Book Review: Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

by sbh on Monday - 28 January 2008

in Reviews

Steve Martin in ‘Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’

Look, this blog isn’t all fun and games–time for some seriousness!

In 2007, Steve Martin published a sort of memoir, Born Standing Up that chronicles his life as a stage performer. From the magic shops of Disneyland to lonely on-the-road burnout to superstardom in the late 1970s, Martin exercises his hindsight, talking about relationships with family, friends, co-workers, lovers, and the various venues that he called home for so many years.

What I really appreciate about __Born Standing Up__ is the blue collar approach that Martin takes to his art. The book certainly makes his gigantic success (selling out shows with upwards of 20,000 seats!) seem like a flash in the pan (to be followed by a good film career) that came only after hardwork and a little bit of luck. Prior to “making it”, Martin spends years on the road, honing his show, amassing over 4 hours of material (my friends who are comics would say that this is quite a bit!), refining timing and movement. This account (in the chapters “On the Road” and “Breakthrough”) were easily the most enjoyable for me.

Born Standing Up by Steve MartinI suppose it would be easy to lay back and just give Martin praise. He’s clearly a funny guy, a very clear writer, and a very successful person (at least professionally…which is what this book is about more than anything). At the same time, he was also extremely lucky. At the age of 21 he was writing for a hit TV show, __The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour__, ostensibly because he had dated the right person (Mitzi Trumbo). While his on-stage act is gaining steam a decade or so later, he is catapulted to huge success by the popularity of __Saturday Night Live__. Martin acknowledges these events as quite important in his career, but I feel that this was definitely a case of “being in the right place at the right time.”

In terms of writing, __Born Standing Up__ is more than capable. The final chapter begins to feel a bit too nostalgic and sappy, but I’ll forgive Martin this. I am sure it is difficult not to slip into that mode as he blasts through the final stage of his career (film) in order to find some resolution to the strained relationship with his family. Martin’s prose is easy to follow, written, like most of his other works, in a very straightforward style. He has a knack for illustrating his own gags and capturing the silliness of the various eras he is working in (especially when it comes time to talk about “flower power”).

While __Born Standing Up__ is a memoir of his stage-performing career, I personally would like to read a full autobiography. I love Martin’s writing here, and would gladly have sat through a discussion of his current pursuits. While I do not feel that __Shopgirl__ is some great novel, I do feel that __Picasso at the Lapin Agile__ is one great play, and I would have loved to have read more about his work on that particular project.

In the end, I’ve got to give __Born Standing Up__ four out of five stars simply because Martin is clear and evocative, and he happens to hold a place in my heart as the star of some of my favorite films: __The Jerk__, __Dirty Rotten Scoundrels__, and __Roxanne__, to name a few.

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