Author: Steve Martin, narrated by the author
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
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Blurb (GR): At age 10, Steve Martin got a job selling guidebooks at the newly-opened Disneyland. In the decade that followed, he worked in Disney's magic shop, print shop, and theater, and developed his own magic/comedy act. By age 20, studying poetry and philosophy on the side, he was performing a dozen times a week, most often at the Disney rival, Knott's Berry Farm.
Obsession is a substitute for talent, he has said, and Steve Martin's focus and daring--his sheer tenacity--are truly stunning. He writes about making the very tough decision to sacrifice everything not original in his act, and about lucking into a job writing for The Smothers Brothers Show. He writes about mentors, girlfriends, his complex relationship with his parents and sister, and about some of his great peers in comedy--Dan Ackroyd, Lorne Michaels, Carl Riener, Johnny Carson. He writes about fear, anxiety and loneliness. And he writes about how he figured out what worked on stage.
This book is a memoir, but it is also an illuminating guidebook to stand-up from one of our two or three greatest comedians. Though Martin is reticent about his personal life, he is also stunningly deft, and manages to give readers a feeling of intimacy and candor. Illustrated throughout with black and white photographs collected by Martin, this book is instantly compelling visually and a spectacularly good read.
I loved this book so much because it was everything I subconsciously wanted it to be and nothing that I expected it to be. I thought it would be mostly about Martin's career as a primarily comedic actor and it basically ends at the onset of his film career. I thought it would be hilarious and filled with jokes and I think I actually laughed out loud about five times. And a part of me harbored some sort of belief that every person who saw Steve Martin do stand up comedy must have known they were seeing something amazing. Surely someone so hilarious never experienced the silence of an unappreciative audience, and he could not possibly have crashed and burned with some of his bits. Of course, I know that is never the case but it will never cease to amaze me how some people worked so hard for their success when their talent is worthy of an unimpeded rise to the top. I've seen some fabulous stand up comedy and some absolute abysmal stand up. This is the first book I've read about what life as a stand up comic is like but it certainly won't be the last and it definitely has me wondering about Martin's fiction works.
Steve Martin knew he wanted to be a performer from a very young age. Martin narrators the audiobook of Standing Up himself in his contemplative, matter-of-fact voice. He talks about working at Disneyland, learning magic and rope tricks, selling park maps, and every minuscule step that brought him closer to his ultimate goal. Woven through the entire book are Martin's ruminations on the strained relationship he had with his father and they provided a sturdy backbone upon which the rest of his story could rest. I want to say that that aspect of the book ended satisfactorily for me but this is someone's life and these are real people. I suppose I can say that I was very disappointed about several choices Steve Martin's father made but I'm glad Martin is a strong enough person to achieve everything he has despite a lack of paternal support when it might (nay, probably would) have provided validation.
I was extremely surprised and entertained by the number of celebrities who peppered Martin's path to success. He was/is friends with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and The Allman Brothers, played at the same clubs at the same time as people like Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell, and even played a small gig where the other act that night was a pair of unknowns, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. He knew Dalton Trumbo, author of Johnny Got His Gun, and actually had a conversation with Elvis Presley in which Elvis commented on the fact that he and Martin shared an oblique sense of humor. I knew how talented Martin is at playing banjo, but just in case you are in the dark on that one, check this out:
I am such a believer in the idea that every random skill, story, or piece of information you gain in your life will come to some use later in life. For that reason, I was so excited to hear Johnny Carson tell basically that exact thing to Martin, who used random rope tricks on The Tonight Show that he'd learned from a childhood coworker of his. One of the highlights of listening to the audio production of Born Standing Up is how apparent Steve Martin's appreciation is for all the people who were a part of his comedic journey. His voice is flat in a realistic way--there's no pretension or fakeness to his storytelling. This is four hours (yes, it is only four hours long) well spent if you enjoy Steve Martin's comedy or are curious about a life doing stand up.