Monday, January 28, 2008

Born Standing Up: A Comics Life by Steve Martin

Okay, I know you're probably thinking, "how the f-ck did he read all these damn books in three or four days?" Actually, I've read them all since January 1st and I started the Bill Littlefield book in December. I just finally got around to writing about all of them.

This book is significant for a couple of reasons, first I was a teenager when Steve Martin rose to fame as a stand up comic and I have fond memories of listening to his records and watching him guest host Saturday Nigh Live. Secondly, this is the first book that I read on my Kindle. Don't know what a Kindle is? It is a new ebook reading device from Amazon that is better by leaps and bounds than any that has ever come before it. I don't really have time to go into a rant about how incredible it is and how it has effected my reading habits but, if you are interested in ebooks at all, you may want to check it out for yourself at Amazon.

As to the book itself, like Martin's two short novels, "Shop Girl" and "The Pleasure of My Company," this book is written in a slightly melancholy, self deprecating style that I find infinitely compelling. I think that his obvious talents as a comic actor, screenwriter and director overshadow just how good his prose writing is. The narrative of "Born Standing Up," which, after a brief chapter or two on the author's childhood, focuses entirely on his years as a stand up comic and the author's bittersweet voice has the reader rooting for him, and crying with him, every step of the way.

I vaguely knew that, prior to his breakout success in the late 70's, Steve Martin had spent some time writing for television. However, I was unaware that he had toiled in obscurity for ten years or so before having success as a stand up comedian. The section of the book that focuses on those early lean years is the most satisfying to read. This is partly due the fondness with which he looks back on a time that he quite obviously hadn't thought of in years and partly because the development of his ground breaking stand up comedy style makes for fascinating reading.

There is a veil of sadness that hangs over the entire book, particular the section covering Martin's unprecedented, rock star like fame. His complicated relationship with his family, particularly his father, and his natural inclination to be a loner often seems to have made the road a sad and lonely place for Steve Martin. When his career as a comedian finally comes to an end, there is a huge sense of relief from the writer as he moves into a phase of his career that seems much happier for him.

I guess we'll have to wait and see if he eventually writes another book about the later phase of his career but, really, I just hope he continues gracing us with the occasional short novel or memoir so that we can continue to enjoy his writing.

1 comment:

Indeterminacy said...

I actually held this book in my hands a couple of weeks ago and thought of buying it - but we were limited in how much we could bring back. Now I wish I had gotten it.

I loved the SNL days of Steve Martin - and Bowfinger is my favorite movie of his. It's surprising to hear that his style has an element of melancholy to it - it's similar to James Thurber perhaps? who sometimes mixes the tragic with the comic.