Another behind-The-Curve book review: born standing up, by Steve Martin

Another behind-The-Curve book review: born standing up, by Steve Martin

Peter K the comedian recommended this to me as one of the best books about comedians and comedy. It’s good, it’s good.

Martin’s autobiographical tale of his entry into standup comedy is surprisingly straightforward. He remembers the first comics he ever saw and stole work from, giving credit where it’s due; he recounts books, people, and chance remarks that influenced his career path. Club owners and other performers receive complimentary namechecks, as do old girlfriends. The climb to the top was long, lonely, and hard. He doesn’t romanticize the getting of comic knowledge and timing, and doesn’t invent a self-serving story of his inner genius unfolding in solitude to overwhelm the world. From losing the first tepid 20 minutes of material accumulated from gag books and other performers to amassing 4 hours of screamingly funny original humor took a long time (10 years) and a lot of work.

It’s a seemingly unvarnished story of a fairly unhappy childhood, and an escape at age 11 into… working at Disneyland. To avoid this having too much flavor of a bad high school book report, I’ll merely say that it’s an interesting quick read that gives a great deal of insight into the first leg of an impressive and eclectic career.

One excellent observation Martin makes:

[…] Consistent work improved 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.

I’m only perturbed by the fact that in the jacket blurb, Martin doesn’t mention starring in All Of Me. If you haven’t seen it, it’s one of the greatest movies involving physical comedy I’ve ever seen. And Lily Tomlin’s in it, too. Also Selma Diamond.

Please not to be forgetting Martin’s banjo album The Crow. Quite boss.

He’s got a website.

Wally On The Run : A Message from Steve Martinby SteveMartin

The Crow:

YouTube Preview Image


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A smart person giving a good talk about a book he wrote

I’ll start this off by driving in the opposite direction, then looping back:

I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room last week (I’ve been doing a lot of that in the last year), and like a dope, I’d forgotten to bring something to read, so I pick up what turns out to be the latest issue of New York magazine, which I only read once a year when I’m in this particular doctor’s waiting room.

I glommed an article whose thrust is “whither news and journalism, and how about all those newspapers going out of business?” This is a subject I’m interested in, so I dive in. The thrust is that John Stewart is the icon of the new wave in reportage – funny, well-informed, passionate, opinionated, but fair. I can’t say anything about it, I don’t watch television (only streaming video on the computer), but I think Stewart is excellent, so okay.

The closing paragraph of the article quoted someone named Clay Shirky – who apparently wrote some analysis of the news media – as saying “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.” That struck me as quite succinct and accurate, so I ripped the page out of the magazine (now you know who’s defacing the magazines in all those doctor’s offices), folded it up and stuck it in my pocket.

Yesterday I ran across this creased sheet of paper, and googled Clay Shirky. Well, he ain’t no slouch, that’s for sure. Teacher, author, internet philosopher – he gets around.

Shirky’s just published a book called Here Comes Everybody: The Power Of Organizing Without Organizations. I followed one of the links to a YouTube video of a talk Shirky gave at Harvard about the book. It’s long (42 minutes) but fascinating, even with the occasionally frustrating camera work.

Check it out:

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You can’t make this stuff up

You can't make this stuff upI’m rarely an impulse shopper. Even though my role as househusband puts me in the check-out line at the Super Stop & Shop every other day, I manage to resist the siren call of the many magazines with the inside scoop on Britney, Tom Cruise, and Brangelina. I can easily pass on the AA batteries, tapes for the video camera, and home decorating one-offs about brightening up your dump of a crib with two cans of peach enamel and an afternoon of sweat.


There are must-haves. When we’re talking about communicating with angels, defeating Satan in our lives, or the end of the world, my curiosity is definitely piqued.

The literature of supermarket check-out lines has a sub-genre of religious titles, and I’ve been buying them for a while. Here’s the latest addition to the bookshelf.

Perhaps it had to happen, this collision of the make-it-easy-for-you branch of self-help literature (Dummies Guides, Complete Idiot’s Guides, etc.) and the enormous fascination with the apocalyptic Last Days prophecies. The peppy, upbeat jocularity of this writing strikes me as an unlikely contrast to the topic: Your E-Z Guide To The End Of Absolutely Everything, complete with God’s Burning Wrath In More Varieties Than Heinz, The Antichrist Up Close And Personal, and Several Prophecies That Sure Have Your Number, Pal. Not to mention The Rapture.

