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Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life Paperback – September 2, 2008
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This book is a memoir, but it is also an illuminating guidebook to stand-up from one of our two or three greatest comedians. Though Martin is reticent about his personal life, he is also stunningly deft, and manages to give readers a feeling of intimacy and candor. Illustrated throughout with black and white photographs collected by Martin, this book is instantly compelling visually and a spectacularly good read.
Three Bonus Deleted Passages from Steve Martin's Born Standing Up
On Returning to Disneyland
Ten years later, after the Beatles, drugs, and Vietnam had changed the entire tenor of American life, I returned to the magic shop at Disneyland and stood as a stranger. As I looked around the eerily familiar room another first came over me, a previously unknown emotion, one that was to have a curious force over me for the rest my life: the longing tug of nostalgia. Looking at the counter where I pitched Svengali Decks and the Incredible Shrinking Die, I was awash with the recollection of indelible nights where the sky was blown open by fireworks and big band sounds drifted through trees strung with fairy lights. I remembered my youth, when every moment was crisply present, when heartbreak and joy replaced each other quickly, fully and without trauma. Even now when I visit Disneyland, I am steeped in melancholy, because a corporation has preserved my nostalgia impeccably. Every nail and screw is the same, and Disneyland looks as new now as it did then. The paint is fresh, and the only wear allowed is faux. In fact, only I have changed. In the dream-like world of childhood memories, so often vague and imprecise, Disneyland remains for me not only vivid in memory, but vivid in fact.
On Meeting Diane Hall
During the day, I attended Santa Ana Junior College, taking drama classes and pursuing an unexpected interest in English poetry from Donne to Eliot. I would occasionally assist on a college stage production--never appearing in one--as a member of the crew. Years later I was looking through a box of memorabilia and noticed a silk-screened playbill of the musical Carousel, May, 1964, which listed me as a stagehand. The lead actress was Diane Hall. Something connected and I remembered that Diane Keaton's name was once Hall, (hence, Annie Hall). I confirmed with her that she was in that production. Neither of us remembers meeting the other, yet we must have worked in proximity. More evidence that I was a wallflower. Decades later, we ended up "making love" on the floor of a movie set on Father of the Bride.
On the Kennedy Assassination
One Friday in 1963, I had finished a class and was about to drive to Knott's Berry Farm for the afternoon shows when I saw a clump of agitated students across the campus. I asked someone what was going on. "They're saying that the president's been shot."
I drove across town to Knott's and punched radio buttons. I could hear the scheduled programs clicking off and being replaced by live broadcasts. Assassination seemed so ancient and inconceivable, I was sure that someone would soon correct the erroneous report. President Kennedy died that day and I didn't know that news could be taken so personally by a nation. Sitting backstage, watching the Birdcage's black-and-white TV drone out the increasingly grave report, we were all mute. We assumed the performance that night would be canceled, but as show time neared, word came down that we were going on. We couldn't fathom why; we believed no one would show up, much less enjoy us. I still can't explain the psychology, why the very full house that night was able to roar with laughter. The obvious must be correct: our silly show was providing some kind of balm that soothed the ache.
In 2003 I hosted the Oscars on the particular weekend that the United States invaded Iraq. The news was grim and just hours before the show I flipped on the TV and saw a report, subsequently proven false, that our captive soldiers were being beheaded. I quickly turned the TV off, sick. I knew, from my experience forty years earlier with the Kennedy assassination, what my job was, and I harbored a secret knowledge that the audience would laugh. I also felt that soldiers who might be watching would be tuning in to see the Oscars and all its hoopla, not a cheerless comedian doing what he doesnt do best. I decided to acknowledge the circumstances early in the show and then get on with the jokes. The academy had announced that the show would "cut back on the glitz." I walked out for the opening monologue, took a look around the stage at the dazzling, swirling staircases, mirrored curtains and polished floor, and simply said, "I'm glad they cut back on the glitz." It got a laugh of relief and the show could go on.
More from Steve Martin
The Alphabet from A to Y with Bonus Letter Z!
