Born Standing Up

Gah. I've been doing more book reading lately and thus the to-be-reviewed piles begins to loom. Let's talk about Born Standing Up, Steve Martin's memoir of his early stand-up career.

I have to admit, I went into this book thinking it was something different than it was. I thought the focus was on comedy, how it works and why it works. There is a discussion about how his stand-up evolved and what Martin was thinking as created his style, but that's not the bulk of the book by any means. Furthermore, that's more of a historical note than a comedy How-To. It's a fascinating topic and his presentation is insightful, but it ends up being a documentary of how Steve Martin reacted to the comedy of that time. If you were going to do comedy today you'd have to react to the comedy of today – meaning you'd have to build off or react to Martin's work. From that perspective knowing his thought process back then isn't really practical information. As I said it's fascinating to read but I had gotten the impression that it there was practical information on creating funny material in the book, and I don't think that's accurate.

I've always enjoyed Steve Martin's stand-up and sketch work, as well as his earlier movies. (I don't think I've seen anything he's done from in the last twenty years or so.) The book does a good job of presenting his start going all the way back to working in Disneyland when he was ten years old. I was only seven when The Jerk came out, so I've always seen his comedy after the fact, usually by many years. I think I was in college before I saw the "Wild And Crazy Guys" skits. Seeing how his comedy evolved and where he started is interesting and he tells it well in the book.

I enjoyed the book. It's a pretty quick and light read. It's not what I thought it was going in but even as a historical note seeing how Martin played with comedy is interesting. I tend to think of that oddly literal and deadpan style Martin has just being fully formed. He does a good job of walking through how that evolved from the standard comedy routines he knew and presenting his style as a journey. If that sounds interesting to you then I think you'd enjoy reading this. It's more of a memoir and less of an analysis of comedy but it's a fine memoir, and chewing on the techniques presented can yield interesting insights. The glimpse of how Martin approached his craft is intriguing and I think worth the time to read.