Born Standing Up

December 29, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

bornBorn Standing Up by Steve Martin


I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but I like behind-the-scenes trivia quite a bit. Of particular interest to me are analyses into the creative process, and several years back, read a piece from this book where Martin described how he developed his stand up act. It was fascinating, enough for me to think, I should read that whole book, but then nothing ever came of it. Earlier this year, I found the book on sale on Audible, and figured the time was right to catch up on the whole thing. That Martin himself reads the book was a bonus.

The book is less biography and more memoir, since Martin only writes about his life up to the time he stopped doing stand up. That means the book skips over his career as an actor and writer, but seeing him develop from a young kid selling maps to Disneyland to being such a popular comic that he has to start wearing a white suit in order for the people in the back rows to see him is an amazing journey. He writes about how he started doing magic, how he took up the banjo, and how he developed all of his interests into an act that was less about comedy and more about entertainment. All of his diverse interests intersected into an absurd, surrealist act that stood above what other comics were doing at the time, making Martin stand out above it all.

It’s interesting to me to see how seriously Martin took his comedy. I imagine this is true of most successful comedians — it takes analysis and refinement to perfect an act — but Martin talks about it in a clinical way that makes you realize he didn’t just come up with his act on the fly. All of his bits were calculated, and he had tons of material waiting in his head so he could respond to the audience’s mood as he performed his act. I’ve seen and listened to enough of it to recognize some of the bits he discusses, and it’s impressive to read how much he worked to make it look spontaneous.

Speaking of the bits he discusses, I expect that Martin was the only choice for reading this book. There is enough of his own act included in the memoir that only Martin could convey them correctly. Not even professional readers could get the right timing down on how he ends his “Ramblin’ Man” song, or if they could, it wouldn’t be as impressive as how Martin himself does it.

On top of the memoir being an intimate look into Martin’s process, the book is also well-written. Martin is a writer as much as he is a comedian or actor (or magician, or banjo-player, for that matter), and it shows in little turns of phrase he uses here and there. It’s a good book, more so if, like me, you’re interested in the creative process, and the audio version of the book is a great edition to read. Er, listen to. Fans of Martin shouldn’t pass it up.

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