Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin

Summary

Comedian and actor Steve Martin’s engaging and inspiring memoir is worth a read. In a humble, humorous, and interesting way, Martin takes you on a journey from his troubled years as a talentless youth to his mega-success on stages and movie screens around the world.

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Key Takeaways

Childhood experiences endure

“Having cut myself off from him, and by association the rest of the family, I was incurring psychological debts that would come due years later in the guise of romantic misconnections and a wrong-headed quest for solitude. I have heard it said that a complicated childhood can lead to a life in the arts. I tell you this story of my father and me to let you know I am qualified to be a comedian.”

This passage highlights the candor and humor of Steve Martin’s writing. While he communicates serious points about his rocky relationship with his father and the subsequent negative effects of this relationship on his adult life, he adds a little humor. You’ll find this refreshing style of writing throughout the book.

Perseverance is a substitute for talent

“But there was a problem. At age eighteen, I had absolutely no gifts. I could not sing or dance, and the only acting I did was really just shouting. Thankfully, perseverance is a great substitute for talent.”

While talent is important, it’s not everything. Like Steve Martin, many (if not most) successful people started off with very little talent. Instead, they kept plugging away at their goals. Perseverance matters a lot more than most people think.

On deluding yourself

“Through the years, I have learned there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.”

When you’re working on a creative pursuit with no ending or guarantee of success, sometimes you need to get yourself pumped up to the point of delusion. While keeping grounded in reality is important, these periods of moderate delusion can help propel you closer to where you want to go and what you want to achieve.

Comedy

“Comedy is a distortion of what is happening, and there will always be something happening.”

Interesting definition of comedy that keeps you from believing that all the good jokes have already been invented.

Good vs. great

“THE CONSISTENT WORK enhanced my act. I learned a lesson: It was easy to be great. Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking. These nights are accidental and statistical: Like lucky cards in poker, you can count on them occurring over time. What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the abominable circumstances.”

Anyone can have an incredible night. But very few people are consistently good, regardless of the circumstances. If you want to be at the top of your field or someone who people admire, keep working until you’re good every time. You might even be great sometimes, but being good every time is the goal.

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