Few, if any, stand-up comedians have ever achieved the degree of popularity that Steve Martin had at his peak. In the 1970s, after his "Wild and Crazy Guy" act caught on with the public via Saturday Night Live, his live performances had to be booked into the kind of venues usually reserved for rock bands.
When he made the move to movies with 1979’s The Jerk, he initially exploited that persona, but soon moved away from it. After all, a smart guy can only go so far playing dumb, at least artistically. And through the 1980s Martin brought a rare combination of conceptual smarts and broad physical comedy to movies like Roxanne and All of Me. Unfortunately, in the last 15 years he has apparently decided that it’s a lot easier and more profitable making dumb comedies for the family market, shunting his more creative impulses into writing short stories and the occasional dramatic supporting role.
In November Martin will publish his memoir Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, in which he reminisces about the development of his peculiar band of live performance. Watching him read from the book and discuss his early career in this interview from the recent New Yorker Festival made me nostalgic for the Steve Martin you could depend on to make you laugh for the price of a movie ticket.