Born: August 14, 1945
BlueMeter: Tame

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Next Tour Date

Friday | May 3
Steve Martin & Martin Short: The Dukes of Funnytown!
Landmark Theatre Syracuse
Syracuse, NY

See all tour dates for Steve Martin



2006 Rhino Hi-Five - Steve Martin
1981 The Steve Martin Brothers
1979 Comedy Is Not Pretty!
1978 A Wild and Crazy Guy

Won 1978 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording

1977 Let’s Get Small

Won 1977 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording

Specials (and other video)

2018 Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life
1986 Steve Martin Live
1981 Steve Martin’s Best Show Ever
1981 Steve Martin’s Best Show Ever

Collected on "Steve Martin: The Television Stuff"

1980 All Commercials… A Steve Martin Special

Collected on "Steve Martin: The Television Stuff"

1980 Steve Martin: Comedy Is Not Pretty

Collected on "Steve Martin: The Television Stuff"

1980 Steve Martin: All Commercials....A Steve Martin Special
1979 Homage To Steve

Collected on "Steve Martin: The Television Stuff"

1978 Steve Martin: A Wild and Crazy Guy

Collected on "Steve Martin: The Television Stuff"

1976 On Location: Steve Martin

Collected on "Steve Martin: The Television Stuff"

1976 Steve Martin: On Location With Steve Martin
1974 The Funnier Side of Eastern Canada

Books (by and about)

2007 Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
2003 Pure Drivel
2001 Steve Martin: The Magic Years

by Morris Wayne Walker


Silly Putty, yo-yos, and the frisbee all had fad appeal. So did the human equivalent, "wild and crazy guy" Steve Martin, who become a stand-up comedy phenomenon in the late 70's. Just as people couldn't explain why they enjoyed playing with Silly Putty or a yo-yo, Martin's wildly enthusiastic supporters couldn't explain why they loved watching him grin idiotically with a corny fake arrow through his head or make balloon animals, or deliberately utter a line so goofy and devoid of wit that it was hilarious.

Born in Waco, Texas, Steve played the banjo, juggled, and sometimes did Red Skelton pratfalls to amuse his classmates. He remembered the effect of a good fall: "Crash! It was like intentionally embarrassing yourself…My comedy has never been about someone else slipping on a banana skin and laughing at them…making yourself look stupid seems much more human…"

Growing up in Orange County, California, Martin eventually got jobs playing the banjo and doing magic tricks at Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm. At 21 he found a lucrative career as a staff writer on comedy/variety shows, knocking out gags for Sonny and Cher, Pat Paulsen, The Smothers Brothers and Glen Campbell. He quit Campbell's show to pursue his own career in stand-up. At the time, stand-up was not particularly popular and young performers were having trouble getting ahead.

Old fashioned nightclubs were out-dated and with no comedy clubs around, comedians sometimes risked their lives taking the only venues available, opening for pop and rock singers. Crafty veteran George Carlin learned to soothe them, talk down to them, make a lot of funny faces, catch their attention with jokes about dirty words and bodily functions. Martin Mull exaggerated and satirized the whole "o-kayyy, we're really havin' fun" attitude" of show-biz phonies. Martin made fun of the artificiality of suit-and-tie stand-up and utilized elements of both Carlin and Mull's style, in addition to his own.

He emerged with something exciting and new, the jerky "wild and crazy guy" with his put-ons, sly gags, corny schtick and so stupid-it's-hip personality. If anyone didn't get it, he had a mock-arrogant and hilariously haughty cry of "Well, excuuuuuuse me!" After several guest spots on "Saturday Night Live," Martin zoomed to stardom and fad success, selling a million and a half copies of his first album, 1977's "Let's Get Small." Another album also went platinum and a year later, April 3, 1978, Steve Martin was on the cover of Newsweek magazine. The fever continued to mount. A "non-book" of whimsies and silliness, "Cruel Shoes," sold over 200,000 copies in hardcover.

There was a price for all the fame and attention and intensive touring: "You get physically tired, emotionally tired, and start wondering what you're doing….I started doing things like collapsing onstage. It was a signal…It was just exhaustion. I was a wreck." Martin decided to quit stand-up while he was ahead. Summing up this phase of his career, Martin would later say "I always felt there was a deeper meaning to what I was doing than just being "wild and crazy," something more philosophical. I had a view that there was something funny about trying to be funny…now…I see it for what it was. It was just fun, and it was stupid and that's why it was successful." He got up to "half a million a week. By then I thought, I've worked hard to get this act together, I've got to run it into the ground. I had to exploit it or I would have been an idiot. But I only did it for three years, and then I stopped."

