I have been on a autobiography reading binge lately. My friend Tommy gave me Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up for my birthday. I devoured it quickly and I keep thinking about many of his comments. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book.
I did stand-up comedy for eighteen years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent in wild success. My most persistent memory of stand-up is of my mouth being in the present and my mind being in the future: the mouth speaking the line, the body delivering the gesture, while the mind looks back, observing, analyzing, judging, worrying, and then deciding what to say next. Enjoyment while performing was rare- enjoyment would have been an indulgent loss of focus that comedy cannot afford. After the shows, however, I experienced long hours of elation or misery depending on how the show went, because doing comedy alone on stage is the ego’s last stand- page 1
Even though the idea of doing comedy had sounded risky when I compared it to the safety of doing trick after trick, I wanted, needed, to be called a comedian. I discovered it was not magic I was interested but performing in general. Why? Was I in a competition with my father? No, because I wasn’t aware of his interest in showbiz until years later. Was my ego out of control and looking for glory? I don’t think so; I am fundamentally shy and still feel slightly embarrassed at disproportionate attention. My answer to the question is simple: Who wouldn’t want to be in show business? page 70
Now that I had assigned myself to an act without jokes, I gave myself a rule. Never let them know I was bombing: This is funny, you just haven’t gotten it yet. If I wasn’t offering punch lines, I’d never be standing there with egg on my face. It was essential that I never show doubt about what I was doing….Another rule was to make the audience believe that I thought I was fantastic, that my confidence could not be shattered. They had to believe that I didn’t care if they laughed at all, and that this act was going on with or without them. page 112
I was on, an italicized sentence ticker-taped throuh my head: “I am about to do the Tonight show.” I finished my act and thought, “I have just done the Tonight show.” I finished my act and thought, “I have just done the Tonight show.” What happened while I was out there was very similar to an alien abduction: I remember very little of it, though I’m convinced it occurred. page 126
I cannot say that I was fearless, because I was acutely aware of any audience drift, and if I sensed trouble, I would swerve around it. I believed it was important to be funny now, while the audience was watching, but it was also important to be funny later, when the audience was home thinking about it. page 145
My career in stand-up gave me a vestigal senese of the crowd that I have relied on over the last twenty-seven years. In the world of filmmaking, where there is no audience, where, in fact, quiet on the set is required, I sometimes try to determine if a particular idea is funny. I picture myself at the back of a darkened theatre, watching the bit in question unspooling on the screen, and somewhere in the back interior of my brain, I can hear the audience’s response. Thankfully when the movie is finally screned, I discover that my inuition is not always right. If it were, there would be no surprises left; I would be living in dull comedy heaven. page 203