Star quality

<strong>Born Standing Up: a Comic’s Life</strong>

Steve Martin <em>Simon & Schuster, 224pp, £15.9

The comedian Steve Martin is very serious about the business of making people laugh. While Martin’s account of his early career is told with a warm feeling of nostalgia, his journey from “Monday-night-quality” magic act to stardom is retold with unsentimental precision.

Drawing from the detailed post-mortems that he would conduct after every show, he lets us in on the secret of his success as a comedian: “I was not naturally talented – I didn’t sing, dance, or act – though working around that minor detail made me inventive.”

Born Standing Up begins with Martin entertaining imaginary audiences in empty dives, fresh from a childhood spent as an assistant in a Disneyland magic shop. “Show business” is his passion, and he listens with reverence to Lenny Bruce LPs in an apartment “so small that its street number was 1059¼”. As he works small clubs and colleges in subterranean “folk rooms”, Martin’s own act slowly morphs into a carnival-style “parody of comedy”.

This entertaining book shines brightest in its casual, off-hand remarks, often transcribed from Martin’s own routines: “I think communication is so firsbern.” What? Oh.