Book cover art for Born Standing Up
Born Standing Up
Steve Martin

An incredibly interesting insight into Martin's early career, one I was not familiar with until reading this book (I had only known of him from a handful of movies). Interesting insights into the creative process, originality and consistently working at your craft. Enjoyable to read, too - I read it in a single day.


‘The move enabled me to place my hand on opportunity’s doorknob.’

The concept of ‘monday night quality’ - which is to say, you’re good enough to go on on Monday night but maybe not Saturday

‘All entertainment is, or is about to become, old-fashioned. There is room, he implies, for something new.’

Learning and Teaching

‘I did stand up comedy for eighteen years. Ten of those years were spent learning, four years were spent refining, and four were spent in wild success.’

‘Teaching is, after all, a form of show business.’

The road - without guidebooks or mentors or critics. To be bold and dumb and fail as often as you like.

Martin would tape himself so that he was able to honestly review and rate himself to improve on the next time.

‘Perseverance is a great substitute for talent.’

Comedy and the Audience

Jokes are funniest when played upon oneself.

‘If I kept denying them the formality of the punchline, the audience would eventually pick their own place to laugh.’

‘Comedy is just a distortion of what is happening, and there will always be something happening.’

‘There could be nothing that made the audience feel they weren’t seeing something utterly new.’

‘Stand-up is seldom performed in ideal circumstances. Comedy’s enemy is distraction, and rarely do comedians get a pristine performing environment.’


‘When I think of the moments of elation I have experienced over some of my successes, I am astounded at the number of times they have been accompanied by elation’s hellish opposite.’

‘One day I was particularly gloomy, and Jim asked me what the matter was. I told him my high school girlfriend (for all of two weeks) had broken up with me. He said, ‘Oh, that’ll happen a lot.’ The knowledge that this horrid grief was simply part of life’s routine cheered me up almost instantly.’


It’s easy to be great, but it’s hard to be good. (One can be a flash, the other must be consistent.)

‘I was seeking comic originality, and fame fell on me as a by-product. The course was more plodding than heroic.’


‘I gave myself a rule. Never let them know I was bombing: This is funny, you just haven’t gotten it yet.’

‘Honing the edge that confidence brings.’


‘Afraid of falling short, I ad-libbed, wandered around the audience, talked to patrons, joked with the waitresses, and took note of anything unusual that was happening in the crowd and address it for laughs, in the hope of keeping my written material in reserve so I could fill my time quota. The format stuck. Years later, it was this pastiche element that made my performances seem unstructured and modern.’

‘Moving on, and not looking back, not living in the past, was a way to trick myself into further creativity.’

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

‘Despite a lack of natural ability, I did have the one necessary element necessary to all early creativity: naivete, that fabulous quality that keeps you from knowing just how unsuited you are for what you are about to do.’


‘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 that I am qualified to be a comedian.’

‘Were they beautiful? We were all beautiful. We were in our twenties.’

‘Locals with a sense of entitlement, who were pitted against developers with a sense of condominiums.’

‘As new as sunrise.’

‘She didn’t know much about show business, having once told a ventriloquist to move the dummy closer to the microphone.’

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