Born Standing Up

Born Standing UpI think you would like Born Standing Up by Steve Martin.

It has a reputation for being the definitive stand-up comedy memoir, which is the only reason I felt compelled to buy it. To my shame, I have never seen Steve Martin’s stand-up act, and my only experience of his work is the film Cheaper by the Dozen. Yet, despite my ignorance, I found Born Standing Up insightful, entertaining, and beautifully crafted. It is far from being just another celebrity autobiography.

Most celebrity memoirs track the rags-to-riches story of their subject, but Born Standing Up is primarily the story of Martin’s stand-up act. His changing personal circumstances, love life, family relations, and the vast social, political and cultural changes going on around him, are all expressed in relation to what he did on stage. His deliberate decisions to not talk about politics at certain points, or to have short hair and wear a suit while his contemporaries looked like John Lennon, are just as telling as when he did talk politics and did grow his hair long. It doesn’t have the mushy ‘happy now’ ending of bargain bin biographies either, it’s a doomed love story of performance and performer. It ends at the height of his fame and fortune, when, with little fanfare or drama, he quit stand-up forever.

Born Standing Up is the comedy equivalent of Stephen King’s On Writing. The deep analysis of his own work is blended with narrative to create a rich study of stand-up.  It’s clear that this is a man who knows how to tell a story. Every point he makes is perfectly illustrated with an anecdote that leaves the reader with an exact impression of his meaning. It’s like a smell that vividly reminds you of a place, time and feeling, but they’re Steve Martin’s memories, not yours.

Pick it up and you’ll be hooked by the first page, never before has the contradictory thrill and fear, love and hate, adoration and loneliness, of stand-up comedy been so articulately distilled into words.


Recommendations in brief:

Cunk on Shakespeare is bloody excellent. Philomena Cunk, the gormless TV presenter from Charlie Brooker’s Wipe shows, is presenting her own documentary on Shakespeare. Consistent, out-loud laughter throughout. Absolutely brilliant. Watch it.


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