The Pleasure of My Company
Praise for Born Standing Up
"[A] lean, incisive new book about the trajectory of [Martin's] life in comedy...Born Standing Up does a sharp-witted job of breaking down the step-by-step process that brought Steve Martin from Disneyland, where he spent his version of a Dickensian childhood as a schoolboy employee, to both the pinnacle of stardom and the brink of disaster...tightly focused...Born Standing Up is a surprising book: smart, serious, heartfelt and confessional without being maudlin." --Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"Absolutely magnificent. One of the best books about comedy and being a comedian ever written." --Jerry Seinfeld, GQ
"The writing is evocative, unflinching and cool. When Martin takes a scalpel to his life, what you feel is the precision of the surgeon more than the primal scream of the unanaesthetized patient...Born Standing Up is neither fanfare nor confession. It gives off a vibe of rigorous honesty. With lots of laughs." --Richard Corliss, Time Magazine
"A spare, unexpectedly resonant remembrance of things past Martin's one true subject is the evolution of his comedy--the transcendent moments...A smart, gentlemanly, modest book winning." --Jeff Giles, Entertainment Weekly, EW Pick: A
"A charming memoir tracking what the great comic characterizes as his 'war years.' Martin offers an eloquent and exacting account... [and] approaches his subjects with generosity, warmth and integrity." --Kirkus Reviews
"Sure to delight fans and create new ones." --Laura Mathews, Good Housekeeping
"What fun to discover the humble beginnings of some of his iconic personas...inspiring." --Rachel Rosenblit, Elle
"The archetypical story of the underdog's rise and a particularly American story...beautifully written, honest, engaging, and quietly brave." --Frederic Tuten, Bomb Magazine
"Son, you have an ob-leek sense of humor." --Elvis Presley
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
More About the Author
In March of 2010, Martin, along with Alec Baldwin, co-hosted the 82nd Annual Academy Awards - his third time serving as host of the prestigious award show.
On January 31st, 2010, Steve Martin's banjo album, The Crow / New Songs For The Five-String Banjo, won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album.
Christmas 2009 saw Martin share the screen with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin in Universal's "It's Complicated." The comedy, directed by Nancy Meyers, tells the story of a divorced couple (Streep and Baldwin) who discover that their feelings for one another might not have completely disappeared. Martin plays Adam, the soft-spoken and sweet architect who also vies for Street's characters' affection.
In 2008, Martin had two books published: In October, Doubleday released a children's book titled The Alphabet from A to Y with Bonus Letter Z!, co-written with fellow The New Yorker illustrator Roz Chast. In December, Martin's autobiography, Born Standing Up, was published by Scribner.
Additionally, in December of 2007, Martin was the recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honor.
In February 2006, Martin was seen in "The Pink Panther" playing the role of Inspector Clouseau, originally made famous by Peter Sellers. The film, which reunites Martin with director Shawn Levy, costarred Beyonce Knowles and Kevin Kline. In 2009, Mr. Martin will revived his role of Inspector Clouseau in "The Pink Panther 2."
In 2005, Martin received critical praise for the Touchstone Pictures film "Shopgirl," costarring Claire Danes and Jason Schwartzman. The screenplay was written by Martin and adapted from his best-selling novella of the same name. "Shopgirl" follows the complexities of a romance between a young girl, who works at a Los Angeles Saks Fifth Avenue glove counter while nurturing dreams of being an artist, and a wealthy older man, who is still learning about the consequences that come with any romantic relationship.
Christmas 2003, Martin starred in the highest grossing film of his career, "Cheaper by the Dozen," directed by Shawn Levy for 20th Century Fox. The family comedy, co-starring Bonnie Hunt and Hillary Duff, has grossed over $135 million domestically. Christmas 2005 saw the much anticipated sequel "Cheaper by the Dozen 2" staring the original cast and adding in a rival family, headed by Eugene Levy. In February of 2003, Martin starred with Queen Latifah in the blockbuster comedy, "Bringing Down the House" for Touchstone Pictures which gross $132.7 million.
Mr. Martin hosted the 75th Annual Academy Awards in 2003, his second time handling those duties, the first being the 73rd Oscars. The 75th Annual Academy Awards was nominated for seven Emmy Awards, including a nomination for "Outstanding Individual Performance In a Variety or Music Program".
