December 18, 2007

A Mild & Crazy Guy

Imagine, if you will, those heady days of 1978 - my best friend, Bob, had a portable 8 track tape player. In between repeated listening of KISS, we came upon a tape that was pure comedy gold...for a ten year old.

Steve Martin's A Wild & Crazy Guy helped me develop a sense of humor. It's unique mixture of knowing irony, slightly intellectual edge, and sheer silliness is something that I took on and never let go. Even now, I tend to integrate various bits into my conversations - having a cat buy $5,000 worth of cat toys. Believing that you learned enough philosophy to screw you up for the rest of your life. And, as a ten year old, pretending (with his friends) to be a pair of swinging Czech brothers. (The Catholic school powers-that-be absolutely hated me for it). And The Jerk seemed to be a great transition of Martin's stand-up style to the big screen.

Anyway, it was in that spirit that I approached reading Born Standing Up. I was hoping that it would, at the very least, provide some insight into Martin's thought processes, and serve as part memoir/part autobiography/insightful tale of a comic's mind.

Well, it does....but although I liked reading it, I really felt distanced from Martin.

In interviews, Martin has said that this book felt more like a biography than an autobiography, simply because that part of his life was so long ago. It's a quick, easy read as he discusses how he pulled seemingly disparate interests such as magic, bluegrass, and comedy into a heady brew. (Imagine Dave of Dave's Long Box on chamomile, and you have some idea of the tone). However, for something that played a very important role in his professional career, Martin seems to lack the joy of even remembering that time in his life. When Jerry Lewis wrote about his work with Dean Martin, there was a palpable sense of love, nostalgia, and acceptance about that period of his life; with Steve Martin, it seems way too distant, and even a harsh contrast with his film work. Even in a non-traditional piece like David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner, one can see how much Steve enjoys himself; there's a lack of that enjoyment in this book.

Still, it's worth reading - if you are a fan of comedy, if you like Steve Martin, it's worth spending the few hours reading it. Or, better yet, listen to A Wild & Crazy Guy or watch The Jerk. At the very least, you'll get a decent laugh.



Matthew E said...

I think Steve Martin dropped out a while ago. By which I mean, I've seen interviews with him where basically he says that there's no such thing as art, there's nothing in creative pursuits to get passionate about, it's all just craft and it's all just a way of making a buck. And if you look at what his most recent movies were, you can sort of see that. It's frustrating, too, because he's done some stuff that clearly does aspire to be more than hackwork, and often succeeds. What happened to make Steve Martin tune out?

Gordon said...


I wonder if, having such a huge level of success, Martin simply got burned out. Most of his movies have been relatively hit-or-miss, and even some of his better known movies there's a curious distance. It may be that he's so unwilling to be typecast/pigeonholed that he has built up a wall that maybe should not be there.

I'm also wondering if Martin has become a little *too* intellectual. I remember the LIFE OF PYTHON documentary in 1987 (?), where Martin discusses there being "two kinds of comedy." When you watch him, you see almost that curious detachment. I understand that he may want to be more of a writer than performer, but it seems like his work is more about what is humorously intellectual versus that "gut" feeling of funny.