Hi, everyone. My name is Katie, and each week I’m going to give you my totally unbiased perspective of a book I didn’t read based on an interview I had with a Friends of the Library volunteer or friend. Although the books discussed are very real and definitely read by my interviewees, they are most certainly not read by me.
For this interview, I spoke to a friend across the pond named Bella.* As many Americans do, I began imitating her English accent upon the initiation of our conversation. As soon as I remembered how unconvincing this accent was, I switched an even worse midwestern accent and asked her to explain to me the wonders of the universe from her far worldlier perspective (the south of England). She said ok, and as soon as she pointed out how she had not only traveled by plane before, but also by car, train, the Force, and skateboard, I knew I had contacted the proper worldly Brit for this interview.
(Sentences and words in bold type are my own commentary. I hope you find it as amusing and disruptive as it was intended to be.)
*name was changed in order to salvage employee’s dignity
The name of this week’s book is “Born Standing Up” by Steve Martin.
Me: Good morning and welcome to my program! Just kidding–I don’t ever say that.
Bella: Oh my goodness, I love that...so good! Please continue...
Me: Welcome all the way from the southern coast of England. Welcome. It’s beachy there...ain’t it?
This was the start of my attempt at a midwestern accent. Per my use of the word “ain’t,” you can imagine how it went.
Bella: Yes, we have the ocean and the beach.
Me: I’ve never seen the ocean before, bein’ here in Minnesota. Seems real mystical, yah?
Bella: Mmm, yes...you’ve got to respect the sea.
Me: Anyhoo, what’s the name of the book we’ll be talkin’ about?
Bella: We’ll be talking about Steve Martin’s autobiography, “Born Standing Up.”
Me: Ok now...ok....now…tell me–sorry, I’m too distracted by my attempt at this accent to remember what I was going to say. Ok–you said this is an autobiography. What kinda stuff is Steve talkin’ about here...what kinda guy is this for people who don’t know him...what’s goin’ on?
Bella: You just turned into a New Yorker.
Me: Oh my God–why is this so difficult?
A great start.
Bella: I love it–keep it rollin,’ keep it movin.’ So, this autobiography is essentially his life so far from when he was younger and started doing magic tricks [...] then it tracks his career through him becoming a stand-up comedian [...] and then [it talks about] the struggle he had with fame and success. It also talks about his relationship with his father which was pretty strained, but also really touching and moving. It’s about his life, essentially.
Me: Tell me somethin,’ young lady. You talked about how he started out with magic tricks, and that’s really the only part I was payin’ attention to–
Me: Tell me a little more about that.
Bella: When he was younger, Steve started doing some magic tricks, and he would quite often hang out at the magic shop, which is where he fell in love with [it] and performing. Soon he found that people often found things he did funny, and that’s how he progressed into his stand-up–he started doing magic that got funnier and funnier until it was just stand-up.
Me: And I wonder...what were the problems with his father, and do you think they shaped his comedy at all?
Bella: Hmm, yeah. His father wasn’t the most supportive of his comedy and found it hard to praise Steve for anything, it seemed, so he had a very difficult relationship with [his father]. I don’t want to give away too much from the book–
Bella: But at the end, there’s quite a few touching moments between them. Though I don’t know how much he influenced Steve’s comedy…
Me: Failure to answer a question equals buh bye!
Me: Ok, keep going.
Bella: I think the relationship could have been a driving force because he wanted to impress his father. Does that make sense?
Me: It does! Now, how was the book, this autobiography, you say...how was it written? Was it a lot of stories pieced together? Did it sound like someone else wrote it entirely? Was it stream of consciousness? Is our buddy Steve a fraud, and this book was a disaster, and we should stand outside and protest to take him down? Gimme the goop.
Bella: It’s hard to know exactly, but I get the impression it was just he who wrote it because it was very well written and very funny, which he is, so naturally it was hilarious. It also felt like one long story, which was quite amazing. He was able to sum up a lot of his life very simply to the point where each single sentence carried a lot of weight.
Me: I like it. What else? What happened after the magic and the comedy?
Bella: There was a point in the book where he talked about how he got really famous and really rich, and he mentioned how money changed him but how he would still, for instance, closely eyeball the prices of food items on menus; it was little details like that which really stuck with me.
Me: Interesting...that’s a throw away word–interesting–but it is.
Bella: Also I want to say...I listened to this on audio book, and it was narrated by Steve himself, which was great...to have him sort of reading directly to you like he was just telling you a story in the room.
Me: I love stories! I recently told you how I listen to fairytale bedtime stories...and that’s a true story.
Here’s me using the word “story” one more time.
