Wednesday, January 30, 2008

New Release Spotlight: Born Standing Up

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

“In the audience was a street poet, dressed in rags and bearded like a yeti, who had a plastic machine gun that shot Ping-Pong balls, which he unloaded on performers he didn’t like.”

Steve Martin is now mostly known as an actor who makes funny if formulaic movies. But at one time he was the biggest stand-up comedian working, playing huge, sold-out arenas. In this memoir, Martin recounts those days; it was a time period he admits, up until recently, he had turned his back on.

Born into a middle-class household, Martin sought out comedy from the beginning, diligently listening to Bob Hope and Abbot and Costello on the radio. Although he had a good relationship with his mother, the one with his father was tumultuous at best. Many years later Martin discovered his father was bitter because he never had a chance to follow his acting ambitions.

As a kid Martin got a job selling maps at Disneyland. Other jobs around the park followed until he ended up working in a magic shop. He enjoyed doing tricks for customers and soon learned that a trick that went wrong evoked a better response from the audience; namely, laughter. Martin loved to perform and began acting at local theaters, all the while working on material for his own act.

Martin paints a vivid picture of all the dingy (or empty) dives he had to perform at in the early parts of his career, lugging his banjo and magic kit all over the country. Lonely and depressed, he was never quite sure he was going to make it.

Even knowing how successful he became, it’s easy to feel bad when he slumps back exhausted to another cheap motel room, or excited when he makes Johnny Carson laugh performing on The Tonight Show.

Although there’s an underlying melancholy throughout (especially when he talks about his father) the book is typical Martin: witty, intelligent, and at times hilarious.

“I ignored my stand-up career for twenty-five years,” Martin writes at the end of the first chapter, “but now…I view this time with surprising warmth. One can have, it turns out, an affection for the war years.”

And it’s also quite easy to have a real affection for this book.

Review by Tim Josephs, Indigo Editing, LLC

ISBN: 1-4165-5365-9
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Pub. Date: November 2007
Hardcover, $25.00


  1. Arnie Josephs (no relation)3:40 PM

    Wow, Tim, great review! I can't wait to run out and pick up this book based solely on your recommendation! You are one class act, Tim Josephs. Don't ever change.

  2. You know, Steve Martin has long been a favorite comedian of mine, but it's too easy to sell him short as a funny but fomulaic actor. My impression of him differs slightly: I have a good deal of respect for him as a writer of both fiction and screenplays (LA Story will always be a favorite of mine; as wacky as it seems it's heavily steeped in Shakespeare and makes no bones about it - and Shopgirl was a modern masterpiece), and he also has a very thoughtful collection of contemporary art. It's a shame so many dismiss him as a formulaic comedian; the man's near-genius. Maybe this book will introduce a larger audience to his more intellectual pursuits.