I picked Born Standing Up by Steve Martin (2007) off my dad’s bookshelf in summer 2013 and have since read it twice. If you’re looking for a comprehensive history of Steve Martin, this might not be the book for you. If you find that book, let me know. Sure, there’s a linear trajectory of time, but it does not end with, “Well, here I am in 2007, still alive, still being awesome.” In essence, it is autobiographical, but the focus of Born Standing Up is, in Steve Martin’s words, "Why I did stand-up and why I walked away." After working at a Disneyland magic shop and performing at Knott’s Berry Farm’s Bird Cage Theatre, Martin decided, lucky for us, to take a stab at comedy. He started off with a comedic magic/banjo show in small, random venues, which eventually turned into the stand-up routine that catapulted him into stardom. Rest assured, TV fans, Steve Martin reserves an entire chapter for his time in TV, namely The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and how it affected his early career. Again, I want to stress that this book is not Steve Martin A-Z. It’s more like Steve Martin A-J.
Because Steve Martin is a comedy god, one would think the reader would be writhing in pain from a 207-page ab workout. Sometimes a thing so absurd or witty would pop up that I could not help but laugh, but the book is filled with a sincere story. This is refreshing, especially when it comes to someone whose name is synonymous with hilarity, to read a story that is straightforward and to not constantly question if what the writer is saying is true. (I’m looking at you, Amy Poehler. I’m holding onto hope that you and Cheryl Sandberg actually collaborate on Lean Back, the sequel to Lean In.) Although I was not constantly laughing like I originally thought I would, I enjoyed the book immensely. This is a testament to Steve Martin’s writing skills (also see Shopgirl and Pure Drivel).
Now, if you haven’t guessed, I am a Steve Martin fangirl. So, yes, this review is pretty biased and slightly, possibly creepy. Anyway, people who are less obsessed with Steve Martin but are fans of seventies comedy or early SNL should crack open this book. Further, anyone with a passion for stand-up (performing or watching) should read Born Standing Up to learn more about the biz.
“Thankfully, persistence is a great substitute for talent,” Steve Martin writes. I’m holding onto that quote, and maybe you can find one in this book to hold onto also.
Leslie Michaels is currently a Level 2 improv student at the DCH Training Center. She spends her spare time riding her bicycle, playing Ultimate Frisbee, or hanging out with her boyfriend, Netflix. She still questions whether she's a dog person or a cat person.