I just finished reading Steve Martin‘s autobiography, Born Standing Up. It focuses on the eighteen years he spent doing stand-up and how much work went into it. Someone online had mentioned the book, and it seemed like the perfect thing to read right now – being in what I see as my equivalent to his early, hardworking years.
Steve Martin probably seemed like he appeared out of nowhere in the 70s, showing up regularly on SNL and the Tonight Show. The truth is, he worked for years developing his own brand of comedy, playing rinky dink clubs, writing jokes for shows like the Smothers Brothers and the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, and traveling all over the place from gig to gig. The book really showed how much work he put into his act and into making it fresh and new.
It struck me how when he decided that comedy would be his career, he went wholeheartedly into perfecting his routine. He was trying out new ideas of what comedy is and isn’t, how to get people to laugh without a specific cue (like a punch line). At one point in the book he talks about how lonely being on the road is, but that while performing he began to realize that “…onstage, every second mattered. Every gesture mattered…When I had new material to try, I would break it down into its smallest elements, literally a gesture or a few words, then sneak it into the act in its shortest form…”(p. 143) This just really struck me, the deconstruction of what funny was.
This book really made me think about how when you have a passion for something, when you finally figure out what it is that you want to do with your life, you have to go for it with everything that you have. You have to stick with it – it’ll take a long time before people begin to see value in what you do. Success comes to those who persevere through those lean times. It comes to those with so much passion for what they do that they work constantly on ways to improve it. Those who are constantly testing themselves, learning new techniques, figuring out how what they are doing could be different and new and better.
This is what I took away from Born Standing Up, a renewed commitment to my metalwork. To keep on pushing myself and not letting my frustrations get me down. He took his passion and made a career out of it, so can I.