Review of Steve Martin’s “Born Standing Up”

I’ve always known Steve Martin as an actor in comedies such as “Father of the Bride” and “Roxanne”. I was therefore surprised to learn that he was an Emmy-award winning writer on the Saturday Night Live show, and also one of the biggest celebrity stand-up comedians in the 1970s, performing to stadiums packed with tens of thousands of adoring fans.

But the real stunner came when I discovered that he was also a Grammy-award winning banjo player. In yet another twist to his multi-faceted career, Steve Martin is now a writer of fiction books and plays.

“Born Standing Up” is his autobiographical account of his journey as a comic, tracing its roots from his after-school job at a magic booth in Disneyland, to the day he walked away from it all. Like his movies, his story-telling was gentle with a few laugh-out-loud moments. Steve Martin didn’t hold back from the unpleasant episodes, such as the abusive psychological treatment he endured from his father, nor did he dwell on them. His mild retelling allowed the story to take root and blossom in the reader’s mind; no linguistic embellishment necessary.

There was an incident he casually mentioned in a few short paragraphs, but one I remember vividly. Steve Martin longed to play the banjo, but there wasn’t anyone who could teach him. So he learnt by first slowing down the music on the record, and then painstakingly repeating what he heard, note after note. There was no place for him to practise without disturbing his family, so he would lock himself in the car, wind up the windows even in the hot summer days, and slowly twang away. From this to a Grammy award, it’s simply astounding.

Steve Martin came across as humble and sincere, somehow managing to sound self-deprecating even when bragging. At 220 pages, this was a breezy read, not for a lack of content, mind you, but a result of the author’s skill in saying more with less.

Highly enjoyable – check out other reader reviews of “Born Standing Up” at Amazon.

About Hun Boon

A little bit of this, a little bit of that.
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6 Responses to Review of Steve Martin’s “Born Standing Up”

  1. DISCONNECT says:

    Loved this book. Steve Martin has always been someone whose work I admired, but I don’t think I appreciated how hard he worked for his success until I plowed through this book.

    • Hun Boon says:

      Yes, I feel exactly the same. I wonder if it’s partly due to the fact he’s a comedian, and making people laugh didn’t seem like something hard work, unlike say, playing the piano.

      • DISCONNECT says:

        I wonder if it’s also something to do with today’s pop culture where teenagers seem to be made famous overnight just because some movie/tv/music executive decides that they should be. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the folks who gain success the old fashioned way–by working their butts off for it.

    • Hun Boon says:

      The case of Kate Upton is probably fresh on your mind too. But to be fair, I think she has made the most of her chance and has a fair shot at parlaying it into a long-term career. The sudden thrust into the limelight might be serendipity, but making it last beyond a flash in the pan is a whole new ball game.

      Which brings us nicely to Jeremy Lin, the current NBA sensation. No way is he an overnight success, however compelling that illusion may be. People don’t often appreciate the amount of hard work that goes into an instant success.

  2. Felicia Soh says:

    I never liked Steve Martin (found him always trying a little too hard in his movies and the roles he plays did not endear hin to me since they tend to be very one dimensional and unnerving. I don’t think he has much acting skills to boot) but oddly enough, your review makes me want buy the book to find out more about the genuine man behind the roles he plays. I am surprised about his multi talents and the banjo playing episode actually change my opinion of him, and even (grudgingly) respect the real person beneath all that posturing in front of the camera! Definitely in my to read list. Thanks!

    • Hun Boon says:

      Isn’t it funny how learning a trivial fact about Steve Martin totally changed our perception of him? I could have lent you the book, but I got the Kindle version. 🙂

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