The Nitty Gritty

But more than all of those I am an entertainer. I carry around a ukulele with me for the same reason a gangster carries a gun; better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Stage or sidewalk, Your Pal Pete shows are just where they happen.
Currently, I'm working on a musical, RagnaPOP(or she's got the bomb), set to premiere at this year's Capital Fringe Festival. I'm also working on music, comedy, and musical comedy; for kids and/or adults.
The fruit of these projects will be available on this site, so check back regularly!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Kids Don't Understand Steve Martin

The second of a multi-part series.

2. Steve Martin
You don't understand: Starting off as a successful comedy writer for the Smothers Brothers and Sonny and Cher, it was Steve Martin's absurdist stand-up act that catapulted him to stardom in the late-70's. He was one of the first rock star comedians; his albums went platinum and he could fill amphitheaters with fans wearing his trademark arrow-through-the-head and shouting back "EXCUUUUSSSE ME!" and other catch phrases like they were singing along with "Freebird".

Here's a taste:


His first movies and numerous Saturday Night Live apperances captured a lot of the same type of humor- I call high/low brow, basically dumb comedy made by smart people- that has been enormously influential. Steve Martin displayed both a smart, fresh approach to the stale medium of stand-up and a gift for physical comedy better than nearly anyone before or since.

What went wrong: His own sense of self. The end could have come circa 1981, when he quit stand-up and tried to "get serious" with his bomb movie musical Pennies From Heaven in 1981, but he bounced back with more zany Carl Reiner-directed comedies like Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid and The Man With Two Brains, then more nuanced turns in Roxanne and Parenthood. Where thing really went wrong was the slow but sure separation of his high brow (writing Picasso at the Lapin Agile and for the New Yorker) and low brow (except Bowfinger, every comedy movie he's made in at least a decade) tendencies. Neither is very funny, although only one is suppose to be. However, over the years he has given us enough good material and performances that when we see him in, say, The Pink Panther 2, we're still more likely to go, "That's a shame" instead of, "It figures".

How The Kids Know Him: His low-brow efforts prove to still pull it in at the box office, although he seems to get the white-guy versions of the hit-in-the-nuts type characters that Eddie Murphy plays. The kind of roles that go to Eugene Levy if they don't have Steve Martin money (or to Albert Brooks if they can't afford Levy). At least he hasn't had to wear a fat suit. Yet.

Where you can learn: The Jerk. I saw this and Blazing Saddles(which Martin had nothing to do with)recently and was amazed at how well they've aged. The humor is as broad as Meet The Spartans, but much funnier decades later, which, I realize isn't saying much, I've seen funnier bowls of Alpha-Bits. You should find out for yourself. When I start making money, I'm going to pick up his memoir of his stand-up days, Born Standing Up.

This clip kinda tells the tale, but the end(the best part) has been cut out.

2 comments:

Does this make me low brow or high brow? said...

Roxanne is one of my all time favorite movies.

Your Pal Pete said...

As far as I'm concerned, both. That's the best place to be! I was talking more like Sgt. Bilko was when the split became a bit more pronounced.