What I initially realized from this book, is that Steve Martin is quite crude. Quite contrary to what I love him for in his portrayal of ‘Father of the Bride’. I also came to the conclusion that the typical life of a stand–up comedian would not be one of wholesome living except in extreme cases. But, regardless, in the book Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, I found Steve Martin's honest reflections of his young life and how he became a stand–up legend captivating. Steve’s honesty and openness in the book as to his young life, the good and bad, practically bearing it all, reminds me of the similarities in providing a great performance. In a sense, being so willing to share it all regardless of the repercussions seemed appropriate to having all the cards on the table – whether this is real life or life on the stage.
This is a masterful review of Steve's early struggles to follow his passions. It revealed his young, happened chance to become an employee at Disneyland at the age of ten. He had a strong work ethic, most likely brought on by his very traditional upbringing, a Baptist also, that led to being proud of the fact that he worked at Disneyland through his high school years while others his age were getting suntans.
Steve takes us through his years of idolizing magicians and becoming one himself, all before the ripe age of 18. And then his sense that if he wanted to continue performing he would need a more modern approach, as magician was old–fashioned by modern terms but comedian was the latest direction worth pursuing and one that could provide an income in doing what you love.
Steve then takes us from his first paid audience at the Bird Cage at 18 where he worked on his magic act daily, for three years to his attempt at stand–up comedy as he flirted with college and decided instead that he wanted to be in show business. He does this despite having a demeanor shy and ‘slightly embarrassed at disproportionate attention’’ p 70.
“Stand-up comedy felt like an open door. It was possible to assemble a few minutes of material and be onstage that week, as opposed to standing in line in some mysterious world in Hollywood, getting no response, no phone calls returned, and no opportunity to perform.”
Along with Steve's personal climb into show business, this is a great study into the destruction of the inclusive ‘club’ of show business run by Hollywood elites that unraveled with the underground grass–roots led comedian industry. Steve was one of the first, after Bill Cosby, to make it big and transition successfully to movies. This closely resembled the deconstruction of the inclusive music industry run by recording companies that began to fall in the 70's and 80's as punk rock, grass–roots led independent artists learned how to find their own audience and become remarkable.
A few highlights are how he started going on tour with musicians and slowly realized how the publicity always went to the headliner. As a result, he decided he would become one, eventually only headlining to make it or break it. Then, he eventually gave an ultimatum to ‘make it by the age of 30’ or quit and get a real job. Right before the self–imposed deadline, a few signs that his luck was improving kept him in the game. This was only after his 16th appearance on the Tonight Show. In this process, he recounts personal struggles with each different stage from starting out to success, ending with his stardom always on-the-road loneliness and eventual hatred of his act up to the time he quit stand–up.
Highly suggest this read into Steve’s life and the study of stand–up.