Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin

Summary
  1. A fun and honest recounting of the highs and lows of Steve Martin’s early life and comedic career
Key Takeaways
  1. Spent 18 years in stand up comedy – 10 years learning, 4 years refining and 4 in wild success
  2. Gained the ability to have his mouth in the present and his mind on the future, observing the audience and the past and understanding where to go and when. Enjoyment during performing was rare but after the show had long hours of elation or misery
  3. Was seeking comic originality and fame came as a byproduct
  4. Feels like this is more like a biography than an autobiography as often it feels like these events happened to someone else or that I was in a dream
  5. Jokes are always funniest when played on oneself
  6. His father was physically abusive to Steve and verbally to the rest of the family. His father was tougher on anybody else because he was jealous of Steve as Steve was doing what he had always wanted to do
  7. Steve’s first job was selling guides at Disneyland and this gave him a tremendous sense of independence and confidence. He later became a rope trick performer by studying every nuance of the current main act and mouthing along the lines and imagining that the audience’s laughter was really for him
  8. Realizing that suffering will happen a lot and that it is part of life seems to make it more bearable
  9. Dariel Fitzkee’s Showmanship for Magicians had a tremendous impact on Steve Martin and how he thought about comedy and showmanship
  10. Would record the crowd’s reaction to all his gags and then write down ideas for how to improve every one of them
  11. Credits his naiveté when young to even consider going into comedy without what he says are any talents whatsoever
  12. Early on, at The Birdcage, Steve was able to practice 4-5x per day 6 days per week. He learned timing, poise and how to deal with failure
  13. Over the years, I have learned that there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions in between periods of valid inspiration
  14. Every new philosophy is good for creativity
  15. Comedy is a distortion of what is happening
  16. Had panic attacks over a 20 year span
  17. Began the phrase “well, excuse me”
  18. The more physically uncomfortable the audience, the bigger the laughs
  19. A valuable tip he got from a great showman was “always look better than the crowd does”
  20. It is possible to will confidence
  21. Steve was a bit of an eccentric, rambler, out-there type comedian who won people over by being different, true and having a unique point of view on things
  22. Much of Steve’s success was due to hard work but luck also played a large role – what he wore, his timing, the environment around him, the culture, his use of visuals, how he sold his albums, etc. weren’t totally thought through all the time but made people curious and pulled them to his shows
  23. He learned never to alienate the audience
  24. Was shocked and elated that he had become the cultural focus. He had come from nothing, from a simple magic act into the country’s most popular comedian. His joy of performing diminished though as it turned from experimentation to a feeling of responsibility to entertain people. Stress and bad reviews got to him and he realized how ephemeral comedy was. Normal conversations were impossible and social rules did not apply to celebrities like him, his privacy was no more
  25. Moved to starring in movies as comedy was really ephemeral and the travel was killing him
  26. His father was never impressed with his accomplishments or success and his mother was mostly concerned about fame, fortune and luxury
  27. Steve noticed in the early 1980s that he wasn’t selling out shows anymore, he had lost touch with why he got into show business in the first place and that night was his last night of stand up
  28. He was able to reconcile the relationship with his parents and his father became less judgmental and more positive on Steve and his career. His father said he was sorry and jealous because Steve did everything he had wanted to do. He was sorry for receiving all the love he had and not being able to return it. Steve responded by saying “I did it for you” rather than the more complicated “I did it because of you”
  29. Moving on and not looking back at all on his stand up career until writing this book was his way of tricking himself that he hadn’t achieved anything and spurred his creativity
What I got out of it
  1. It took Steve Martin a decade or more of pain and struggle he Steve gained confidence and comedic acclaim. He was willing to put himself out there night after and slowly but surely learned how to become a great showman and what kind of comedian he wanted to become