by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & Born Standing Up & r & by Steve Martin & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & ell there're some sad things known to man, but ain't too much sadder than the tears of a clown." Ah, the immortal words of Smokey Robinson -- I couldn't help think of them as I finished Steve Martin's new memoir. Short on laughs but long on pathos, Born Standing Up is not what you'd expect from one of America's great clowns. Yes, that wild and crazy guy really is kind of sad on the inside.
But that's exactly what makes this a compelling book -- there's a real person behind the carefully choreographed stage persona that made Steve Martin the biggest comedian ever. His humble start at the inception of Disneyland, helping hawk merchandise, then in a cheesy revue at Knotts Berry Farm are both charming anecdotes. And his stint writing for The Smothers Brothers (then the most controversial show on TV), appearances on The Tonight Show and later landing a recurring guest gig on Saturday Night Live prove that it does take a little luck to make it big.
But more important, it takes skill -- and Martin earned his chops in hundreds of stand-up appearances. Learning to make people laugh, like knowing how to build a house, is, in the end, hard work. And the most fascinating part of the book is how Martin's stand-up career went from empty rooms in Southern California (where he would often try, at least, to make the waitresses laugh) to hipster hangouts in San Francisco (where his throwback white suit was considered a hoot) to, ultimately, sports arenas. Along the way, you'll discover the roots of such legendary absurdist bits as cat juggling and getting small.
The tears of the clown come from his family life. He left home as a teenager, and his father never quite accepted his career -- worse, he didn't think his son was that funny. Martin did make amends with his family. That smile on his face fooled the public for a while, but now that he's let us behind the curtain, you can't help but appreciate him even more.