Sunday, February 10, 2008

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

I talked to Brent a couple of days ago regarding this book. Because apparently neither of us had anything better to do in the middle of the afternoon on a Thursday. It told him that I didn't really agree with with his assessment of the book. We argued for a while, and then I hung up in a huff. It was very Hannity and Colmes.

Unlike Brent, I felt that Martin really gave the reader an inside look at his comedic process. The time that he spent at Knott's Berry Farm and Disneyland was an essential part of his comedic growth. It was while working in the cheap little magic shop at Disneyland that he first learned how to banter with an audience. The Bird Cage Theatre at Knott's gave him his first opportunity to perform consistently on a stage in front of any audience. These early experiences were seminal to the act that Martin created and honed in the years to come. He details his time as an opener for acts such as Sonny and Cher and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and he describes the lonely years spent on the road as a not-quite-famous headliner.

At one point, Martin cogently describes a watershed moment in his comedic thinking. "These notions stayed with me for months, until they formed an idea that revolutionized my comic direction: What if there were no punch lines? What if I created tension and never released it? What would the audience do with all that tension? Theoretically, it would have to come out sometime. But if I kept denying them the formality of a punch line, the audience would eventually pick their own place to laugh, essentially out of desperation. This type of laugh seemed stronger to me, as they would be laughing at something they chose, rather than being told exactly when to laugh."

Not only does Martin provide insights into his comedic thought processes, but he lets the reader in just a little on his personal life. Romantic trysts, long-term girlfriends, etc. He does remain rather mum about some aspects of his personal life, but this seems understandable.

Brent and I are on the same page when it comes to some of Martin's more recent films. If he wants to make the case that he stopped doing standup because he felt that his act was stale, that it was no longer original, then how does Martin justify making dreck like, Bringing Down the House, The Pink Panther, and Cheaper by the Dozen? Mr. Martin, if you're reading this, I loved Shopgirl, both the book and the film.

Born Standing Up was interesting and insightful. While it wasn't riotously funny, Martin's writing was clever. Quite often I found myself laughing out loud at his witty turns of phrase. And whenever Martin would quote from his act, it was always funny. Ultimately, I really enjoyed this book.

1 comment:

Steve Martin said...

Well excuuuse me!