Friday, February 24, 2012

Self-Concious Comedy

I, Savannah, have been drowning in a sea of homework, Princess duties, and social drama. After falling into an emotional sinkhole as our English class switched from Pride and Prejudice to Heart of Darkness, I was left lacking laughter, and went searching through the house, to locate some lighter reading to buoy my spirits. Whilst printing a chapter outline for APChem, I knocked over an untidy stack of books on the desk by my parents' computer. After picking it up off of my foot, I figured that I would give Born Standing Up: a Comic's Life, by the masterful Steve Martin, a chance to be that buoy.

Published by Scribner in 2007, the book actually was bought by my Dad, a self-considered comedian. In fact, I was raised to believe my father was the funniest man in the world. I realized that he wasn't, of course, as I grew up, but I don't think that he ever did... grow up, I mean. :) You can especially tell how devoted he is to comedy whenever he talks about performing as a kid. He was, at one point in time, in three choirs at once, and relates tales of his experiences, like that of perching himself in front of his school, with a guitar in hand, pronouncing a song dedicated to his then-girlfriend, getting ready to launch into musical euphoria, then shrugging, and mumbling into the microphone, "I forgot the words."

Hearing him tell stories like this, feels similar to reading Martin's book: funny, personal, and well-remembered. His early story is easy to relate to, and, even if you haven't ever pursued the dream of performing stand-up, the feelings expressed are easy to understand. The book, which focuses on the talented actor/writer/performer's rise from wide-eyed citizen of Disneyland, haunting the magic shop and Golden Horseshoe Revue stage, gleaning new tricks, to a man who wrangled crowds both into and out of a theater with similar mastery, and sold out stadiums to people who flocked from across the country to see him and his "happy feet."

One of the things that surprised me the most about his book, was that it wasn't just simply funny. Not that I had expected it to be the equivalent of a hardcover stand-up act, printed and bound. And it definitely wasn't completely lacking in jokes or his light-hearted style, by any means. It was an incredibly intelligent and introspective account of a career that spanned decades, and easily expressed not only anecdotes of his time on the stage, but also gave a deep and personal look at his political and artistic interests, as well as his interest in the opposite sex. :) He name drops famous friends throughout, and mentions his time spent of television - including early days with guest spots on SNL - but the real interest, and heart of his story, is present when the spotlight's on, and he feels the pressure and anxiety that comes with the silence of an audience. His brief anecdotes on drugs, a difficult childhood, his dealings with an agent, and playing on the road, all make this man out to be a rockstar, while his passion for art and poetry brands him an intellectual. His humor, however, reminds me of my Dad, and his love of the Happiest Place on Earth is something I will always manage to identify with.

That was probably my favorite part about reading this book: he isn't just the "funny man" to me anymore - not just the guy who hosted the Oscars a few years ago, or the jokester my 10th grade World History class bewilderedly observed singing about a dead pharoah, born in Arizona. He is not only the evil dentist (in one of my favorite musicals, ever). He is a multi-faceted, multi-talented person... one brave enough to stand on stage by himself, and offer up everything he's got for your entertainment. The world is not full of enough men, similar to Mr. Steve Martin, still brave enough to play the banjo. And I applaud him, for trying as hard as he can, to make us all laugh.

#21. Born Standing Up: a Comic's Life by Steve Martin