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"Professional show business! Hey!"
on May 7, 2006
Too many of the reviews here are not judging this album on its own merits, but on everything they know about Steve Martin following the appearance of this album in 1977. The fact is that this album was so successful that it catapulted Steve Martin into the national spotlight, but before this album he was virtually unknown. At a time when most comedians were basing more and more of their humor on their capacity to get progressively vulgar, Martin brought forth a brand of humor that depended less on profanity than conceptual humor. He could get obscene as well, but because most of his act was "clean," the few times he would get bawdy had far more impact than with other major comedians.
I remember reading once that before turning to comedy Martin was in college a philosophy student, especially the linguistic philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Certainly Martin is more conceptual than any contemporary comedian (though Steven Wright has since developed a comparable conceptual approach, though his presentation is considerably different), delighting in toying with words, combining ideas that clash unexpectedly with one another. And although the humor was always completely planned, there was an almost stream of consciousness touch to his routine at times. It was almost he never ceased being a philosopher, almost engaging in a deconstruction of normal humor.
What I find amazing today is that this album, released in the hey day of the age of disco, seems as fresh today as it was when it first came out. Even if you've heard the stuff before, his changes of pace and shifts are perennially original and unexpected. He really was cutting edge, but pretty soon he made cutting edge popular. The album was such a success that he immediately began selling out arenas and coliseums and, of course, began his unprecedented run as guest host of SNL, where he pioneered a string of famous skits. The album was cutting edge, but it was also graced with an almost universal appeal.
Following this album he released an almost equally good one, A WILD AND CRAZY GUY. Unfortunately the next two were more formulaic and felt like efforts to cash in on his success. By then Martin's career as a stand up comedian was over. The other great stand up to emerge from the seventies, Robin Williams, has at gone back to stand up from time to time, but Martin has stuck with acting and writing. But his subsequent success in other fields shouldn't make us forget just how brilliant this debut album was.