Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Born Standing Up - A Review

Born Standing Up: A Comics Life
Author: Steve Martin
Publisher: Scribner
Release Date: November 20, 2007

    We, as a society, tend to admire those who walk away while they are at the top of their profession. Whether it be the World Series Champion who decides to hang up his spikes or the television sitcom star who ends his show while it's at its peak, those who choose to leave us wanting more do us all a favor - they preserve a legacy. They save us from saying, "They were great until..." and, instead, allow us to say "They were great."

    Steve Martin's "Born Standing Up: A Comics Life" is an autobiographical look at his illustrious, albeit short, stand-up career. In his book, Steve talks about his humble beginnings working for Disney at the ripe, old age of 10 to making it as a comedy writer for "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" to becoming one of the most (if not the most) successful comedian of his era.

    He does the obligatory explanation of his time growing up in a household with both parents and one sister. He speaks of his influences from radio and television, and while I will always find appreciation for the history of "stand-up" and learning about a performer's evolution, I believe that Steve is at his finest when he is talking about comedy in a theoretical sense - that is to say, his thoughts on why something does or doesn't work, or why we laugh in the first place. In the end, Steve describes why he suddenly decided he was done with stand-up at the pinnacle of his success.

    From my perspective, Steve Martin does not ever seem to get the credit he has rightly earned as being a "stand-up legend". Rarely do you hear today's modern comics say that Steve Martin was an influence or that they can remember the first time they saw Steve Martin perform and how they knew from then on that's what they wanted to be. No, those comments are reserved for the Bruces, Pryors and Carlins; however, when you consider that Martin was coming up at the exact same time as Pryor and Carlin, his level of success becomes mind boggling. Steve was not the "voice of a generation".  If anything, he was the bridge to the next generation. While Carlin, Pryor, Klein, and others were asking the nation to hold a mirror up to itself, Steve was asking you to just enjoy yourself. And, while reading this book, I did just that.

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