Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Wild and Crazy Guy

I read Steve Martin's "Born Standing Up", an autobiography of his development as a stand up comedian. I always thought that everything came so easily to him, that his act flowed freely from the moment. I find out from his book that every movement, expression, word, intonation arose from long study and practice of his art. Martin worked at being a comedian, and when it finally paid off big, he quit stand up after a few years of huge success to pursue other things.

I saw Steve Martin in person at Cole Field House in College Park, MD on October 5, 1978. Me and about 15,000 other people. My newly made friends (I had just transferred to AU) and I set off on a series of public buses to get to the concert. Martin was the hottest thing in comedy at that moment. His Saturday Night Live appearances, his records, other televison gigs had made him the most famous stand up in the world, and this was back in the day before the proliferation of comedy clubs. He was a legend.

I had a great time at the show. He killed. I did not know at the time that this show was the culmination of a journey that began 23 years earlier when a ten year old Steve Martin started working at Disneyland. From there, it was Knott's Berry farm, then life on the road in club after club honing his act. He didn't hit it big until the late 70s. I have no idea why his form of comedy resonated so much in those years. It was, after all, the disco era, and Martin was pretty avant garde.

I bought a souvenir arrow through the head prop which I wore the next morning all through a presentation I had to make in my American Indian Tribes seminar. Nobody said a word about it. The professor and the other students, mostly earnest graduate students, pretended that they didn't notice. I laughed for hours that day thinking about the show. I annoyed the hell out of my roommates with my perfect "Well, excuuuse me!" and "I'm a wild and crazy guy" for a week after the show. I lost the arrow through the head.

In the Spring Semester I was blessed with Iranian roomies who were studying English as a second language in preparation for collegiate studies elsewhere. I helped them with phrases from Steve Martin's Czechoslovakian brothers routine from SNL. They learned to say things like "That's your funeral" and "We are two wild and crazy guys". Good times.

That was another Steve Martin, the stand up guy. The movie guy and author are quite different, and I have been ambivalent about him as a fan. I loved "The Jerk", "Bowfinger", "Housesitter" , "LA Story", "All of Me". I even liked "Father of the Bride". Like Eddie Murphy, he has become a fixture in family films that just aren't my cup of tea. I reckon that he could really spread his wings in supporting roles, being relieved of the burden of carrying a film.

I hope he writes a book about the last thirty years.

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