Oh, wow. I'm winding down my work day, clicking around a few headlines, some new, some a few days older, and then I open a story, start reading, and now I'm filled with a distinct combination of both intense, almost crippling envy for Jesse David Fox, and also a sudden, unexpected, emotional exhilaration.
How was this not front page news everywhere the next day? Steve Martin onstage doing live comedy? Not a show like his bluegrass tours but an actual short stand-up set? I assume I was too busy dealing with a gnarly root canal to pay attention to anything else actually happening in the world, and of all the things I miss, I miss the news that Steve Martin did actual stand-up comedy.
I can't imagine. That is like telling me that someone actually got Bigfoot on video for a full half-hour in HD, or seeing that a UFO landed at the JPL, or finding an actual Skull Island with an actual King Kong on it. Steve Martin's comedy albums of the '70s are by far the albums that I listened to the most times. They were my gateway drug to other comedy records, or to the entire idea of comedy records. Weirdly, when I was worried about my tooth surgery, I bought a fistful of comedy albums from iTunes, including Let's Get Small, which I haven't owned a copy of in years. And sure enough, last week, I listened to it again and cried laughing, even though I know not only every word on the album but every pause, every quirk of the audience. I listened to it that many times.
If you've never read Steve Martin's book about his live comedy career, Born Standing Up, it's amazing, and it's also a sort of good-bye to all of it. You can tell as you read that this is not something Steve Martin dwells on every day. He was such a gigantic superstar as a stand-up comic that there was nothing left for him to do. There was no larger success he could have. He saw it as a trap, and he made the jump to other types of work and never looked back, or at least it's seemed that way.
You should read the entire piece that Fox wrote. It's very good, and it's clear that he's a Steve Martin super-fan, so I feel a kinship right away. I'm not freaking out thinking that this means we're going to start seeing Martin perform everywhere, but it sounds like Jerry Seinfeld found a way to get Martin to at least experience it one more time, and like Martin actually enjoyed it.
I am a firm believer that artists should be allowed and even encouraged to evolve, and there's nothing worse than watching someone do something that they're tired of doing, or that they don't feel genuinely connected to anymore. I've seen live performances by bands that should have retired their material a long time ago, and I've seen comics that are in cruise control, and it always disappoints, as much for them as for me. What fun is that?
But just knowing that Steve Martin wrote some jokes, that he tapped back into the very specific comic character voice that made his stand-up so gloriously silly, makes me smile. I adore him as a writer, as a performer, as a serious actor, and as a respected collector and critic of fine art, but before anything else, I love him as a guy who taught me that one person, a microphone, and a banjo could create an alternate reality that was endlessly ridiculous. He celebrated a sort of cheerful stupidity that was like one of the great American voices, blissfully unaware of just how little he knows and unwilling to let that slow him down remotely when offering opinions or information.