Born Standing Up is Steve Martin’s reminiscence of the beginning of his career — from his first job selling maps at Disneyland to his time as the number one concert draw in the history of stand-up. He describes it not as an autobiography, but as a biography of someone he used to know.
That’s about right. And it reads like it was written by someone I don’t know; not the witty, inventive, urbanely goofy Steve Martin that I grew up admiring, but rather a dry, stoic Steve Martin who’s more than a little embarrassed by that guy in the white suit.
The book is melancholy throughout. I guess I was expecting some of that, given the way that Martin walked away from stand-up completely and has enjoyed a second life as one of the more sophisticated Renaissance men in show business. But I thought it would still be a little funny, given that Martin has made a lot of hay by being, y’know, funny.
Especially after reading the autobiography of Martin’s compatriot Martin Short, I Must Say (on audiobook, narrated by the author, get it, listen to it, thank me later) — a book that was very human, very introspective, and still very funny — I expected something along the same lines from Martin. Obviously it was going to be more on the erudite side, coming from a playwright and frequent contributor to The New Yorker, but for that very reason I also thought it would be less of a drag.
Also because the “clown who’s crying on the inside” is such a cliche, I expected less of it from Steve (I feel like I can call him Steve; he’s been in my life a long time). He had tough times and lost loves, sure, but he also was the biggest thing in the world for a few years, and he helped re-make comedy in the post-modern era. That’s not nothing, right?
So, if you’re looking for fun stories from a funny guy, let me again recommend I Must Say by Martin Short. Born Standing Up is a revealing 200+ pages in the psyche of a former comedian in his twilight years, but it’s definitely not a beach read.