Monday, January 28, 2008

The Lonely Guy

After Steve Martin hosted "Saturday Night Live" for the first time (Kinky Friedman was the musical guest), his father reviewed the show for the newsletter of the Newport Beach Association of Realtors, of which he was president: "His performance did nothing to further his career." Ouch. One presumes that the Newport Beach Association of Realtors didn't have a regular TV critic's column covering the season premiere of "Maude," so the editor presumably went out of his way to denigrate his own son's performance.

This anecdote comes from Martin's memoir, Born Standing Up, and if you haven't already been able to tell, Martin is not exactly a happy-go-lucky guy. He comes across as someone who is very dedicated and hard-working, and extremely thoughtful in many ways about his profession, which just happened to be comedy. (He was, among other things, thoroughly pragmatic: the trademark white suit came about because he wanted to be more visible as his audiences got larger, and he wore the vest, making it a three-peice, to help keep his shirt tucked in.) "I wanted, needed to be called a comedian," he writes. "Why? Was my ego out of control and looking for glory? I don't think so; I am fundamentally shy and still feel slightly embarrassed at disproportionate attention. My answer to the question is simple: Who wouldn't want to be in show business?"

When Martin at last becomes the most famous comedian on the planet, it seems to bring little joy to him; for one thing, he points out, he wasn't at his funniest at that point. Rather than come across as whiny, though, as Andy Summers did when writing about the Police's brief years in the spotlight, Martin seems to be simply being honest - he got bigger than he wanted to be, so he gave it up. "At first I was famous enough, then I was too famous, now I am famous just right," he writes. "Oh yes, I have heard the argument that celebrities want fame when it's useful and don't when it's not. That argument is absolutely true."

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