Born in Waco, Texas and raised in Southern California, Mr. Martin became a television writer in the late 1960's, winning an Emmy Award for his work on the hit series "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour." By the end of the decade he was performing his own material in clubs and on television.
Launched by frequent appearances on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show," Mr. Martin went on to host several shows in the innovative "Saturday Night Live" series and to star in and co-write four highly rated television specials. When performing on national concert tours, he drew standing-room-only audiences in some of the largest venues in the country. He won Grammy Awards for his two comedy albums, "Let's Get Small" and "A Wild and Crazy Guy," and had a gold record with his single "King Tut." In 2003, Martin also won a Grammy® Award for Best country instrumentalist for his playing on Earl Scruggs 75th Anniversary album.
Mr. Martin's first film project, "The Absent-Minded Waiter," a short he wrote and starred in, was nominated for a 1977 Academy Award. In 1979, he moved into feature films, co-writing and starring in "The Jerk," directed by Carl Reiner. In 1981, he starred opposite Bernadette Peters in Herbert Ross' bittersweet musical comedy, "Pennies From Heaven."
The actor then co-wrote and starred in the 1982 send-up of detective thrillers, "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" and the science fiction comedy "The Man With Two Brains," both directed by Carl Reiner. In 1984, Mr. Martin received a Best Actor Award from both the New York Film Critics Association and the National Board of Review for his performance opposite Lily Tomlin in "All of Me," his forth collaboration with writer/director Carl Reiner.
In 1987, his motion picture hit, "Roxanne," a modern adaptation of the Cyrano de Bergerac legend, garnered Martin not only warm audience response, but also a Best Actor Award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and Best Screenplay Award from the Writer Guild of America. Mr. Martin was also the executive producer on the film.
In 1988, he costarred with Michael Caine in the hit comedy film "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," his second feature collaboration with director Frank Oz (the first being "Little Shop of Horrors"). In 1989, he starred with Mary Steenburgen and Diane Wiest in Ron Howard's affectionate family comedy, "Parenthood" for Universal Pictures.
In 1991, Mr. Martin wrote, starred in and co-executive produced the critically acclaimed comedy, "L.A. Story," a motion picture about a love story set in Los Angeles. That same year he made a cameo appearance in Lawrence Kasdan's critically lauded "Grand Canyon" and starred with Diane Keaton in the hit Disney film "Father Of The Bride," receiving the People's Choice Award for Favorite Actor in a Comedy Motion Picture for the latter. In 1992, he starred in the Universal comedy feature "Housesitter," opposite Goldie Hawn, winning the People's Choice Award for Favorite Actor in a Comedy, for the second year in a row.
In 1996, he starred again with Diane Keaton in the hit sequel to "Father of the Bride," and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. In 1997, he received universal critical acclaim for his riveting performance in director David Mamet's thriller, "The Spanish Prisoner."
Mr. Martin wrote and starred in the hilarious 1999 feature comedy, "Bowfinger," opposite Eddie Murphy for Director Frank Oz. The film was showcased at the Deauville International Film Festival.
Mr. Martin's other films include classic comedies like Frank Oz's "Little Shop of Horrors," in which he played a demented dentist; John Hughes' "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," co-starring John Candy and the comic Western send-up "The Three Amigos" co-staring Marin Short and Chevy .
In the fall of 1993, Mr. Martin's first original play, the comedy-drama "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," was presented by Chicago's prestigious Steppenwolf Theatre. Following rave reviews and an extended run in Chicago, the play was presented successfully in Boston and Los Angeles, and then Off-Broadway in New York at the Promenade Theatre, to nationwide critical and audience acclaim. It has since been, and continues to be, mounted in productions worldwide. "WASP" a one act play that Martin wrote, was first performed at the Public Theatre in NY in 1995. "The Underpants," a dark comedy Mr. Martin adapted from the 1911 play by Carl Sterneim, premiered Off-Broadway at the Classic Stage Company on April 4, 2002.
In 1996, Mr. Martin was honored with a retrospective of his work, by the American Film Institute's Third Decade Council at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. He was also presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the ceremony. In 2004 Martin was honored for his film work by the American Cinematheque.
