> The Things You Can Read: Review: Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Review: Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life

Review:  Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life by Steve Martin

I grew up watching Steve Martin on Saturday Night Live before they shortened it to just SNL and I even remember him performing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  I'll even admit to owning the LP A Wild and Crazy Guy.  I was a kid back when he was making it big, and as a kid, I liked his outlandish comedy.  So when I saw this book, I bit. 
I have to say as an adult, I don't find Steve Martin's stand-up as enjoyable as I once did, but I do love the writer he became after his stand-up success.  Previously, I read An Object of Beauty, a fictional story by Steve Martin, and loved it!  I feel the same about his movies.  The earlier stuff doesn't mesh with the person I am now, but his more recent movies like Shopgirl, I loved.
Again, I'll admit, I'm a sucker for pop-culture from the 70s and 80s, the eras I grew up, and this book, like a another book I read a few months ago, Mary, Lou, Rhoda, and Ted, [Click HERE for Review] brought back memories of another time and place when I was much younger and more carefree, so in my opinion, if you don't bring this kind of connection to the table this book might not be for you, I, however, enjoyed the ride.
Steve Martin by his own admission is a bit stand-offish, and his standoffishness comes across in his memoir.  If you are looking for The Glass Castle like revelations shared by memoir writer Jeannette Walls this is not the memoir for you. I  know Steve Martin thinks he wrote a memoir, but he really didn't reveal the nitty-gritty stuff of memoir writing.  What he wrote is an inside look at how he became successful, which is really interesting.  Again, I caution the reader, if you are looking for him to let lose a lot of dirt on the cast of SNL forget it.  The snarkiest he gets is an anecdote he shares about meeting Dan Aykroyd:
In Lorne's office later that day, the leather clad Danny Aykroyd told me he had been up all night riding his motorcycle, and when it had stalled at four A.M., he had thumbed a ride.  When the car got up to speed, the driver pushed him out of the moving vehicle, and he rolled onto the rainy streets of Manhattan.  I pictured Danny bouncing down the wet pavement and then said the only thing that came to mind.  I asked him if h wanted to go to Saks and shop for clothes.  He said, as friendly as he could, 'Uh, man, that's not my thing,'  We liked each other, but we were different.-Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
If you are looking for him to bad mouth anyone famous, forget it-it's not happening.  He mentions some big names, but nothing of substance is shared.  Yes, he walked away from stand-up and you do know why, but he doesn't really share,-like therapy kind of sharing-how he felt about this decision, which is what most readers want in a memoir. 

So what is this book?  Well, if you are looking for a book that shows how hard it is to make comedy work, and how hard it is to make it in comedy then BINGO this is the book for you.  Simply said, in a one sentence summary: Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life is a book about dedication to ones craft at the expense of isolating oneself from the world.

I had the impression that Martin enjoyed researching the book more than writing it.  Why?  Because he stated, "As much as I enjoyed the writing of this book, researching it was a new thrill for me.  Finding s photo that confirmed a dim recollection of days gone by hooked  me on the detective work, and the legwork-marching form my desk back and forth to the archival boxes-gave me something to do besides type, think, worry, and cry."  Martin was methodical in his casting about for old artifacts from his early career.  He states in his acknowledgments, "This book has allowed me to contact old friends and dig through their memories and memorabilia.  All contacts have been pleasant and some quite moving.  The arrival of a package of photos or copies of letters offered by a friend was like having an archaeological dig brought to my own home."  He enlisted archival type help twenty years prior to writing the book and later he added to his collection when he retrieved age-worn boxes of memorabilia his mother had saved and found, "...inside sedimentary layers of collected junk, ephemera, snapshots, and yellowed newspaper clippings.  Like a geologist, I [Martin] was sometimes able to date items by their position in the stack."  The research he expended on creating the book was that the final product appeared-to someone outside looking in-to be a cathartic or shall we say therapeutic experience for Martin, and what the reader receives in return is the closest look inside the mind of an extremely talented man he will allow you.

I'll be honest, I didn't know what to expect with this book, so before laying down real money for it, I sampled the beginning using the Amazon sampling feature.  I liked what I read and ended up purchasing  Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life.  I mention this because using this feature, if you read with a Kindle, is such a good method to experiment with books you might not try otherwise.  The sample is free, and it usually gives you enough to really let you know if you will like the book or not.  I did the same thing with the other book I mentioned earlier in this review, Mary, Lou, Rhoda, and Ted, and ended up purchasing both.  If you hadn't thought of sampling before buying give it a try.

If you have never seen Steve Martin's early stuff, or you've forgotten his brand of early comedy, checkout YouTube for archived comedy sketches.  If you want to know how he came up with each of his signature bits for his act, read the book.

Here is the present day Martin reading from Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life:

In the midseventies, Steve Martin exploded onto the comedy scene. By 1978 he was the biggest concert draw in the history of stand-up. In 1981 he quit forever. This book is, in his own words, the story of "why I did stand-up and why I walked away."
Emmy and Grammy Award winner, author of the acclaimed New York Times bestsellers Shopgirl and The Pleasure of My Company, and a regular contributor to The New Yorker, Martin has always been a writer. His memoir of his years in stand-up is candid, spectacularly amusing, and beautifully written.
At age ten Martin started his career at Disneyland, selling guidebooks in the newly opened theme park. In the decade that followed, he worked in the Disney magic shop and the Bird Cage Theatre at Knott's Berry Farm, performing his first magic/comedy act a dozen times a week. The story of these years, during which he practiced and honed his craft, is moving and revelatory. The dedication to excellence and innovation is formed at an astonishingly early age and never wavers or wanes.
Martin illuminates the sacrifice, discipline, and originality that made him an icon and informs his work to this day. To be this good, to perform so frequently, was isolating and lonely. It took Martin decades to reconnect with his parents and sister, and he tells that story with great tenderness. Martin also paints a portrait of his times-the era of free love and protests against the war in Vietnam, the heady irreverence of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late sixties, and the transformative new voice of Saturday Night Live in the seventies.
Throughout the text, Martin has placed photographs, many never seen before. Born Standing Up is a superb testament to the sheer tenacity, focus, and daring of one of the greatest and most iconoclastic comedians of all time.

Happy reading to all! ☮

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