Bookmarks Issue: 
Steve Martin

A Comic’s Life

A-Born Standing UpEven as a kid, comedian Steve Martin didn’t want for material. He cut his teeth on legends Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl, read widely and watched television, practiced magic and acting, and grew up with a difficult father two miles from Disneyland, where he worked for a time. Martin’s decision to "go avant-garde" early in his career was a savvy move. By the late 1970s, he was plying his edgy trade—balloon hats and banjos—to sold-out arenas, and he had become recognizable to millions from frequent appearances on Saturday Night Live. Within a couple of years, though, suffering panic attacks that made performing difficult and questioning his career path, Martin decided he’d had enough. Toward the end of his stand-up career, he writes, "My act was like an overly plumed bird whose next evolutionary step was extinction."
Scribner. 209 pages. $25. ISBN: 1416553649

Hartford Courant 4.5 of 5 Stars
"In his wonderfully wise and humorous autobiography, Martin describes how he was anything but an overnight success—unless by ‘overnight’ you mean 15 arduous years spent in the wilderness of stand-up comedy. … What comes across clearly in Born Standing Up is not just Steve Martin’s drive, humility and flat-out comedic genius, but his understanding that success requires an almost maniacal self-belief, a tenacity that gets tested over time and trials." Chuck Leddy

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"[Martin] offers what few entertainment figures can: intelligent analysis and writing, celebrity glimpses, and seemingly genuine modesty. Born Standing Up is smart, compelling, and truly revealing, as Martin the comic and writer opens up his archives, his mind, and even corners of his heart." David Maloof

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It is a mostly unfunny yet oddly stirring book about the comedian’s early life, beginning with his boyhood before moving through his 20s and on up to 1982, when he hung up his balloon hat and quit doing stand-up for good." Erika Schickel

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Martin describes Born Standing Up as a biography rather than an autobiography, "because I am writing about someone I used to know.’ … Even for readers already familiar with Mr. Martin’s solemn side, Born Standing Up is a surprising book: smart, serious, heartfelt and confessional without being maudlin." Janet Maslin

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"[Born Standing Up] is well-researched, lavishly illustrated and buoyed by the fact that Steve Martin is a good writer. It is also, for a celebrity memoir, tastefully private." Joseph Bednarik

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"We know by now that Martin is a real writer. … I prefer [this book’s] rawness, its essentially found nature, if only because, after more than three dozen movies, Steve Martin’s soul can at last be seen—a fraction of it, anyway, peeping through the clouds." Louis Bayard

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"[Born Standing Up] is better written than the standard star turn. That said, don’t expect anything on a par with his more creative work, such as his wonderful Stoppardesque play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile." Heller McAlpin

Wall Street Journal 3 of 5 Stars
"Born Standing Up is a slight but ingratiating account of a not-always-rollicking road trip that took Mr. Martin from auditioning at Coffee and Confusion to playing nightly in basketball arenas before 20,000 screaming fans in the late 1970s. … Born Standing Up is a pleasant book but not nearly as memorable as the onstage career it commemorates." Walter Shapiro

Critical Summary

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a quarter century since Steve Martin packed the props and walked away from a stunningly successful turn in stand-up. His career as a popular actor, a critically lauded writer (Shopgirl), and a dramatist has since flourished, of course. But readers hoping for vintage Martin can get a quick fix with Born Standing Up. While the memoir may not be as salacious as fans expect or as riotously funny as an arrow through the head, Martin writes with the wisdom of experience (don’t miss a remarkable meeting with Elvis Presley after a 1971 show) as he recounts his development into one of the most popular and original comedians of his generation.