First off, no, I did not read a book in two days. I had started Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up last week, long before I even sat down to review the book I read before it.
Born Standing Up is an autobiography of a very select part of Steve Martin’s life: his career as a stand-up comedian. He frames the story with more personal tales of his childhood in California, which was none too pleasant, and of his eventual reconciliation and reunion with his parents and sister. It’s very interesting to read, in his own words, how he sees his career as a solo performer informed by his family life, and eventually vice versa. Martin writes in a simple, engaging, but not overbearing voice. He’s able to look at himself from a distance and thus evaluate things more clearly.
There are a number of great anecdotes throughout the book, many featuring fellow entertainment superstars who were rising alongside Steve: the Allman Brothers, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Stevie Nicks, and the original gang at Saturday Night Live to name a few. I also found one truly insightful statement rather early on in the book: “All entertainment is or is about to be old-fashioned”.
As for Martin’s stand-up routine itself, he admits that it was a bit against the grain. He remarks more than once that on the rare occasion he watches or reads his old material, he isn’t sure why some of it struck him as being funny. This was a bit of a relief to me, because I remember my father giving me a copy of Steve’s Grammy-winning comedy album Let’s Get Small when I was in about eighth grade, putting it on, and not getting it at all. I think my sense of humor is a bit more evolved since then, so I’d be tempted to give it another try. Though by his own admission, Steve Martin is a visual comedian. After viewing the clip below from a 1979 performance in California, I think you’d have a hard time just enjoying the audio.
Things I love about this: the dancing, the falsetto, the guitar solo, and the totally random appearance by The Fonz.
If you’re a connoisseur of comedy as I am, Born Standing Up is something you should read. It’s a quick read about a person who was more successful than you probably realize.