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BookReview: Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
by Steve Martin, Scribner, November 20, 2007, 1416553649

Steve Martin is incredibly creative, but like many comedians, his creativity were born from a painful childhood and (necessarily) difficult adult life. His strict and harsh father was never a fan of his work, and only in the 1990s, did they begin to reconcile their differences -- long after Steve left the stage for movies.

I've read a few of Martin's books, and all of them are entertaining. While his book Shop Girl is a sketch of his personality, this book tells us why he is aloof, awkward, and anxious. He had not choice in becoming a comedian, and yet, it was a very difficult path for such a personality.

[p2] I was seeking comic originality, and fame fell on me as a by-product. The course was more plodding than heroic: I did not strive valiantly against doubters but took incremental [p3] steps studded with a few intuitive leaps. I was not naturally talented -- I didn't sing, dance, or act -- though working around that minor detail made me inventive. I was not self-destructive, though I almost destroyed myself. In the end, I turned away from stand-up with a tired swivel of my head and never looked back, until now. A few years ago, I began researching and recalling the details of this crucial part of my professional life -- which inevitably touches upon my personal life -- and was reminded why I did stand-up and why I walked away.

In a sense, this book is not an autobiography but a biography, because I am writing about someone I used to know. Yes, these events are true, yet sometimes they seemed to have happened to someone else, and I often felt like a curious onlooker or someone trying to remember a dream. I ignored my stand-up career for twenty-five years, but now, having finished this memoir, I view this time with surprising warmth. One can have, it turns out, an affection for the war years.

[p80] Then I added: "I have decided my act is going to go avant-garde. It is the only way to do what I want."

I'm not sure what I meant, but I wanted to use the lingo, and it was seductive to make these pronounce-;, ments. Through the years, I have learned there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration. [Rob: I can totally relate to this statement.]

[p106] My life had been alternately inching or leaping upward: I was proud of my job on the Smothers Brothers' show. I had some cash. My sex life was abundant and selfish. Things were rolling along nicely when I experienced a crushing psychological surprise. One night I was off to the movies with my friends John McClure, George McKelvey, and his wife, Carole. We were going to see Mel Brooks's The Producers, and we decided to smoke a little pot, which had become a dietary staple for me. So now I was high. In the car on the way to the theater, I felt my mind being tom from its present location and lifted into the ether. My discomfort intensified, and I experienced an eerie distancing from my own self that crystallized into morbid doom. I mutely waited for the feeling to pass. It didn't, and I finally said, "I feel strange." We got out of the car, and John, George, and Carole walked me along Sunset Boulevard in the night. I decided to go into the theater, thinking it might be distracting. During the film, I sat in stoic silence as my heart began to race above two hundred beats per minute and the saliva drained [p107] from my mouth so completely that I could not move my tongue. I assumed this was the heart attack I had been waiting for, though I wasn't feeling pain. I was, however, experiencing extreme fear; I thought I was dying, and I can't explain to you why I just sat there. After the movie, I considered checking myself in to a hospital. But if I went to the hospital, I would miss work the next day, which might make me expendable at CBS, where my career was just launching. My friends walked me along Sunset again, and I remember humming, "Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune" from The King and I. I spent the night on George and Carole's couch in absolute terror. I kept wondering, "Am I dying?" but was more concerned with the question "Do I have to quit my job?"

It's difficult for those of us who suffer from anxiety attacks to admit it. It's a crucial part of the illness to be afraid of the anxiety, and to leave it unnamed. Though I rarely suffer from anxiety attacks today, I am still ashamed to talk about them. Perhaps this is one of the things that gives them their power over me.

I went through a similar experience about the same age Steve Martin had his first attack -- he was about 30. It's a difficult time for men: we are no longer children or young adults, and our life is finally cemented, or is it? Doubts arise about our choices. Is this what we'll be doing forever? I have known many many to have similar experiences to mine. Our childhoods were different, but the effects are the same. Fundamental doubt leads to extreme fear and anxiety attacks.

Via Rob 1/13/2008