Friday, August 15, 2008

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
- A Review

If you don't know who Steve Martin is, you don't know what you're missing.


I grew up watching many of his movies ( didn't have access to his stand-up routines back in the '80s and '90s ). These include The Man With Two Brains, Three Amigos, Roxanne, L.A. Story, Planes Trains and Automobiles, Parenthood, All Of Me, Little Shop Of Horrors ( a huge fave ), My Blue Heaven, Father Of The Bride, Housesitter ( another great comedy ), Shopgirl, Cheaper By The Dozen, The Pink Panther ( hilarious! ), and his best work to date -- Bowfinger.

I've also read his novels, Shopgirl and The Pleasure Of My Company ( the latter is one of those rare books which can actually make me laugh out loud; others worth mentioning include anything written by Dave Barry ).

Born Standing Up is semi-autobiographical. I say "semi" because it isn't complete. Meaning it doesn't cover his entire existence. Sure, it dwells a lot on his rise to stardom, beginning with his childhood influences and progressing through high school, college, then early adulthood. However, it leaves out his career achievements on the big screen, so the story essentially screeches to a halt in the mid-1980s.

It's written succinctly in a conversational style, without the usual grand posturing or flowery language one often finds in memoirs.
Little wonder the hard-cover edition is just over 200 pages long.

Don't be fooled by this slender volume though. Martin is a whiz at compressing large amounts of information into the shortest of sentences and paragraphs, yet succeeds at communicating the essence of a scene, experience, or emotion. His writing style is similar to that in Shopgirl and Pleasure, only this time he's talking about himself, not some character he made up.

It is, I think, nowhere as good as his fictional work. But speaking as a huge fan, I found it revealing and entertaining. He shares little-known secrets like his tenuous relationship with his father, his many intimacies with a whole string of women during the Flower Power era, backstage encounters with the likes of Elvis Presley, Jim Belushi, Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis Jr, and a long struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. We read about the thousands of 'live' shows he did - both good and bad - and learn the lingo and tricks of the trade. Fascinating.

Although Martin maintains an everyman tone for almost 90% of the book, in the concluding 10%, the word "famous" creeps in. He laments the lack of privacy, but admits to enjoying the perks. However, he keeps this section short, a choice I consider laudable.

With its rather premature ending, I guess this is the perfect setup for a sequel. Something about his film career perhaps? I can't wait. :)

[ This too is available from the Tanglin Club library. But I won't be returning it till next week. Tough. :D ]

On a separate note, I'd like to say hello to the friend I had lunch with yesterday. It was great catching up! I've said it many times already, but I'll say it again -- I just think it's so cool to know someone who's married to someone who works for Google! And this friend has even visited the Google headquarters in Silicon Valley! ( Sorry, I'm a bit obsessed with Google, haha. )

Will be starting on another book this weekend. Something related to the country I'm visiting in 3 weeks' time. Am very excited - time to get out of Singapore for a bit.

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