“Teaching is, after all, a form of show business”

Steve Martin has always been one of my favorite comedians, and when my wife brought home his memoir from the library (Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life. New York: Scribner, 2007), I grabbed the bottle of scotch and a blanket and set up for the night.

Steve began his career as a teenager at Disneyland, first selling guide books before landing a job in the magic shop.  He slowly moved from magic into magic/comedy and then television writing and stand-up. As he describes it, he spent ten years learning, four years refining, and four years of wild success before he walked away from stand-up forever in 1981. Martin was innovative and cutting edge, but his greatest strength was the way he brought together all of the experiences and interests of his formative years (like magic, balloon animals, and banjo playing, but also his developing interests in art, poetry, and philosophy) to create an act that was uniquely him.

At Long Beach State College, he majored in philosophy and took classes in metaphysics, logic, and language. For a while he continued his studies in parallel to his performing career, and even thought about pursuing doctoral studies and a teaching career because, and here is the best line in the book, “…teaching is, after all, a form of show business.”

Martin’s memoir is a deeply rewarding book. The details of his early life are fascinating (you’ll never guess who his “first” was), and the story of his success is inspiring. His formula is the combination of dogged perseverance and unabashed originality. I am nearing the end of my ten years of learning, ready to begin the process of refining, and hoping for at least a taste of success (it doesn’t have to be wild).

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