Friday, June 14, 2013

Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Martin (2007)

Our latest plan for the fabulous DAFFODILS book club was to read something that wasn't sad or tragic. Now, at first glance one might think that a memoir by a world-famous comedian would fit that bill, but while Born Standing Up by Steve Martin (2007) certainly has a lot of comedy in it, there is (like there is with a lot of comedians) also a lot of crappy childhood, self-doubt, and depression in there to back it up.

This biography covers Martin's life from his childhood through the filming of The Jerk and the self-imposed ending of his stand up career. Martin was born in Waco but grew up in California and had the extremely Californian first job of selling programs at Disneyland when he was ten. His interest in magic lead him from that auspicious beginning to working in one of the magic stores at the park demonstrating tricks to bring in customers and make sales. As he grew, his urge to perform grew with him and when he graduated from high school he took a job performing in the melodramas at Knott's Berry Farm and performing his vaudeville-like comedy/banjo/magic act at small clubs in the area. As the counterculture grew in the 1960s, Martin's interest in expanding and changing his comedy changed accordingly. After numerous false starts and dashed hopes and thousands and thousands of shows on the road, Martin built up a solid audience and eventually landed the spots on the Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live that would rocket him into fame and ultimately seal the casket on his stand up career.

Martin's biography gives us a lot of detail and a certain amount of introspection, but also carefully holds the reader at a safe distance. Steve Martin is not an open, revealing man, even when he is trying to explore his own past. This private nature makes the revealing parts of the book more meaningful than they would be in a standard tell-all celebrity biography, and in the end his reserve makes me like him even more.

And for a little taste of the good stuff, check this out:

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