A selection of paintings from his extensive, private, modern art collection was given a special exhibition at the Bellagio Hotel gallery in Las Vegas in 2000, with catalog notes written for the show my Mr. Martin.
After the success of his first novella Shopgirl Mr. Martin's second novella, "The Pleasure of My Company," published by Hyperion, once again was ranked on best seller lists around the country including the New York Times. He has written a best selling collection of comic pieces, Pure Drivel, and his work frequently appears in The New Yorker and the New York Times.
He lives in New York City and Los Angeles.
Top Customer Reviews
As the book continues, we learn all of his major stepping stones from Disneyland to the Bird Cage theater at Knotts Berry Farm, and so on. Martin traveled a winding road to stand-up success and is brutally honest about how much he had to learn for so long early in his career. Yet, with each step, you can see the progress as he figures out how to create his own unique comedy voice and make it work.
There are many things that could be said in favor of "Born Standing Up." From my perspective the most important are these two. First, I felt like I knew Steve Martin better when I finished reading than when I started. That may seem an obvious result of any biography but it can only be said if the author is genuinely candid. The second thing is that I both like and respect him more as a result. Not because he paints a perfect picture of himself, but because he is honest about his shortcomings and how he dealt with them. It was a true pleasure to spend this time in his company and I hope he writes a sequel someday covering the experiences of his movie career.
But to anyone old enough to remember Steve Martin's sensational, if seemingly brief, career as a stand-up comic, this is a fascinating book, not to be missed. There is much here that was new to me. I had no idea, for example, that he appeared so many times on the Tonight Show before becoming really famous, or that he had appeared as a bearded, long-haired comedian before adopting his famous clean-cut 3-piece white suit look, or that he suffered from debilitating panic attacks just as he began his career as a writer on the Smothers Brothers show.
For the first 80 pages or so I thought his life story was a bit humdrum, almost like a parody of Bob Dylan's "Chronicles". Martin grew up 2 miles from Disneyland, and the fact that he became an entertainer seemed almost inevitable. But the book really takes off as he recounts the early days of his career making the transition from magician with a few funny bits to a full-blown stand-up comic. Not that Steve Martin is the colossal genius that Bob Dylan is, but it's interesting that much as Dylan describes how he became a songwriter because he realized he could never succeed as a virtuoso guitarist, Martin writes how he became a comic because, well, who doesn't want to be in show business?
At the height of his career as a stand-up comic Steve Martin was the funniest man in America. One of the joys of this book is that he appreciates how funny he was and delights in retelling the same jokes that amused us then and amuse us now.Read more ›
The book can be painful to read, especially before he hit it big. Constant travel. No money. Estranged from family. Silent (or heckling) audiences. Rejection. Loneliness.
The writing is first rate and some of his insights are profound, especially his take on Johnny Carson. The main problems I had with the book are the amount of space he devoted to unknowns he met along the way and his cerebral and overly analytical approach to his stand-up comedy. To me he was funny not because of what he said or did, but HOW he said or did it. Body language is his genius. Strangly, he doesn't seem to recognize that.
Make no mistake. This is not a funny book. It is a serious, sometimes sad, memoir of his dues paying years in the business. Often interesting (I read its 200 pages in two sittings), but not especially compelling.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Honest, funny, and never maudlin. Buy the audio--Martin's narration is as gifted as his stand-up. Like learning the magician's secret, which turns out to be damn hard work. Read morePublished 7 days ago by Evan Geller
I am a huge fan of Steve Martin. I love to read autobiographies but sometimes it is a disappointment as the character of the subject reveals himself/herself. Not so with this one. Read morePublished 13 days ago by Kathryn L Harris
Very well written. Loved finding out about Steve Martin's journey. Some wonderful name dropping as well. A brilliant artist reflecting on a transcendent stand-up career.Published 26 days ago by Patrick R. Leach
A great way of understand to keep going now matter what and don't give up in a funny and entertaining wayPublished 1 month ago by La casa de los Moshos
Reading "A Comics Life", I picture Steve speaking with the same wit and charm as his "A Holiday Wish" skit on SNL. Read morePublished 1 month ago by R. Testani