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.