Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Born Standing Up - Steve Martin

Book review by Art Trombley

Those of you of a certain ago know Steve Martin as one of the all time greatest stand up comedians. Some of a different age know him from his movies (The Jerk and for even younger readers "Cheaper by the Dozen). He is a prolific author, actor and recently has turned his attention to his phenomenal banjo playing. He has released several music CDs over the past few years. He is simply the definition of an artist. This book is all about his life as a stand up. If you say his stand up material you know he was a "wild and crazy guy". His act was goofy fun without traditional punchlines. He was not a story teller. He was not a prop comic. He was not a joke teller even. He was something more. His act looked like a man who took to the stage with manic energy and simply made up a performance on the spot. When you read this book you will realize nothing could be further from the truth.
Steve Martin worked at Disney Land in various jobs. He worked in a magic shop. He worked at Knox Berry Farms. He worked everywhere. His act was made from "stolen" and borrowed bit of silliness performed for years in front of people who never laughed  because they never understood what he was doing. He was not even sure. And when I say stole I mean to say he used some lines he picked up from performers he met throughout his career who though they were throw away lines. Martin knew there was something more to those simple jokes. He toiled for years and years before he became an overnight success. The book describes in detail the path he took to become famous and how that fame drove him away from stand up and into movies, books and music.
What I took away from this book is something we should always be doing as teachers. He took notes of all his performances. He meticulously studied his act. He tweaked it when it was not working and he recognized that a different audience might need different material. He reordered his act on a cheap cassette player to refine his timing to find the better punchline or awkward moment. In the end his act was not as random and silly as it seemed. It was carefully planned to work. Carefully planned to work. Something I know I do not always do as a teacher. I do make changes from time to time but I do not tape myself. I do not critique the lesson in any method other than in my head. Maybe I need to take meticulous notes. Find out where the gaps and correct beats are. Change my delivery for a different audience. In other words - be prepared. Be more prepared. The prepare again.
I think our upcoming challenges with the new curriculum and testing will require us to become a little wild and crazy. We may not need arrows through the head or bunny ears, but we will need a new set of tools. Or maybe we will just need to take a hard look at the ones we have and sharpen them a bit. Retool our "act" for today's student.
Regardless of the rant at the end, this is a GREAT book about an extremely funny man who worked very hard to ear his success. It is a quick read because he is also a great writer.
Sadly I cannot lend it because it is a Kindle book (but it was only $2.99).

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