Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

I got this last Saturday morning and had finished it by the time I went to bed that night. It's a slim volume, but there's more to Born Standing Up than most comedians' books.

Martin isn't trying to immortalize his routine, or hack out something quickly to make a buck, and he comes to Born Standing Up after successful turns writing screenplays (L.A. Story), fiction (Shopgirl), and plays (Picasso at the Lapin Agile). He already knows how to structure prose, so Born Standing Up doesn't have the usual comedian's acknowledgment of "the man who brought order to my chaos" or a similar giveaway -- Martin actually sat down and wrote this book himself, something very few celebrities of his stature are willing or capable of doing.

Born Standing Up is a memoir, and a closely focused one: it's the story of the birth and flourishing of Martin's stand-up routine. As such, it starts with some details -- the pertinent ones, that is -- of his childhood, and then gets into his performance career. He worked at Disneyland from the age of ten, selling program books and then working in a magic shop. Selling magic led to performing magic, which led him to Knott's Berry Farm, and so on. Martin is candid about the strengths and weaknesses of his act in those days -- he admits it was pretty weak -- and only provides a few details about his life outside of performance in those days.

The book covers Martin's performing life from 1955 (that Disneyland opening) through 1980, when Martin quit his stand-up act and jumped into movies with The Jerk. I don't have any first-hand knowledge of his subject, but the book feels absolutely honest and true. Martin's equally impressive in writing about the good side of being a mediocre comedian and the bad side of being a national phenomenon.

Born Standing Up is short, clear, and thoughtful book, from a man looking very far back and not entirely recognizing who he used to be. It's as far above most comedians' books as it's possible to imagine any book being.

1 comment:

Ellen Gerstein said...

I loved this book. You're spot on when you say that very few celebrities could write such a succicent and entertaining book. I was charmed by his humbleness, as he seemed to attribute his good fortune to luck as much as it was hard work.

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