Sunday, March 23, 2008
01:43 Born Standing Up
Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life
Steve Martin’s autobiography covers the most interesting part of his career: the early years of doing standup in obscurity, then unexpected and unprecedented renown and success, early retirement from the stage in favor of movies and writing. There’s a little bit of psychobabble, and obviously emotional topics are written about in his dry, detached voice. But Martin is able to write with wit without coming across as an annoying jokester.
Like the best memoirs, Born Standing Up recreates a lost world, a world that Martin himself had a hand in destroying. Entertainment was not nearly as ubiquitous when Martin started out as it is today. There’s wistfulness in the passages about the small time entertainers who inspired and trained him, and his summers spent performing in a broken-down theater in which the audience could hear the toilet flushing backstage. It was an era when entertainment was a minor part of most people’s lives before it became a constant need and a major engine of our economy. Just as the unprecedented success of “Star Wars” forever changed the movie business, the comedy boom of the late seventies, of which Martin was a large part, expanded the role of entertainment in American life.
Martin himself is a fairly serious person and though he never directly discusses this change in society, it’s not hard to surmise his attitude when he writes about why he quit standup at the peak of his success. It was all too much: too many concerts, too many people, too many demands, none of which seemed conducive to comedy. Further proof: this slim book made me laugh out loud.