I realize that part of my interest in this is the Aging Hipster’s sense of irony, but I hope I’m not coming across as making fun of religion. It’s the absurd juxtaposition of the dire subject matter with the tone of the presentation: Advice on what to watch for! How to prepare for the end! What to believe! How to be a knowledgeable consumer of The End Of The World!

I’ve cropped out the barcode and the price. Apparently, what I bought in the checkout line is merely a “digest version” of the entire grisly tale, available elsewhere for $16.95 US plus shipping. Mine is a point-of-purchase pamphlet for someone whose lifestyle might not bring them into contact with the full version. The target demographic could be a born-again mom who stopped in for a package of L’Eggs and 6 rolls of toilet paper; it wasn’t until she laid eyes on this title (96 pages, TV Guide-sized, priced to move at $2.95 US) that she realized here in front of her was an affordably priced, simple way to fill in the gaps in her knowledge of The Coming Apocalypse.

Complete with those handy illustrations to add visual interest and break any boring blocks of text…

…and tips & tricks so there’s no chance of an ungodly misinterpretation.

Lest you think I’m being selective in my presentation, here’s two pages in their happy-talk apocalyptic totality.

And remember, whatever you do, don’t question the two witnesses who will be prophesying during the Tribulation. That’s the least you should take away from this: Keep it zipped in the End Times.

If The Onion had run this, I’d be laughing my head off. What a great idea. If I’d thought it up myself, I’d be incredibly proud. But all I can take credit for is that I wasn’t sleeping in the checkout line at register 5. And now I’m going back to buy every last copy; the holiday season will soon be here, and these will make excellent gifts. Assuming The End doesn’t come before December.

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Jeff Kisseloff’s Oral History of the 60’s

Jeff Kisseloff's Oral History of the 60'sStuds Terkel is in his 90’s. Let us all hoist a dry martini in his honor. While Terkel’s produced a dozen or more stunning books of oral history, it’s unlikely he’ll be doing many more. It behooves us to see where the next oral historians are coming from; allow me to direct you towards the works of Jeff Kisseloff.

So far, Kisseloff has produced 3 excellent oral histories: You Must Remember This was reminiscences of life in Manhattan by people who’d lived there from the late 1800’s to the beginnings of WWII. The Box is a history of television from its many inventors (1920’s – 1930’s) to the early 60’s, told by the participants.

Kisseloff’s most recent book is Generation On Fire: Voices Of Protest From The 1960’s, An Oral History. I recommend this highly. Kisseloff interviewed original Freedom Riders, various militant leaders, vets, writers, musicians, feminists, early gay rights advocates, and most wrenchingly, the boyfriend and mother of Allison Krause, one of the four students shot in the back by National Guardsmen at Kent State on May 4, 1970.

In a time when the dialogue in the media is moving slowly and inexorably to the right, and the radical movements of the 1960’s are generally dismissed as dope-addled aberrations best forgotten while we tend to our P&L statements, this book is a testimony to clear thought and commitment.

Kisseloff is also involved in writing a book on the Alger Hiss case, a fascinating and shameful episode of US history.

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The Great Black Way by R.J. Smith

The Great Black Way by R.J. SmithIf I wasn’t still somewhat disabled by the flu, I’d make this a rousing review of a great book I took out of the library when I got bored with watching the Netflix streams. I’m talking about The Great Black Way: L.A. in the 1940’s and the Lost African American Renaissance by R.J. Smith.

Since I’m still somewhat wasted, I’ll just point out a single musical high point.

One of the musicians Smith describes is seminal scat singer Leo Watson, who recorded with the Spirits Of Rhythm, Artie Shaw, Gene Krupa, and his own aggregations. I remembered that I had a comp CD of Watson’s (pictured here), and went back to listen in between bouts of fever. Excellent. He would up as a drummer for Slim Gaillard, a pairing Smith describes:

“Having Watson back Gaillard was a little like having Albert Einstein chauffeur a really bright high school physics teacher. Gaillard was the star, but Watson was the genius – the secret inspiration for Gaillard’s demented vocal style.”

I’ve attached an MP3 of each man for comparison’s sake. Dig The Man With The Mandolin by Leo Watson and his Orchestra, circa 1939.

Not to take anything away from Slim Gaillard, also a talented multi-instrumentalist, and a true Messiah of Vout.

Living up to the master with the MP3 of Yip Roc Heresy.

Leo Watson: The Man With The Mandilin

Slim Gaillard: Yip Roc Heresy

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