Born Standing Up by Steve Martin: A Short Review

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin, Scribner Publishing, 2007

A Short Review by Rickey E. Pittman

Sometime ago–it was either on Fresh Air or on NPR News–I heard Steve Martin discussing his memoir, Born Standing Up. The interview revealed a new and intriguing side of Martin I had not known about, so I ordered the book, which I have now just got around to reading. The book is worth reading if you have any interest at all in Steve Martin, in New York Times Best Sellers, or in stand-up comedy. Here you will discover the brutal life of a comedian when on the road and learn many techniques and the vocabulary of comedy.

Let me tell you why I think I liked the book. I often encounter students who I think will have a knack and interest in comedy performance, and I nudge them to study comedy writing, to study comedians, to collect jokes and bits and try them out in public settings. Perhaps one of them one day will find a career in stand-up.  This study of comedy and comedians forces them to analyze words and speech with all its complex rhythms, cadence, tones, syntax and diction. The writing of a comedy routine builds memory and organizational skills. I know there are some comedians on a genius level who are truly and only extemporaneous, but the truth of it is that most working comedians have to create, refine, practice, and experiment.

My respect for Steve Martin greatly increased.  He is a man who has paid his dues to life and to comedy.  I think of this book not as a tell-all confession, but an introspective and existential look back at his life. Through hard work and dedication to his craft, he has earned the money and fame that came his way. This memoir analyzes Martin’s comedic career and his transition from stand-up comedy into movies.  This book is the story of why he did stand-up and why he walked away. The back cover says: Born Standing Up is a superb testament to the sheer tenacity, focus, and daring of one of the greatest and most iconoclastic comedians of all time.”