Saturday, May 13, 2017

Steve Martin's Born Standing Up


I just finished reading Steve Martin's Born Standing Up, his memoir of what led to his career in stand up, from childhood on, through that career, finally to giving it up. 

It's smart, at times tender, honest, but discreet in the self revelation. He's revealing enough about certain parts of his life but makes it "implicitly clear" there are just some things he's not going to talk about. The biggest personal part of 
what Martin goes public with are his fraught relations with his father and the belated, sad partial resolution of them. 

It's interesting to compare Born Standing Up to Kliph Nesteroff's The Comedians insofar as they both describe the course of American performance comedy over periods of time, Nesteroff's more detached, Martin's written subjectively, from the angle of his own career.

What strikes me in comparing how they discuss comedy is that Nesteroff lays down a lot of information while Martin is both more synoptic and reflective in theorizing about his style of comedy and what it replaced. 

For example, Martin discusses the meaning of punch lines and how they in a sense dictate precisely when the audience laughs. But as Martin describes how as he develops his own comedy of the absurd, he dispenses with jokes and punchlines and leaves the audience to determine for itself when and at what to laugh. I'm not persuaded of this but it's intriguing.

Martin also reviews the idea of comedy involving a release of tension, saying he doesn't completely understand it, but that he structured his act around sustaining tension and not allowing for its release. Again, I'm not sure I'm persuaded by Martin's notion here but it's interesting. 

Martin is thoughtful, well read and intelligent. He majored in philosophy with a further concentration in poetry, English and American. He says he did well enough to be an A student and to consider doing graduate work in philosophy. As a sidebar, however, does it say something about the different universities in the California state system that when Martin went to the state university at Long Beach, he did unblemished work but when he began taking philosophy courses at UCLA he hit an academic wall and decided he'd gone as far as his aptitude would take him and he gave up his studies? 

Born Standing Up was a joy to read.

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