Years back, I found it weird and strange that, in some circles, people decided that Steve Martin was not funny because he wasn’t angry enough, was inauthentic, too oblique, or whatever.
This bit from a February 18, 1982, Ben Fong-Torres Rolling Stone Interview, somewhat explains his humor:
“[College] changed what I believe and what I think about everything. I majored in philosophy. Something about non-sequiturs appealed to me. In philosophy, I started studying logic, and they were talking about cause and effect, and you start to realize, ‘Hey, there is no cause and effect! There is no logic! There is no anything!’ Then it gets real easy to write this stuff because all you have to do is twist everything hard—you twist the punch line, you twist the non sequitur so hard away from the things that set it up.”
Martin further describes the development of his humor in this 2008 Smithsonian interview.
WATCH 1976 Standup Comedy.
Success came early for him, from working as a magician at Disneyland when he was 15 to getting an Emmy as a writer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour when he was 23. He also wrote for the shows of Glen Campbell and Sonny & Cher.
On his TV appearances, on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and, most notably, on Saturday Night Live, which he’s hosted 15 times, he created catchphrases such as “Excuuuuuse Me.” He was one of the wild and crazy guys with Dan Aykroyd, who played a “couple of bumbling Czechoslovak would-be playboys.” For better or worse, Martin helped to popularized the air quotes gesture.
On JEOPARDY! a couple of weeks ago, there was a clue about King Tut, and the contestant mimicked the hand gestures from the Steve Martin song that debuted on SNL, featuring the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, which only went to #17 on the pop charts in 1978, but ultimately sold a million copies.
But he really wanted to be in pictures, and I’ve seen him in several films.
1979 The Muppet Movie, as a waiter
1984 All of Me, with Lily Tomlin
1986 Little Shop of Horrors, as the dentist
1987 Roxanne, which he also wrote and executive produced; I was quite fond
1987 Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, by far my favorite John Hughes movie
1991 L.A. Story, for which he was also a writer and executive producer.
1991 Grand Canyon, which has my favorite quote about cinema: “That’s part of your problem: you haven’t seen enough movies. All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.”
1992 Leap of Faith, as a faux faith healer
1995 Father of the Bride Part II – an awful film
1997 The Spanish Prisoner – a decent drama
1998 The Prince of Egypt (voice)
1999 Fantasia 2000 (introductory host)
2008 Baby Mama
2009 It’s Complicated
2011 The Big Year, about birdwatching
He’s also been writing plays, articles, screenplays, and a very well-received 2007 memoir, Born Standing Up.
More recently, I’ve seen him on TV playing his banjo. In the comedy years, he’d play it mostly as a diversion for the joke. But now he, primarily with the band the Steep Canyon Rangers, has been playing a number of banjo gigs.
He’s won several honors, including the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the Kennedy Center Honors, the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year, the AFI Life Achievement Award, and an Academy Honorary Award. He became a father for the first time at the age of 67.