Tuesday, June 24, 2008
For me, I'm saying for me now...Steve Martin is the funniest man who ever lived. His comedy appears effortless, and cannot easily be described (I mean, one of his bits involved playing the banjo while wearing one of those fake arrow headbands, and it was hilarious).
In this interview at NPR, he talks about trying to find something different, original, and new in stand-up comedy, and he realized that most comedians rely on jokes and punch lines. "What if I could get real laughter," he asked himself, "like the kind you have at home or with your friends, where your sides are aching."
It seems simple, but a lot of the stuff that makes us laugh in everyday life are really simple gags, not constructed jokes. Martin's stand up routine feels more like performance art - comic performance art, of course - than, well...a stand up routine. He doesn't make witty remarks that offer insight into our culture, but he crafted a specific comic persona that doesn't resemble his real life mannerism, but also isn't a stretch - a little smug, falsely humble, yet at the same time rushing to please the crowd, begging for a laugh. His determined mantra would occasionally be: "This is funny, you just haven't gotten it yet."
In a Newsweek interview in 1978, he noted the vast difference in his onstage persona and the real guy - "The main thing is I don't want this information to distort my onstage character to the point that people don't believe it any more."
One of the things I like best about his routine is that, as the Newsweek reporter put it, he's unthreatening. He was never out to get shock laughs; his act is just silly. "What makes you laugh so hard is the sight of this reasonable man so shamelessly shedding his inhibitions, this boy who should know better gleefully acting naughty - and getting away with it."
In that article, a comedian of the time, David Steinberg, noted, "We are burned out on relevance and anger. He offers a special form of escape and there is no hostility in his act." And he's right. It's just friendly laughs. Even when he injects a bit of sex and drugs talk, it's still silly. Consider the following clip, in which he creates venereal disease with balloons.
It's comedy of the absurd if ever an example was available. But Martin has an oddly philosophical bend to it: "It [art] was the only thing that had real meaning because it had no meaning. In art, truth comes and goes according to fashion. It can't be measured. You don't have to explain why, or justify anything. If it works, it works. As a performer, non sequiturs make sense, nonsense is real."