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Book:  Born Standing Up

Author:  Steve Martin

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Martin, S. (2007). Born standing up : a comic's life. New York: Scribner.

Key Takeaways and Big Ideas:

I did stand-up comedy for 18 years. 10 of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent with wild success. (pg. 1)

Over the three years I worked there, I strung together everything I knew, some special tricks, some comedy juggling, a few standard magic routines, a banjo song, and some very old jokes. My act was eclectic, and it took me ten more years for me to make sense of it. However, the opportunity to perform four and five times a day gave me confidence and poise. Even though my material had few distinguishing features, the repetition made me lose my amateur rattle. (pg. 65)

I started experiencing anxiety attacks. I felt a sense of relief from the simple understanding that I was not alone. I read that these panic attacks were not dangerous, just gravely unpleasant. The symptoms were comparable to the biological changes the body experiences when put in danger. In an anxiety attack you have all the symptoms of fear, yet there is no lion. I could not let self-doubt or lack of talent cause me to fail at this new job which was the gateway to my life as an entertainer. I continued to suffer the attacks while I went on with my work, refusing to let this inner nightmare affect my performing or writing career. Although panic attacks are gone from my life now, they were woven throughout two decades of my life. (pg. 108)

I had an idea that revolutionized my comic direction; what if there were no punch lines? What if there were no indicators? What if I created tension and never released it? What was the audience do with all that tension? Theoretically, it would have to come out sometime. But if I kept denying them the formality of a punchline, the audience would eventually pick their own place to laugh, especially out of desperation. These types of laughs seem stronger to me, as they would be laughing at something they chose, rather than being told exactly when to laugh. (pg. 111)

Now that I had assigned myself to an act without jokes, I gave myself a rule. Never let them know I was bombing. It was essential that I never show doubt about what I was doing. Another rule was to make the audience believe that I thought I was fantastic, that my confidence could not be shattered. They had to believe that I didn't care if they laughed at all, and that this act was going on with or without them. (pg. 112)

When people ask me, “How do you make it in show business?” What I always tell them - I’ve said it many years and nobody ever takes note of it because its not the answer they want to hear. What they want to hear is, “Here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script.” But what I always say is, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” If you are really good, people are going to come to you. (Charlie Rose Interview)

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