Steve Martin - Born Standing Up (3 stars)

Steve Martin - Born Standing Up

Born Standing Up (Simon & Schuster)


Great comedy and psychological problems normally go together like Bill Hicks and nicotine. Nice guy Steve Martin’s ‘funny but weird’ schtick means he’s pulled off the near impossible by delivering original, occasionally brilliant material, without ever turning into an out and out nut. His look back at his career – from a first job selling guidebooks at Disneyland via self-taught magic tricks, banjo playing, then stand-up comedy and international fame – resists the temptation of riding the ego rollercoaster. Instead, his calm, self-effacing delivery skilfully downplays the excitement and surrealism of the life he’s led, making for a rich, very entertaining memoir.

It took 20 years for the fuse on Martin’s comedy firework to burn, and when it eventually exploded, he walked away at the height of his fame. Rather than dwelling on the ennui and isolation that made him quit, he glosses over it in a couple of pages, acknowledging that a foray into ‘the loneliest period of my life’ is a boring celebrity cliché. His candid self-portrait reveals a man hungry for intelligence, desperate to perform and drawn to the avant-garde. Watching him earnestly – but hopelessly – try and shake off his conservative Baptist roots and dabble in pot, hippie fashion and free love is as riveting and funny as seeing his comic style evolve. As an insight into the world of comedy, this winds a witty timeline between the death of vaudeville and the birth of stand-up. Holding back plenty, but revealing just enough, his polite, sometimes silly story is a pleasure to read.

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