Book 19 of 2016
Steve Martin’s memoir, Born Standing Up, is an interesting look at how comedy clubs and comedians materialized in North America. Martin’s emergence into the comedy world isn’t what you’d expect: for instance, the comedy world as we know it today didn’t exist. In order to book a gig, comedians had to work hard on other skills they could incorporate into their well-rounded act. Martin looked to poet E.E. Cummings for inspiration and sites Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland logical comedy writer Lewis Carroll as ultimately opening doors for comedians like him.
In his early twenties, Martin’s multi-faceted sets included playing the banjo, doing magic, and eventually telling jokes; there was no such thing a ‘comedy club’ when he started performing. He even performed stand-up routines in drive-in movie theater parking lots and people would honk their horns when they thought a joke was funny.
Born Standing Up also gives us a glimpse of the state of the world when comedy really started taking off. Martin references the War of Vietnam, and writes about how the country was divided because of the war. He says that there was an underground love of comedy and music developing at the time; silliness like Martin’s wasn’t mainstream but helped take people’s minds off the war and crumbling sense of morale.
My husband and I bought Born Standing Up without reading what it entailed (at least, I didn’t read the back cover!), and I thought it was going to be about Martin’s entire life in the comedy world, and would include current projects. Instead, it focused on his early life and the history of comedy in his time. Martin is a good writer, proving himself articulate and thoughtful in his prose. My one complaint is that Martin tends to be overly descriptive at times, using phrases like ‘inaudibly mouthing’ (if someone is only ‘mouthing’ something, than we already know it is inaudible) to create a flowery style of writing. However, all in all, Born Standing Up was a quick, entertaining read, and I hope Martin writes a Part Two of his memoir, because it would definitely be worth a read.