Serious about comedy.



About Jester

Sketch & Solo Performances

Improv Performances

Film & TV

The Jester Interviews

Jester's Blog

Book reviews

Favorite links

Follow jestershash on Twitter



The Man In The White Three-Piece Suit

Steve Martin's autobiography proves the best read of fall's memoirs by veteran comedians

This past fall saw three memoirs published by major influential comedians -- Steve Martin, Don Rickles and David Steinberg. The most recent of the three, Steve Martin’s “Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life,” strikes the best balance between mere rose-colored recollections of a show business career (as in “Rickles’ Book“) and a more high-concept approach (Steinberg’s “The Book of David”).

In “Born Standing Up,” Martin takes readers inside his head as he devised and refined his stand-up act to the point where he was selling out arenas with it by the late 1970s. There is the requisite story of Martin’s childhood and growing up in Southern California, but this quickly feeds into his early performing career as a magician, starting out in the magic shops and stages of Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. Martin purposely confines this autobiography to his stand-up years.

Martin relates a lot of tales of lack of confidence in himself and his act, perhaps being a bit humble, although when it involves his first Tonight show appearance, that’s understandable. Where Martin innovated in his stand-up was undermining your expectations. As he explains it:

“Now that I had assigned myself to an act without jokes, I gave myself a rule,” Martin writes. “Never let them know I was bombing: This is funny, you just haven’t gotten it yet. … Eventually, I thought, the laughs would be playing catch-up to what I was doing. Everything would be either delivered in passing, or the opposite, an elaborate presentation that climaxed in pointlessness.”

Well said. And sure, as Martin’s movie career took off, he didn’t need stand-up anymore, perhaps, but he attributes it to burning out artistically in trying to get his material across in big halls where the back rows would only see him as a little speck. Martin notes that he adopted his signature white suit, for that reason, to be most visible. “In 1981, my act was like an overly plumed bird whose next evolutionary step was extinction,” he writes. “Over the last few years, I had lost contact with what I was doing.”

This might sound a little self-involved, but in telling his story, Martin uses enough self-deprecation throughout to endear himself to the reader. That makes “Born Standing Up” the most accessible of the three memoirs -- where Rickles is a bit plain and Steinberg gets lost in the idea of relating his life story in biblical grammar and syntax -- Martin effortlessly glides along.




Custom Search

                                                                  Feedback? Email or

                                                                                     © 2005-2018 Michael Shashoua