Saturday, March 10, 2012

Steve Martin

Stephen Glenn "Steve" Martin (born August 14, 1945) is an American actor, comedian, author, playwright, producer, musician and composer. Martin came to public notice as a writer for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and later became a frequent guest on The Tonight Show. In the 1970s, Martin performed his offbeat, absurdist comedy routines before packed houses on national tours. Since the 1980s, having branched away from stand-up comedy, he has become a successful actor, author, playwright, pianist, and banjo player, eventually earning Emmy, Grammy, and American Comedy awards, among others.

In 1967, Martin transferred to UCLA and switched his major to theater. While attending college, he appeared in an episode of The Dating Game. Martin began working local clubs at night, to mixed notices, and at twenty-one he dropped out of college. In 1967, his former girlfriend Nina Goldblatt, a dancer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, helped Martin land a writing job with the show by submitting his work to head writer Mason Williams.Williams initially paid Martin out of his own pocket. Along with the other writers for the show, Martin won an Emmy Award in 1969, aged 23. He also wrote for John Denver (a neighbor of his in Aspen, Colorado, at one point), The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. Martin's first TV appearance was on The Steve Allen Show in 1969. He says: "[I] appeared on The Virginia Graham Show, circa 1970. I looked grotesque. I had a hairdo like a helmet, which I blow-dried to a puffy bouffant, for reasons I no longer understand. I wore a frock coat and a silk shirt, and my delivery was mannered, slow and self-aware. I had absolutely no authority. After reviewing the show, I was depressed for a week." During these years his roommates included comedian Gary Mule Deer and singer/guitarist Michael Johnson. Martin opened for groups such as The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Carpenters, and Toto. He appeared at San Francisco's The Boarding House, among other venues. He continued to write, earning an Emmy nomination for his work on Van Dyke and Company in 1976.

In the mid-1970s, Martin made frequent appearances as a stand-up comedian on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson., and on The Gong Show, HBO's On Location and NBC's Saturday Night Live (SNL). SNL's audience jumped by a million viewers when he made guest appearances, though despite a common misconception, he was never a cast member. Martin has guest-hosted Saturday Night Live 15 times, bested only in number of presentations by host Alec Baldwin (who has hosted 16 times as of September 2011). On the show, Martin popularized the air quotes gesture, which uses four fingers to make double quote marks in the air. While on the show Martin became close with several of the cast members, including Gilda Radner. On the day Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989, a visibly shaken Martin hosted SNL and featured footage of himself and Radner together in a 1978 sketch.

His TV appearances in the 1970s led to the release of comedy albums that went platinum. The track "Excuse Me" on his first album, Let's Get Small, helped establish a national catch phrase. His next album, A Wild and Crazy Guy (1978), was an even bigger success, reaching the No.2 spot on the US sales chart, selling over a million copies. "Just a wild and crazy guy" became another of Martin's known catch phrases. The album featured a character based on a series of Saturday Night Live sketches where Martin and Dan Aykroyd played "Georgi" and "Yortuk" the Festrunk Brothers, a couple of bumbling Czechoslovak would-be playboys. The album ends with the song "King Tut", sung and written by Martin and backed by the "Toot Uncommons", members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. It was later released as a single, reaching No.17 on the US charts in 1978 and selling over a million copies. The song came out during the King Tut craze that accompanied the popular traveling exhibit of the Egyptian king's tomb artifacts. Both albums won Grammys for Best Comedy Recording in 1977 and 1978, respectively. Martin performed "King Tut" on the April 22, 1978 edition of SNL.

On his comedy albums, Martin's stand-up is self-referential and sometimes self-mocking. It mixes philosophical riffs with sudden spurts of "happy feet", banjo playing with balloon depictions of concepts like venereal disease, and the controversial kitten juggling (he is a master juggler). His style is off-kilter and ironic, and sometimes pokes fun at stand-up comedy traditions, such as Martin opening his act (from A Wild and Crazy Guy) by saying, "I think there's nothing better for a person to come up and do the same thing over and over for two weeks. This is what I enjoy, so I'm going to do the same thing over and over and over I'm going to do the same joke over and over in the same show, it'll be like a new thing." Or: "Hello, I'm Steve Martin, and I'll be out here in a minute." In one comedy routine, used on the Comedy Is Not Pretty! album, Martin claimed that his real name was "Gern Blanston". The riff took on a life of its own. There is a Gern Blanston website, and for a time a rock band took the moniker as their name. He stopped stand-up in 1981 to concentrate on movies and never went back.

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