Living a life of slapstick comedy

Steve Martin has been a top comedian for more than 30 years, a feat, that by his own admission, he achieved without any sort of talent.
“I consider my whole career a workaround,” he told an adoring crowd at Lisner Auditorium Tuesday night.
The star of such popular comedies including “The Jerk,” “Three Amigos” and “Little Shop of Horrors,” the self-deprecating and amiable Martin discussed his memoir, “Born Standing Up,” in an event sponsored by the Smithsonian.
Martin sat on stage with interviewer Mark Pachter, who prompted Martin with questions about his childhood and early career.
“I like to think of my childhood as happy,” Martin said. “I had great times outside the house.”
Martin later said he wrote a play, “Wasp,” that serves as a metaphor for his family.
“In the first scene, the whole family is eating dinner, and all you hear is them chewing,” he said.
Martin started his career as a high school student, performing a routine centered on gag jokes. While in college at Long Beach State and later the University of California, Los Angeles, he shifted away from gags into a “pastiche” act that included juggling, banjo-playing and comedy. His efforts were aided by a glut of new comedy clubs in the Los Angeles area.
“There were all these new clubs that needed lousy acts before the big headliner went on stage,” he began.
“And you fit the bill?” asked Pachter.
“I absolutely fit the bill,” Martin said to laughter and applause.
Martin continued to refine his act throughout college. Aided by the classes he was taking in philosophy and logic, he developed a conceptual style that focused less on punchlines and more on putting himself into the act.
“Instead of saying ‘two guys went into a bar,’ I started saying ‘I went into a bar,'” he said. “I created my own character that way.”
His career received a major boost at age 21 when he was hired as a writer for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
“I had to go tell my television writing professor that I was dropping out of his class because I had taken a job writing for television,” Martin recalled.
Martin then took his comedy act on the road, performing at small venues across the country. Over the next few years, he gradually developed the wild, slapstick style that made him famous.
“It was getting towards the end of the (Vietnam) War and I wanted to show people that it’s OK to be silly again,” Martin said. “I was at the tail end of one generation of comedy and the beginning of another … whatever it was.”
The largely middle-aged audience members were given an opportunity to ask Martin questions following the conclusion of the interview. Many of the questioners thanked Martin for the work he has done throughout his career and asked him about their favorite films.
In response to a question about “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” Martin discussed how he and co-star John Candy often ad-libbed lines while filming a scene.
“We did one scene where we literally ran out of film,” Martin said. “We kept ad-libbing and you could hear the film just flapping in the background.”
One woman asked Martin if he had any humorous stories from the set of the “Three Amigos,” a film he made with Martin Short and Chevy Chase in 1986.
“No,” Martin deadpanned, before launching into a risqué story involving a game of Scrabble and Martin Short.
Pachter was also very appreciative of Martin and his unique brand of humor.
To a thunderous applause, Pachter said, “Thank you, Steve Martin, for making meaning out of chaos.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.