Born Standing Up

Born_standing_upQuite regularly, this blog references many of the books we enjoy. Since our focus here is markets based economic discussion, we tend to stick to equity, economic, and psychology -related works.

But every now and then, we find a book unrelated to our professional pursuits that’s quite worthy of discussion. Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life is just such a work.

I started reading it after thoroughly enjoying a long excerpt posted online. That led me to buy the actual hard coverbook.

This weekend, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by it. And not just because I plowed through the first half of it so quickly.

If you know Steve Martin, you know he is (obviously) funny. That sensibility is clearly reflected in the book. What I found so impressive was how beautifully the book was written. The prose is clean, and at times quite lovely. He’s a playwright who’s written serious works. I simply had no idea what a careful and creative author he is.

If you are looking for an enjoyable airplane/beach/hammock read, I highly recommend this.

Note: That extensive excerpt can be found in the February 2008 edition of Smithsonian Magazine; it will give you a flavor of his style and content.

Book Reviews

"Absolutely magnificent. One of the best books about comedy and being a comedian ever written."   –Jerry Seinfeld, GQ

"The writing is evocative, unflinching and cool. When Martin takes a scalpel to his life, what you feel is the precision of the surgeon more than the primal scream of the unanaesthetized patient…Born Standing Up is neither fanfare nor confession. It gives off a vibe of rigorous honesty. With lots of laughs."   –Richard Corliss, Time Magazine

"A spare, unexpectedly resonant remembrance of things past…Martin’s one true subject is the evolution of his comedy–the transcendent moments…A smart, gentlemanly, modest book…winning."    –Jeff Giles, Entertainment Weekly, EW Pick: A

"The archetypical story of the underdog’s rise and a particularly American story…beautifully written, honest, engaging, and quietly brave." –Frederic Tuten, Bomb Magazine



Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life
Steve Martin
Scribner (November 20, 2007)

Steve Martin Home page

The Man in Front of the Curtain
(Steve Martin’s Johnny Carson Letter)

Being Funny
How the pathbreaking comedian got his act together
Steve Martin
Smithsonian magazine, February 2008


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  1. Florida commented on Feb 18

    That’s definitely one that is on my list to check out, Barry. Glad to hear that you’re enjoying it.

    I just started reading What is the What by Dave Eggers and am already about a quarter of the way through it. It is the story of Valentino Achak Deng, a Sudanese immigrant who had to flee Sudan as a child. Deng wanted to tell his story to a wider audience, but didn’t trust his skills as a writer, so he worked with Eggers and the finished work is a fictional work based on Deng’s memories. It’s really engrossing so far.

  2. TS commented on Feb 18

    That’s a good recommendation. Martin’s an artist of the first water and no mistake.

  3. Street Creds commented on Feb 18

    Steve Martin is a classy guy. Met him in the customs line in Geneva, pushing his own luggage cart. I told him mine was bigger (cart) than his, he laughted and we shook hands. Nice moment.

  4. The Financial Philosopher commented on Feb 18

    Steve Martin, as you may already know, gives credit for his initial breakthrough to his studies of philosophy in school.

    I wrote a blog post on Steve Martin’s “philosophy” a few months ago when he was honored at The Kennedy Center:

    Here’s just one of his quotes (which may be applied to financial markets):

    “Chaos in the midst of chaos isn’t funny, but chaos in the midst of order is.” ~ Steve Martin

  5. Emmett commented on Feb 18

    Read the book a few months ago after hearing him on Terry Gross. It is a very good read. I saw him do our small college venue back in 1976. I remember being in pain for a week from laughing non-stop for 2 hours. This was just about the time he started his SNL shtick.

    What I honor most about him is that he re-invents himself and never looks back. Magician, comedian, actor, writer… and successful at each. (Well, maybe not magician.. )

    Liked the Kennedy Center honors too.

  6. zoe commented on Feb 19

    Will definitely look for it. And while I love Mr Martin for his comic genius, he’s also a tremendous *serious* actor, too. (Read someplace long ago where he said something to the effect that was an area he felt he could still, and wanted, to improve. Refreshing statement, I thought.) LOVED him David Mamet’s “The Spanish Prisoner”…definitely worth a look.

    Dunno know if you’d consider a political bio for a spin, but I would highly recommend “Comrade J” (also on Terry Gross’s show, I think, about a month ago). Details can be found here:

  7. j-daddy commented on Feb 19

    Steve Martin is one of my very favorite comedians, and I read with great interest the excerpt from Born Standing Up in the New Yorker.
    However, I must take issue with the recommendation above that “The Spanish Prisoner” is “worth a look”. That movie was an abomination from start to stop. It is only worth viewing out of morbid curiosity for how someone with such immense talent and intelligence can get mixed up in something so utterly devoid of artistic worth. That film was a high school project gone bad, a steaming pile of terrible. It’s horribleness became so massive by the end that I was worried my TV was either going to collapse in on itself and become a black hole or explode in a cataclysmic crap supernova.
    Steve Martin good. Spanish Prisoner really really bad.

  8. zoe commented on Feb 19


    I guess I can assume you’re not a big David Mamet fan then?? LOL. Thankfully we can agree on what a major talent Mr Martin is, though, no matter the project.

    Regarding your opinion of the movie itself, obviously I disagree but I have to admit I also enjoyed reading your comments above. To each his or her own, to each his or her own…but thanks for giving me a chuckle still the same.

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