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Steve Martin On His Years As A Comic — And Walking Away From Stand-Up

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But if you could hold Steve Martin has been making people laugh often with highly conceptual humor since the nineteen sixties when he was a staff writer on the smothers brothers comedy hour in the seventies he became a major stand up comedy star filling arenas with his fans he rose to fame along with his then new TV show called Saturday Night Live on which he made many memorable appearances as a wild and crazy guy a medieval barber and a fan of king tut eventually the fame that brought in huge audiences also made it impossible for him to do the kind of comedy that made him original he starred in movies from the jerk to parenthood and in recent years has also written plays essays and books and toured with both his bluegrass band and with friend and fellow comic Martin short Steve Martin won the Mark Twain prize for American humor in two thousand five in was a Kennedy center honoree in two thousand seven Terry gross spoke with Steve Martin in two thousand eight about his memoir born standing up Steve Martin welcome back to fresh AIR eleven returning her thank you I thank you very much I'd like you to open with a reading from the beginning of the book and we've we've edited the slightly to make it crystal a little shorter for the broadcast great be happy to I did stand up comedy for eighteen years ten of those years were spent learning for years were spent refining and for years were spent in wild success I was seeking comic originality and fame fell on me as a by product the course was more plodding than her ROIC I did not strive valiantly against doubters but took incremental steps started with a few intuitive leaps I was not naturally talented I didn't sing dance or act the 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 the 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 in a sense this book is not an autobiography but a biography because I am writing about someone I used to know yes these events are true yet sometimes they seem to have happened to someone else and I often felt like a curious onlooker or someone trying to remember a dream I ignored my stand up career for twenty five years but now having finished this memoir I view this time with surprising warmth one can have it turns out an affection for the war years thanks for reading that that Steve Martin reading from his memoir born standing up which has just been published in paperback yeah I guess I didn't realize how much you closed the door on your comedy years how much there was like a before and after it ended you were done and that was it right I I I'm it was about nineteen eighty one I still had a few obligations left but I knew that hi I could not continue but I guess I could have continued if I had nothing to go to but I did have something to go to which was movies and you know the act had become so known that in order to go back I would have had to create an entirely new show and I wasn't up to it especially when the opportunity for movies and writing movies came around why would you have to create an entirely new show well like I say the the the act was really it there is a passage in the book which I caught because it was so hard to explain but the act essentially besides all the jokes and bits and everything was conceptual and once the concept was understood there was nothing more to develop it's like saying painting the same blank canvas over and over and over and over and over once the concept is no you don't see the need to see to that and that was in the back of my head that I was really done artistically with with what I had created or pastiche to you know in the reading that you just did you describe yourself as not being naturally talented did you think of yourself as naturally funny I'm I didn't didn't think of myself in that way no although I I just love to comedy I I was raised with laurel and hardy and I Love Lucy Anne and Jerry Lewis and I just loved it and I had a friend in high school and we would just laugh all day and put on skits and you know it's the Andy Kaufman thing over to Marty short thing where you're performing in your bedroom for yourself and I I loved magic and so I would practice my magic tricks in front of a mirror for hours and hours and hours because I was told that you must practice you must practice and never present a trip before it's ready but I was just inclined toward show business but I didn't know what I just like being on stage you got your start working in Disneyland you were living in southern California and when you were ten you were selling guidebooks there then you later work for magic shop demonstrating magic tricks and I get the sense from your memoir that demonstrating those magic tricks you know hours a day and really getting them getting them down because you're doing them so much that that gave you a sense that performance required a great deal of craft that even comedy wasn't just a question of going out on stage and saying funny things that there was enormous amounts of work and practice and thought that would have to go into it well that that idea of that that you really had to work at this stuff didn't necessarily come from Disneyland it I I mean I think yes and in terms of presenting a trick but having having it so well honed in your mind was really giving me a sense of security it was I don't want to go out there half baked and you know you learn that through the years you know you're you do a magic show with a friend and you rehearse it a couple of times and yes every all the timing has to be exactly perfect but while you're out there it's it's a different world it's not your mirror you have to make on the spot adjustments but that's just you know whatever entertainer does actually working at the magic shop really gave me a sense of comedy because it was all the jokes we did the tricks but we have all these jokes I had a friend Jim Barlow who you know he he was the the guy I worked with there but he had patter worked out you know it he would go to customers and say Medicare money I mean help you not and you know call them suckers it was really funny and and kind of friendly rude what was your patter I just took all of Jim's patter I'm I'm trying to think of other ones yeah I said it would just it would somebody would buy something it would say and because you are hundred customer today you get a free paperback it's a little silly things like that but Disneyland I'm fifteen right here at early act was a combination of banjo playing juggling magic tricks and comedy and some of that stating your later at two but it sounds like a vaudeville act yes I was very interested involved it was the only sort of discipline that was a five minute act on stage which is what I really enjoyed ins and saw myself doing and I bought books on it I went to the Long Beach pike which was off the carnival fair you know four is really a place for drunken sailors to get tattoos but there was also side shows is very interested in that but you know there is these are all in there these are short acts there was one of the employees at Disneyland that I worked with was named Steve Stewart and he worked in vaudeville and he did a sack for me one day on the floor of the magic shop and I had a couple of great gags one was that I actually used and I asked him if I could use them because I was very strict about using any material that wasn't mine or that that was taken from somebody else let's put it this way I became strict wasn't strict at first there is one trick that one joke that Dave steward did where he said are not yet a glove white glove in his hand the magicians glove any he said and now the glove into dove trick and he threw it into the air and then it hit the floor and he just looked at it and consent and set up for my next trick he went on and it was the first time I saw comedy created out of nothing of nothing happening and I Glaum don to that wait wait wait you're doing I think is not only making comedy out of nothing but making comedy out of people's expectations which you were going to fail to fulfill well yes exactly and I I really started that when I became a semi professional meaning I was working the local folk music clubs going around either working for free or for a week and I quickly decided that you know the material was you know good or weak or whatever and I decided whatever it was I was going to pretend like it was fantastic and how great am I how great is what you're seeing and I think that's what grizzly hunting it's a tune him too because they couldn't believe that someone actually was that confident

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