For years interviewers tried to get an idea from Martin on how he put together his act. In an interview with writer Paul Morley in Blitz magazine, Martin analyzed his style: "With jokes the audience wait for the punchline and then decide whether to laugh or not. With me, I would deny the punchline, and just keep going, so that the tension would just build and build so much that they would have to start laughing. They would find their own place to laugh, rather than laughing at the place where you told them to laugh. And if they found their own place to laugh it would be ten times funnier than if you told them where they should laugh. It's like when you're a kid and you're laughing so hard at something and you don't know why and you just cannot stop—that's what I was going for. You couldn't leave my show going, "and then he told the joke…" ...they could only say, "You had to be there."

Actually Martin did toss in a quotable joke now and then: "If I'm in a restaurant and I'm eating, and someone says 'Mind if I smoke' I say 'No, no, mind if I fart?" Sometimes he gave a tongue-in-cheek observation or two: "I believe it's derogatory to refer to a woman's breasts as boobs, jugs, Winnebagos, or Golden Bozos. And you should only refer to them as hooters. And I believe you should place a woman on a pedestal, high enough so you can look up her dress." But more often he blurred the line with prop comedy, put-ons and put-offs: "Got me a $300 pair of socks. I got a fur sink. Oh, let's see. Electric dog polisher. Gasoline-powered turtle neck sweater. And of course I bought some dumb stuff, too…"

What delirious fans didn't know about Steve Martin at the time was that beneath the flashy exterior there was a shy, very serious man, a philosophy major and art collector who realized how important it was to distance himself from the mad success. And, as a comedy writer and keen student of humor, he knew he had done all he could with his "jerk" character. After one movie as "The Jerk," Martin turned out experimental films that turned radically from one side of satire ("Pennies from Heaven") to another ("The Man With Two Brains") and yet another ("The Lonely Guy").

The only thing more bewildering than these films would've been movies based on the kind of books Martin said he enjoyed reading: "Bad Banana on Broadway…Renegade Nuns on Wheels…How I Turned a Million in Real Estate into Twenty Five Dollars in Cash…Trouble in Doggy Land…The Apple Pie Hubbub…How To Make Money Off the Mentally Ill…"

There were some critics who pronounced "Pennies from Heaven" and "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" as noble failures and there were cults for them, but Martin's film career didn't really kick off until he discovered the right balance of wild and crazy gyrations and more human, character-oriented humor. "All Of Me" was a major breakthrough, and his bankability at the box office increased with the hit "Roxanne."

He married his co-star on "All Of Me," Victoria Tennant. He rarely discussed his private life, saying only "We have got to keep our world private. Otherwise you feel like you get up to go to the bathroom and it becomes a possible anecdote for an interview." The most intimate topic he discussed was their cuisine: "I'm a vegetarian but I eat fish, so I'm not a true vegetarian. And the same is true of her."

Martin achieved consistent success in the late 80's with a string of successful films and always had enough fans to see him through a casting mistake ("My Blue Heaven") or another of those noble experiments ("Three Amigos.") Even his worst film experience was better than his off-Broadway debut in "Waiting for Godot." As Vladimir he didn't earn the critical praise heaped on stage-trained co-stars Robin Williams, F. Murray Abraham and Bill Irwin. Calling the reviews "negative to the extreme" and "out of all proportion" he said, "I had plenty of adversity as a stand-up comic—I played dives for 15 years—I thought I had every kind of experience on stage, but this was sheer torture."

Martin returned to the crazed California coast and "L.A. Story," another comfortable comedy which, like "Roxanne," he also wrote. It began with his voiceover, "I was deeply unhappy, but I didn't know it because I was so happy all the time." Critics were happy to see Steve Martin once again grappling serious problems in his own "wild and crazy" way. Of that line he said, "I guess it captures a mood of quiet desperation. It's very easy to go along in life working, talking, getting married, and never pausing to say "What should I really be doing?" He added, "Yearning to me is the most pathetic emotion. That people want something and can't get it…Some people know exactly what they want to do with their lives. Some people have no clue…"

While some people continued to have no clue as to his "wild and crazy" comedy style, many more caught on, and many would accost the very reserved, very private star for an autograph. Martin finally found a solution to the problem. He would hand a fan a card reading: "This certifies that you have had a personal encounter with me and that you found me warm, polite, intelligent and funny."