('Okaaay,' he crooned as each joke came splatting to earth.) As he himself writes in this touching and modest memoir, his act was 'a parody of comedy,' in which he was 'playing an entertainer, a not so good one.' It shouldn't have worked, but it did — resoundingly. With the help of 'Saturday Night Live,' whose ascent mirrored and abetted Martin's own, and best-selling comedy albums like 'Let's Get Small,' Martin planted himself so squarely in the zeitgeist that soon there was no getting around either him or his King Tut dance. (Even the squares were swept along. My high school guidance counselor surprised me one afternoon by letting loose with Martin's signature cry: 'Excuuuuuse me!') Then, in 1981, at the peak of his arena fame, Martin walked away. Not into the sunset, but onto the Hollywood soundstage, whose hermetic confines have suited him so well he's remained there ever since. It's a quiet existence he leads now: collecting art, penning humor pieces for the New Yorker, churning out family movies on the order of 'Cheaper by the Dozen 2.' He is, by all reports, eminently cultured, a former philosophy student, a patron to painters. Who can blame him for looking back on that long-ago tumult as 'the war years'? He enlisted young: an Orange County, Calif., kid, selling guidebooks at nearby Disneyland, 'my Versailles.' The Disney magic shop beckoned, and by the time he got to high school, he was doing magic tricks for local Boy Scout troops and Kiwanis clubs — and keeping rigorous tabs on his act. ('Relax, don't shake,' he advises himself in one early memo.) He moved on to repertory work at Knott's Berry Farm's Bird Cage Theatre, where at the age of 18, he made a signal discovery: 'I had absolutely no gifts. I could not sing or dance, and the only acting I did was really just shouting.' But he had perseverance, and he had 'the one element necessary to all early creativity: naivete, that fabulous quality that keeps you from knowing just how unsuited you are for what you are about to do.' For a time, he made a decent living as a gag writer for the Smothers Brothers and Sonny and Cher, but Martin wanted his own spotlight. So ensued a long comic apprenticeship through the muck and mire of folkie basements and Playboy clubs and sad, sad, empty bars where the waitresses were the only ones laughing. 'I gave myself a rule,' he remembers. 'Never let them know I was bombing: This is funny, you just haven't gotten it yet.' The one who really didn't get it was Martin's father, a stymied actor who took every chance to belittle his son's achievements. ('He's no Charlie Chaplin,' growled Dad after the release of Martin's feature film debut, 'The Jerk.') Only on his deathbed was the older man able to confess: 'You did everything I wanted to.' 'I did it for you,' Martin answered. But the truth was something more bittersweet: 'I did it because of you.' We know by now that Martin is a real writer. If anything, his well-praised comic novels ('Shopgirl,' 'The Pleasure of My Company') have such airtight prose there's almost no way into them. 'Born Standing Up,' by contrast, has some wheel-spinning, moments of bland sociology. ('Vietnam, the first televised war, split the country, and one's left or right bent could be recognized by haircuts and clothes.') And yet on the whole I prefer its rawness, its essentially found nature, if only because, after more than three dozen movies, Steve Martin's soul can at last be seen — a fraction of it, anyway, peeping through the clouds. 'I have heard it said that a complicated childhood can lead to a life in the arts,' he writes, before adding, with characteristic understatement: 'I am qualified to be a comedian.'" Reviewed by Louis Bayard, a novelist and reviewer, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Born is a smart, gentlemanly, modest book. That it comes from a man who's spent his life lampooning arrogance makes it all the more winning. (Grade: A)" Entertainment Weekly
"Even for readers already familiar with Mr. Martin's solemn side, Born Standing Up is a surprising book: smart, serious, heartfelt and confessional without being maudlin." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
About the Author
Steve Martin is one of today's most talented performers. He has had huge success as a film actor, with such credits as Cheaper by the Dozen, Father of the Bride, Roxanne, Parenthood, L.A. Story, and many others. He has won Emmys for his television writing and two Grammys for his comedy albums. In addition to his bestselling novel The Pleasure of My Company and a collection of comic pieces, Pure Drivel, he has also written a play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile. He lives in Los Angeles.
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