Working as a Disneyland concessionaire in his teens, comedian Steve Martin picked up skills in "a little of this, a little of that:" juggling, tap-dancing, sleight of hand, balloon sculpting. He then attended UCLA, where he majored in philosophy and theatre, moving on to staff-writer stints for such TV performers as Glen Campbell, The Smothers Brothers, Dick Van Dyke, John Denver, and Sonny and Cher. Occasionally allowed to perform as well as write, Martin didn't go into standup comedy full time until the late 1960s, when he moved to Canada and appeared as a semi-regular on the syndicated TV variety series Half the George Kirby Comedy Hour. As the opening act for rock stars in the early 1970s, Martin emulated the fashion of the era with a full beard, shaggy hair, colorful costumes and drug jokes. Comedians of this ilk were common in this market, however, so Martin carefully developed a brand-new persona: the well groomed, immaculately dressed young man who goes against his appearance by behaving like a lunatic. By 1975, he was the Comic of the Hour, convulsing audiences with his feigned enthusiasm over the weakest of jokes and the most obvious of comedy props (rabbit ears, head arrows). His entire act a devastating parody of second-rate comedians who rely on preconditioning to get laughs, Martin became internationally famous for such catchphrases as "Excu-u-use me!," "Happy feet!," and "I am...one wild and crazy guy!" It was fun for a while to hear audiences shout out those catchphrases before he'd uttered them, but before long Martin was tired of live standup and anxious to get into films. Ignoring Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1977), Martin's true screen bow was The Jerk (1979), in which, with the seriousness of Olivier, he portrayed a man without a single clue in his brain, a white man who was a self-described "poor black child," an accidental millionaire who truly believed that his status rested upon his ability to order mixed drinks with little umbrellas in the glass. Had he been a lesser performer, Martin could have played variations on The Jerk for the remainder of his life, but he preferred to seek out new challenges. It took nerve to go against the sensibilities of his fans with an on-edge portrayal of a habitual loser in Pennies from Heaven (1981), but Martin was successful, even if the film wasn't. And few other actors could convincingly pull off a project like Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1983), wherein with utter conviction he acted opposite film clips of dead movie stars. After a first-rate turn in All of Me (1984), in which he played a man whose body is inhabited by the soul of a woman, Martin's film work began to fluctuate in quality, only to emerge on top again with Roxanne (1987), a potentially silly but ultimately compelling update of Cyrano de Bergerac. With as many hits and misses in the late 1980s-early 1990s, Martin was still full of surprises, as witnessed in his unsympathetic portrayal in Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1989), his angst-ridden father in Parenthood (1989), and his callow film producer in Grand Canyon (1991) -- though the public still seemed to prefer his standard comic performances in Father of the Bride (1991) and L.A. Story (1991). Martin went out on yet another artistic limb with A Simple Twist of Fate (1994) -- a film updating of that high-school English class perennial Silas Marner. After a starring and very dark role in David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner (1997), and an unsuccessful return to comedy in The Out-of-Towners (1999), Martin again won acclaim for Bowfinger, a 1999 comedy-satire that cast him as its titular hero, an unsuccessful movie director trying to make a film without the aid of a real script or real star. Martin--who also wrote the film's screenplay--played the straight man against Eddie Murphy, once again impressing critics with his versatility. In addition to his Hollywood activities, Martin is well-known for his intellectual pursuits. His play Picasso at the Lapin Agile played successfully off-Broadway, and he has made numerous contributions of humor pieces to The New Yorker magazine. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
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GQ Magazine (blog)
Your Morning Shot: Steve MartinGQ Magazine (blog)Your Morning Shot: Steve Martin. By Matthew Sebra. In honor of GQ's June Comedy Issue we bring you a month of Morning Shot funnymen. Steve-Martin-Morning-Shot-635.jpg. "I believe entertainment can aspire to be art, and can become art, but if you set ...