The incredible journey of a genius entertainer
Book: Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life
Author: Steve Martin
Publisher: Scribner (2007)
Excerpt: “I was seeking comic originality, and fame fell on me as a by-product. The course was more plodding than heroic: I did not strive valiantly against doubters but took incremental steps studded with a few intuitive leaps. I was not naturally talented - I didn’t sing, dance, or act - though working around that minor detail made me inventive. I was not self-destructive, though I almost destroyed myself. In the end, I turned away from stand-up with a tired swivel of my head and never looked back, until now. A few years ago, I began researching and recalling the details of this crucial part of my professional life - which inevitably touches upon my personal life - and was reminded why I did stand-up and why I walked away.”
He has starred in numerous hit movies, his comedy albums have sold millions of copies, his music releases have topped the US bluegrass charts, and his books have appeared on bestsellers lists. But before he was a successful film actor or novelist, Steve Martin initially earned his fame through stand-up comedy. Before becoming one of the biggest names in show business, he first performed in front of small crowds while building his repertoire. It is this aspect of his career that he encapsulates in Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, an autobiography — or “biography,” as he puts it, “because I am writing about someone I used to know” - which mostly focuses on his development as a comic.
The book chronicles Martin’s life from his early upbringing to his efforts at becoming a comedian, and then his eventual decision to give up performing stand-up. The pages relay how the writer ‘started from zero’, and then went "from a magic act, from juggling in my backyard, from Disneyland, from the Bird Cage" to becoming "the biggest concert comedian in show business, ever". He talks about the people who inspired him, relationships that shaped him, and the mentors who influenced him. He even touches on topics like his awkward relationship with his parents, studying poetry and philosophy, suffering from anxiety attacks, and coming to terms with fame.
Not a sensationalised view of events but a reflective take on the circumstances that shaped his life and career, the book puts forth a focused and serious look at the formative years of the comedian’s life, delivering most of the content in a matter-of-fact tone. The writer comes off as smart and honest, although the book does not attempt to function as an elaborate tell-all. The content is mostly focused on Martin’s development as a comedian and all the tangents eventually tie down to his work. And while the book follows him on his road to success, it does not detail his film work and later projects, and is therefore likely to appeal more to those who are interested in stand-up comedy, and remember, appreciate, or want to discover more about that part of Martin’s career.
Overall, Born Standing Up offers a meditative summary of the writer’s early years - from selling guidebooks at Disneyland as a child to developing his own vaudeville act and eventually earning acclaim - and presents a unique perspective on the evolution of an immensely successful comedian.
- By Sameen Amer
The Express Tribune - 23rd July, 2011