Well, excuuuuse me! The wild and crazy guy is celebrating his 64th birthday today!
Steve Martin is a true Renaissance man. He writes books, plays, and movies. He’s a comedian and an actor. He plays the banjo, juggles, and does magic and card tricks. He’s been the host of Saturday Night Live more than anyone. He’s won three Grammys and an Emmy. He was honored at the Kennedy Center in 2005 with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
And, he’s survived childhood abuse.
Stephen Glenn Martin was born on this day in 1945 in Waco, Texas. His father Glenn was an aspiring actor who sold real estate to keep the family afloat. Glenn took out his frustrations, self-loathing, jealousy, and rage on his wife and children. Young Steve escaped to Disneyland where he got his first job. He learned early that it helps to be funny when times are grim. In a Janury 25, 2009 interview in Parade Magazine, he philosophically observed:
We’ve got to find a way to have a laugh at the things that are getting us down.
A few days after 9/11. . .People in restaurants were laughing and talking. I wondered if it hadn’t hit them what really happened. But then I realized that they were expressing that life goes on. That things aren’t so dire that you can’t have a good laugh. . .People want to laugh at their troubles.
In his memoir, Born Standing Up, Steve Martin explains that “listening to comedy was one of the few things our family did together.” His father, who was called Glenn by his children, was always critical of his success. After his father passed away in 1997, Martin recalled:
. . .the number of funny or caring words that had passed between my father and me was few. He had evidently saved his vibrant personality for use outside the family.
. . .my father seemed to have a mysterious and growing anger toward me He was increasingly volatile. . .enraged silences. . .I suspect that as his show business dream slipped further into the sunset, he chose to blame his family. . .my sister seemed to escape his wrath, my mother grew more and more submissive. . .she whispered her thoughts to me with the caveat “Now, don’t tell anyone I said that,” filling me with a belief, which took years to correct, that it was dangerous to express one’s true opinion. . .
His growing moodiness made each episode of punishment more unpredictable ~ and hence, more frightening ~ and once, when I was about nine years old, he went too far. . .a beating that seemed never to end. . .this beating. . .made me resolve, with icy determination, that only the most formal relationship would exist between my father and me. . .The rest of my childhood, we hardly spoke; there was little he said to me that was not critical. . .I had learned from him to reject all aid and assistance. . .I was incurring psychological debts that would come due years later in the guise of romantic misconnecitons and a wrong-headed quest for solitude.
. . .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.
Steve Martin started working at age 10. He says the $2 he earned his first day at Disneyland made him feel like a millionaire, and he describes Disneyland as his “Versailles.” He invested his earnings in magic tricks and performed “for anyone who would watch.”
The daily excitement of my life at Disneyland and high school was in stark contrast to my life at home. Silent family dinners. . .my father’s unpredictable temper, and the stubborn grudges I collected and held. . .the family never gelled. But when I was away from home, my high school pals and I enjoyed endless conversation and laughter, and my enthusiasm for. . .working. . .clowning. . .early rock and roll. . .made life seem joyful and limitless. When I moved out of the house at eighteen, I rarely called home.
He kept a journal of how each gag played with his audiences and would reflect on how he could improve his performance next time. He claims he had no natural talent:
Thankfully, perseverance is a great substitute for talent. . .I did have the one element necessary to all early creativity: naivete. . .keeps you from knowing just how unsuited you are for what you are about to do. . .I have learned there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.
Like Tina Turner, he credits the friendship and support of Ann-Margaret with keeping him afloat when he most needed it. He plugged away at the comedy circuit and went to college. Bit by bit he built a solid foundation for his career. He suffered from bouts of depression and exhaustion.
Near the end of his life, his father cried and admitted his jealousy, “You did everything I wanted to do.”
The Parade article ended with a beautiful quote:
There is nothing better than talking and joking over dinner. I feel like I’ve been through a lot. I’ve survived a lot, and I’m still creative. And I’m still working, which makes me very happy. I love the idea that I can deliver laughs to people who might be a little depressed.