Book Review: Born Standing Up

A couple of days ago I finished Steve Martin’s memoir, Born Standing Up. This is the third book of his I read and I believe that’s all of them, which makes me feel very sad because I wish I had more of his words to devour. He has a very soft, gentle, tone and voice. Surprising originally because my preconceived notion of Steve Martin is that he is master of slapstick humor. Who knew he is also master of eloquent, unpretentious prose.

The memoir is not a juicy celebrity, name-dropping, tell-all. It is not a sensational read; there is no mention of drug rehab in this book. Steve Martin was pretty much completely sober and did not partake in the illicit drugs culture of the 60s and 70s. He dipped his toes once and had such an adverse reaction that he just steered clear, which really is kind of amazing. Drug free in show business, and during the 60s and 70s? I’m digressing. My point is this is unlike the stereotypical celebrity autobiography.

Martin chronicles his life from his start as a teen magician at Disneyland to the stand up comic who sold out shows. He walks us through the slow process of his evolution. How he took countless notes. How he studied that comedy is the build up of audience tension and then releasing the tension with the punchline. How he innovated a new comedy where he never releases the tension by never delivering a punchline. It’s quite remarkable, his work ethic, his determination, his creativity, his foresight. He is open with his failures, his nights where he did not elicit any laugh, his roller coaster ride between clubs, one night having a sold out show, the next having a mere trickling of a crowd. He lets us in on his first few romantic heartbreaks, his strained relationship with his family, and finally in the end, he tells us why he walked away from stand up comedy permanently in 1981.

I actually had a lump in my throat near the close of the book. His relationship with his dad was estranged through most of his life. We’re kind of lead to believe his dad was abusive and not supportive. Steve’s way of handling it was letting their relationship die. It seemed a justifiable decision. However, despite the heartbreak from his father and spending most of his teen years and adult years avoiding contact, he successfully resuscitates the relationship with his father and it was such a sad and beautiful story of forgiveness and redemption, I literally felt a lump in my throat.

This is not a laugh out loud book. You’ll smile a few times but the story of his life, oddly enough, is not really a comedy. If you’re a fan of his work, I recommend picking up this book and getting to know the man.

A couple of excerpts from the beginning of his book:

“One day I was particularly gloomy, and Jim asked me what the matter was. I told him my high school girlfriend (for all of two weeks) had broken up with me. He said, ‘Oh, that’ll happen a lot.’ The knowledge that this horrid grief was simply a part of life’s routine cheered me up almost instantly.”

“Despite a lack of natural ability, I did have the one element necessary to all early creativity: naivete, that fabulous quality that keeps you from knowing just how unsuited you are for what you are about to do.”