At age 10, Steve Martin got a job selling guidebooks at the newly opened Disneyland. In the decade that followed, he worked in Disney's magic shop, print shop, and theater, and developed his own magic/comedy act. By age 20, studying poetry and philosophy on the side, he was performing a dozen times a week, most often at the Disney rival, Knott's Berry Farm.
Obsession is a substitute for talent, he has said, and Steve Martin's focus and daring his sheer tenacity are truly stunning. He writes about making the very tough decision to sacrifice everything not original in his act, and about lucking into a job writing for The Smothers Brothers Show. He writes about mentors, girlfriends, his complex relationship with his parents and sister, and about some of his great peers in comedy Dan Aykroyd, Lorne Michaels, Carl Reiner, Johnny Carson. He writes about fear, anxiety and loneliness. And he writes about how he figured out what worked on stage.
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.
Here are some "deleted bits" that you won't find in Steve Martin's Born Standing Up, "one of the best books about comedy and being a comedian ever written" (Jerry Seinfeld).
1) At age twelve, my sex education was non-existent, thanks to a restrained media and an embarrassed father, who once said to me in an uncomfortable heart-to-heart talk when I graduated high school, "I never taught you about sex because you learn that in the schoolyard." Once I commented to a co-worker about the strange fat women who occasionally came through the turnstiles. "They're pregnant," said my amazed friend.
2) In January of 1974, I met Mimi Farina, the sparrow-voiced folk artist and sister to Joan Baez, at a small club called the "Egress" in Vancouver, where we worked together for several nights. She had a delectable sense of humor and loved to laugh. One afternoon we bantered back and forth as we strolled along the Vancouver waterfront. It's impossible to reconstruct how she arrived at this line, but I always remembered it: "Are those glass fishnet balls in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" She said it with the glee of someone who knew she had landed on the perfect last joke of a series, and we went into a laughing fit.
After I became successful, Mimi, an activist herself, chastised me for not being more visible politically. I felt defensive as I had already delivered anti-Vietnam war rhetoric as a writer on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. I'm not sure I adequately explained to her my reasons for withdrawal from activism, but I can try now. I love comedy. To work, comedy needs to be perfect, clear and focused. A dropped cocktail glass on your punch line can kill the laugh. When I perform I want the audience thinking about only one thing, what is going on at that exact moment. A public political position, especially a strident one, can be like a dropped cocktail glass.
I desire to be active privately and not publicly. But more importantly, I am not an authority. When I am asked on television about a topical issue, I feel unqualified to comment. They should ask someone who knows about the issue, not a comedian who's promoting a movie.
3) Letter to Mitzi Trumbo, influenced by logic class:
There exists in Pasadena a cafeteria such that it either has good food or it is full of young people; it is not full of young people. If there exist in Pasadena a cafeteria such that it has good food and is close to the Ice house, then we shall eat there or we shall eat at the ice house. We shall not eat at the Ice House and the cafeteria is close; if we eat at the cafeteria that has good food, is close to the Ice House and it is not the case that it is full of young people, we shall leave ? hour earlier.