Saturday, March 3, 2012

CBR 4 review: BORN STANDING UP by Steve Martin


BORN STANDING UP, A Comic's Life by Steve Martin is a thoroughly engaging read, but what else would you expect from Steve Martin? What you also expect is material presented thoughtfully and carefully, and BORN STANDING UP certainly does this, in a matter-of-fact but entertaining way. Martin traces the development and evolution of his comedy mindset from its' birth performing magic to his eventual manic and thoughtfully random comedy stand up routine.

Although relatively equal attention is given to both personal and professional matters, and occasionally individuals from one sphere enter the other, Martin's real focus and the joy of the book is his when he relates his interest in, and approach to, performing. Martin's early mastery of even the simplest magic tricks accompanied a desire to perform, and soon enough he was performing in group and solo shows at Knott's Berry Farm. As he describes selling cheap gags in the Knott's Berry Farm store and learning the classic tricks of the magical trade you can tell even now how much Martin enjoyed, and enjoys, the art of performing magic. But the increasing cost of the big tricks came with an understanding that he didn't need the tricks, or even magic itself, to hold the audience's attention.When he eventually took bigger and bigger stages as a stand-up comedian he engaged the audience like few comics before him, and BORN STANDING UP does a wonderful job of exploring how exactly he ended up approaching his performances from his specific viewpoint, a viewpoint that would result in the most successful stand up comedy career seen to that time, and possibly still so to this day. We go from Knott's Berry Farm to Disneyland through college and into the world of television writing as Martin explains how they all shaped and formed the approach and development of material that vaulted him to heights and revenue he never dreamed of. And then how it quickly became routine and boring, when it became too much and too big to matter. Along the way Martin realizes how far he has come, and gone, from his roots and eventually desires to reconnect with those roots. He recounts all this wonderfully and without arrogance at what he once was, the biggest thing in comedy history, and without pathos at what he came to be before making clear and definite changes to his lifestyle and approach to familial relationships. And it was a real treat reading along as Martin recounts these things, and you even get the origins of "Oh PLEEEEEAASE!" and Happy Feet. ;-)

Overall, BORN STANDING UP is an engaging read. Superficial on the personal details and intimate with the professional ones, Steve Martin does a fine job of presenting a very specific and precise history of this part of his life. Perhaps the best recommendation I can give is that I would certainly be interested in a much larger volume by Mr. Martin applying the same thorough approach found in BORN STANDING UP, exploring the many other facets of his life applied from this perspective. 3/5 stars ***

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