Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life

There is something irresistibly civilized about the Steve Martin who abandoned live comedy to ply his trade as a writer, first as a playwright (1993’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile) , then as a novelist and screenwriter ( Shopgirl), and now as an autobiographer, with Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life . The Waco native’s memoir is revealing (his father was distant and disapproving; imagine that backstory from a comedian) without being sensationalistic, and it’s beautifully tender about family and old friends. Dwelling sparingly on his successes, Martin devotes words to his formative years at the Knott’s Berry Farm Bird Cage Theatre, his salad days as a TV writer for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour , and his interminable stint as a road comic seemingly destined for nowhere. So it is a shock to be reminded as the book rolls toward its conclusion that Martin in the late seventies was arguably the most popular entertainer in America: What other comedian ever headlined stadium shows for 45,000 people or spawned so many instant catchphrases (“I’m a wiiiild and craaaazy guy”)? Not to mention the million-selling albums and hit movies. Martin acknowledges that short stretch of his life as an aberration (“At first, I was not famous enough, then I was too famous, now I am famous just right”), and what shines through in this little gem is a real sense that he is finally comfortable in his own skin. Scribner, $23

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