By Steve Martin, Scribner, November 20, 2007, 1416553649
Steve Martin is incredibly creative, but like many comedians, his creativity were born from a painful childhood and (necessarily) difficult adult life. His strict and harsh father was never a fan of his work, and only in the 1990s, did they begin to reconcile their differences – long after Steve left the stage for movies.
I’ve read a few of Martin’s books, and all of them are entertaining. While his book Shop Girl is a sketch of his personality, this book tells us why he is aloof, awkward, and anxious. He had not choice in becoming a comedian, and yet, it was a very difficult path for such a personality.
[p2] I was seeking comic originality, and fame fell on me as a by-product. The course was more plodding than heroic: I did not strive valiantly against doubters but took incremental [p3] steps studded with a few intuitive leaps. I was not naturally talented – I didn’t sing, dance, or act – though working around that minor detail made me inventive. I was not self-destructive, though I almost destroyed myself. In the end, I turned away from stand-up with a tired swivel of my head and never looked back, until now. A few years ago, I began researching and recalling the details of this crucial part of my professional life – which inevitably touches upon my personal life – and was reminded why I did stand-up and why I walked away.
In a sense, this book is not an autobiography but a biography, because I am writing about someone I used to know. Yes, these events are true, yet sometimes they seemed to have happened to someone else, and I often felt like a curious onlooker or someone trying to remember a dream. I ignored my stand-up career for twenty-five years, but now, having finished this memoir, I view this time with surprising warmth. One can have, it turns out, an affection for the war years.
[p80] Then I added: “I have decided my act is going to go avant-garde. It is the only way to do what I want.”
I’m not sure what I meant, but I wanted to use the lingo, and it was seductive to make these pronounce-;, ments. Through the years, I have learned there is no harm in charging oneself up with delusions between moments of valid inspiration.
NOTE: I can totally relate to this statement.
[p106] My life had been alternately inching or leaping upward: I was proud of my job on the Smothers Brothers’ show. I had some cash. My sex life was abundant and selfish. Things were rolling along nicely when I experienced a crushing psychological surprise. One night I was off to the movies with my friends John McClure, George McKelvey, and his wife, Carole. We were going to see Mel Brooks’s The_Producers, and we decided to smoke a little pot, which had become a dietary staple for me. So now I was high. In the car on the way to the theater, I felt my mind being tom from its present location and lifted into the ether. My discomfort intensified, and I experienced an eerie distancing from my own self that crystallized into morbid doom. I mutely waited for the feeling to pass. It didn’t, and I finally said, “I feel strange.” We got out of the car, and John, George, and Carole walked me along Sunset Boulevard in the night. I decided to go into the theater, thinking it might be distracting. During the film, I sat in stoic silence as my heart began to race above two hundred beats per minute and the saliva drained [p107] from my mouth so completely that I could not move my tongue. I assumed this was the heart attack I had been waiting for, though I wasn’t feeling pain. I was, however, experiencing extreme fear; I thought I was dying, and I can’t explain to you why I just sat there. After the movie, I considered checking myself in to a hospital. But if I went to the hospital, I would miss work the next day, which might make me expendable at CBS, where my career was just launching. My friends walked me along Sunset again, and I remember humming, “Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune” from The King and I. I spent the night on George and Carole’s couch in absolute terror. I kept wondering, “Am I dying?” but was more concerned with the question “Do I have to quit my job?”
It’s difficult for those of us who suffer from anxiety attacks to admit it. It’s a crucial part of the illness to be afraid of the anxiety, and to leave it unnamed. Though I rarely suffer from anxiety attacks today, I am still ashamed to talk about them. Perhaps this is one of the things that gives them their power over me.
I went through a similar experience about the same age Steve Martin had his first attack – he was about 30. It’s a difficult time for men: we are no longer children or young adults, and our life is finally cemented, or is it? Doubts arise about our choices. Is this what we’ll be doing forever? I have known many many to have similar experiences to mine. Our childhoods were different, but the effects are the same. Fundamental doubt leads to extreme fear and anxiety attacks.