Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Born Standing Up (copy)

I was born at the perfect time. While reading Steve Martin’s new book, Born Standing Up, I was reminded of this. The timing of my birth made it possible to see the first episodes of Saturday Night Live uninterrupted. See, I was much too young to go out on dates. My only privilege at the time was a late Saturday night spent in front of the television. Popcorn between crossed legs, I giggled, slapped my sides, and constantly cracked up without so much as a squeak. I didn’t want to wake my parents.

I remember seeing Steve Martin’s act while sitting on the floor of our red-shagged den. Practically hugging the Buck stove for heat, I was unsure what I was seeing. Wearing a suit and sporting salt-n-pepper hair, a man was in place ready to perform stand-up. This was an odd sort—unlike my favorites, Bill Cosby and George Carlin. Where was the laid back 70’s manner? Where was the t-shirt and jeans?

In my young eyes I saw an old nerdy man. He would really have to be funny to break down my natural ageism. And, well, his first joke was a dud. It wasn’t funny but then he put a fake arrow through his head and told it again. I was rolling on the floor! He was silly, and I was giggly, the perfect combination.

By the time of Martin’s first appearance on Saturday Night Live, he had been in stand-up for 13 years. He tells in the book he actually appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson 16 times before he hit it big. These were his salad years, and boy he was skinny. Ba-da-dum... crash!

The book begins with Martin’s confession: “I did stand-up comedy for eighteen years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent in wild success.”

He goes on to explain those years were a blur, and he is no longer that young man. “In a sense, this book is not an autobiography but a biography, because I am writing about someone I used to know.”

After reading half the book, I thought I would stop and start another book. I was unsure it deemed entertaining enough to recommend. My expectations, just like that 1978 night in front of the television, were searching for funny.

Just as his comedy act begins to improve, so too, does the book. One must wade through some name dropping, but I am sure Steve Martin would say, “Well, Excuuuuse Me!”