Friday, March 23, 2012

Book Review: Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin

I'm a sucker for funny guys.  Especially prematurely gray ones.  So, I guess it goes without saying that I've always had a little soft spot for Steve Martin.

Not The Jerk's Steve Martin. Not, Wild and Crazy Guy-Martin.  Just Steve Martin.  Out of character and being his witty intelligent self.

Fortunately, for me, this is the Steve Martin that penned Born Standing Up.  It's a memoir, but not a birth-to-death kind of memoir.  Subtitled, A Comic's Life, this memoir chronicles Steve's journey of funnydom.  There's a bit of childhood reminisce, but just in laying the groundwork for what makes his funny tick.  Early influences.  Family struggles, that all comics seem to fabricate a protective shell from.  Earliest performances of any and all sorts.  

I treasured the chapter on his working days at Disneyland, being a fellow Disney nut myself.  Steve started at the theme park at the tender age of ten, selling souvenir books.  Reading his narration of weaving through the park, between the legs of full grown visitors, on his daily adventure of earning that two bucks was like seeing my own childhood fantasies realized.  His days were spent all over Disney's land, working hours and non-working alike. The Golden Horseshoe Review, Mr. Merlin's Magic Shop, the lassoing cowboys in Frontierland, every performer unknowingly molding the mind of a budding talent who studied them at their crafts on level that only a future star would invest.  He later worked his way on up to a stint in the magic shop, where he practiced what he learned in these first and basic steps to performing for an audience.

The book follows his career to Knott's Berry Farm (where he met, dated and "lost it" to... wait for it, wait for it... Stormie Omartian.  Yes, THAT Stormie Omartian!) to San Francisco where he tried to brand his own, somewhat vaudevillian, act of magic + comedy + banjo-playing to the small club scene and then onward and upward to eventual fame and fortune.

His intelligence is realized in the methodical outline he used in pinpointing what it took to make a crowd laugh.  What to say, how to move, where to stand, when to raise an eyebrow, when to twitch a cheek muscle, what color suit to wear, how to deal with hecklers, which crowd likes what, which crowd will follow you out to the lobby and into the street after you thought your performance was through.  All documented, outlined, tweaked and honed, night after night.

This is not a step-by-step guide on how to become a comedian, though.  Just a step-by-step recollection of how one became Steve Martin.

Witty, endearing, heart-felt, laugh out loud funny and so well written that I've come to realize that Mr. Martin is really a writer at heart and only a comedian by trade.  I'll be ready for the next chapter, whenever he decides to pen it.  And, I'll be there in line, with arrow headband on.

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