I read Steve Martin’s Shopgirl last year and didn’t really like it — the writing was good but I hated the plot and the characters. But I thought I would give his non-fiction a chance, and I’m glad I did. Born Standing Up tells of Martin’s (slow, painful) rise to fame as a stand up comedian, from his start doing magic shows as a teen and working at Disneyland, to sold out arenas every day of the week.
“I have heard it said that a complicated childhood can lead to a life in the arts. I tell you this story of my father and me to let you know I am qualified to be a comedian.”
Martin gives a little background on his childhood, glossing over a lot (I suspect his father was even more of a bastard than he lets on in the book), mostly focusing on what inspired him to get into comedy — the shows he loved on TV, the magicians and street performers he watched. He got a job passing out pamphlets at Disneyland when he was only 10, and turned it into an opportunity to watch as many acts and performers as possible. He goes on to cover how he got into stand up, and the various permutations his act went through before he found something that really worked for the audience. It’s obvious that the culture of the 1960s and 70s had a big effect on his work — his act tended towards the very inventive and surreal.
It’s a good read, and while I wish that he had gone more into the movie career that I know so well, I understand that that wasn’t really the point of the book — his stand up career is the focus here and he covers it wonderfully.