Me: Side note, unrelated to this interview...I just found out you can get a month of Luminary (a podcast app she and I had discussed) for free. Don’t throw me in jail, Luminary, for saying this on my super famous blog. In fact, please pay me for this free advertisement.
Bella: And Russell Brand (who does a podcast on Luminary) can come sit on your lap and tell you a story for a whole hour.
Me: That’s right. We’re doing a backwards negotiation here. That’s how Minnesota works, baby!
Me: Back to this book...when you were reading it, did you have anyone in mind who might want to read it as well? Did you ever say, “I think this person would like this book,” or, “I think this person would hate this book,” or, “Steve Martin is not who I thought he was?” Those are all different questions.
Bella: Well...I decided to get the book because it was recommended on some podcasts with other comedians–quite a few of them mentioned it, so I was surprised when I read it because I thought there would be more advice for comedians in it.
Me: Oh, so you were lookin’ for the fast track out of Idaho, where you are clearly located!
Bella: It’s more of...I was expecting specific advice. But I loved it anyway. I just don’t think I would recommend it to a comedian who is trying to like, learn how to be a comedian.
Me: Great. So we’ve established who you wouldn’t recommend it to. Anyone you...would...recommend it to? Is the book just for like, a person, who likes learnin’ about...people?
What a well-phrased question, Katie. Pat-on-the-back.
Bella: Yeah, yeah. Anyone who loves Steve Martin is going to love this book. It does make you laugh in places, and the way it’s written is quite poetic, so I think most people who have a vague interest in either comedy or Steve would love it.
Me: Now...what was the second question I asked you?
Bella: I have no idea.
Me: Oh! Oh! The way he presented himself in the text...did you think he would be different? I had switched to a quasi New York accent. I don’t know what accent this is anymore.
Bella: I didn’t know much about him before I read the book, but now I think he’s quite an introvert and even a more serious person than I realized–not necessarily in a bad way. He’s just more well-rounded to me now that I’ve read the book.
Me: You know, that’s interesting to me because I’m finding more and more that a lot of comedians really are introverts in their personal lives, and they come out on the stage and give these big, blustery performances, when in reality, they’re not really like that. Or they’re incredibly depressed and no one knows, which is another issue.
Me: I even remember one comedian talking about how he was the most boring person on the planet when he was offstage, and I was blown away by that. And I feel like this is pretty across the board except for like, Gabriel Iglesias.
Bella: Who’s that?
Me: He’s a Mexian-American comedian who states outright how what you see onstage is what you get in real life, and he seems it. He’s so relaxed in who he is that there is no aspect of performance in what he does, which is beautiful (aren’t I supposed to be interviewing Bella, you ask?).
Bella: And as a tangent to that..I think it’s quite a lonely lifestyle as well. Even though Steve was an introvert, I think he still found it difficult because, as he became more famous and successful, he talked about how incredibly lonely he was. But when he started doing film, it was so much more social because he could hang out with everyone on set.
Me: It seems like an incredibly tough lifestyle.
Bella: And that’s part of why he quit stand-up, because of the lifestyle and loneliness of it.
Me: And I think there’s two aspects of it, one being the loneliness factor of a stand-up, the other being the loneliness factor of someone who is growing more and more famous. From what I’ve read, it really does get lonelier as you get to the top.
Bella: Exactly. And I listen to a lot of comedians on podcasts who talk about how difficult it is to be on your own most of the time...on the road, writing...and they have one really exciting adrenaline dump in the evening, then they’re back to being lonely.
This is an uplifting interview!
Bella: The idea is, it doesn’t necessarily make you want to be a stand-up comedian, this book.
Me: Does he put this book out as a warning to those hopefuls who ignore the message of “don’t do it” and are like “but I wanna be a tortured artist!” and then he’s like, “but you don’t understand,” and then they’re like, “ no, no, no–I get it,” and he’s like “get out of here, this book’s over, the end.”
Bella: Yeah, that’s basically it.
And folks, that was basically it.
Me: Closing statements. How did the book conclude? Wrap this up for us.
Bella: I can’t remember.
Me: My goodness.
Bella: The main thing in the end is his relationship with his dad, and I don’t want to give that away–it’s quite interesting and moving. You get the sense of tension and difficulty with resolution at the conclusion.
Me: A book about the humanity of Steve Martin.
Bella: Oh, yeah–for sure.
Me: Would you like to give any advice to our hundreds and thousands of readers here?
Bella: I think the audio book is particularly special. His cadence...his rhythm...there’s such humor in his delivery. Do it.
Me: Lovely. Anyway, go Yankees–that’s the team out here in Minnesota–and I’m gonna figure out how to turn off this new-fangled contraption.