Steve Martin worked at the Bird Cage Theater in Knott's
Berry Farm and at the Magic Shop at Disneyland as a
teenager, where he developed his talents for magic,
juggling, playing the banjo and creating balloon animals.
Martin majored in philosophy at California State University, Long Beach, but dropped out. Nevertheless, his time there changed his life:
A girlfriend helped him get his first real job in 1967,
as a comedy writer on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, the
show she was on as a dancer. Martin, along with the other
writers for that show, won an Emmy Award in 1969. Martin
also wrote for John Denver (a neighbor of his in Aspen,
Colorado at one point) and The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.
Steve Martin appeared at San Francisco's The Boarding House among other locations. He continued to write, earning an Emmy nomination for his work on Van Dyke and Company in 1975.
In the mid-1970s he
made frequent appearances as a stand-up comedian on The
Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. That exposure, together
with appearances on NBC's Saturday Night Live (SNL), led to
his first of four comedy albums, Let's Get Small. The album
was a huge success; one of its tracks, Excuse Me, helped
establish a national catch phrase.
Steve Martin's next album, A Wild and Crazy Guy, was an even bigger success reaching the number two spot on the chart, and spawning another catch phrase, this time based on an SNL skit where Martin and Dan Aykroyd played a couple of bumbling Czechoslovakian playboys. A top 40 hit King Tut, from the album, released in 1978, was backed by the Toot Uncommons (better known as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band). Both were million sellers.
Both albums won Grammys for Best Comedy Recording in 1977 and 1978.
In these and his two other albums, Martin's stand-up
comedy was self-referential, sometimes self-mocking. It
mixes philosophical riffs with sudden spurts of "happy
feet", deft banjo playing with balloon depictions of
concepts like venereal disease. His style is off kilter and
ironic, and sometimes makes fun at stand-up comedy
traditions. A typical gag might be interrupted for a sip
from a glass of water, and just as he was about to speak
again, he forcefully spits the water onto the floor.
By the end of the 1970s, Steve Martin had acquired the kind of following normally reserved for rock stars, with his tour appearances typically occurring at sold-out arenas filled with tens of thousands of screaming fans. But unknown to his audience, stand-up comedy was "just an accident" for him. His real goal was to get into film.
Steve Martin's first film was a short, The Absent-Minded Waiter (1977). The seven-minute long film was written by and starred Martin. The film was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Short Film, Live Action.
In 1979, Steve Martin wrote and starred in his first full-length movie, The Jerk, directed by Carl Reiner. The movie was a huge success, grossing $100 million on a budget less than a twentieth of that amount.
The success of The Jerk opened more doors from him. Stanley Kubrick met with him to discuss a project (which was never produced). He was executive producer for a prime-time TV series starring Martin Mull and a late-night series called Twilight Theater. It emboldened him to try his hand at his first serious film, Pennies from Heaven, a movie he was anxious to do because of the desire to avoid being typecast. To prepare for that film, he took acting lessons from the director, Herbert Ross, and spent months learning how to tap dance. The film was a financial failure; Martin's comment at the time was "I don't know what to blame, other than it's me and not a comedy."
Martin was in two more Reiner-directed comedies after The Jerk: Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid in 1982, and The Man with Two Brains in 1983.
In 1986, Martin joined fellow Saturday Night Live veterans Martin Short and Chevy Chase in Three Amigos, which was directed by John Landis, and written by Martin, Lorne Michaels and Randy Newman. It was originally entitled The Three Caballeros and Martin was to be teamed with Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi.
In 1987, Steve Martin joined comedian John Candy in the John Hughes film, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. That same year, Roxanne, a film he cowrote, won him a Writers Guild of America award and more importantly, the recognition from Hollywood and the public that he was more than a comedian.
Steve Martin starred in the Ron Howard film, Parenthood in 1989.
In 1999, Martin and Goldie Hawn starred in a remake of the 1970 Neil Simon comedy, The Out-of-Towners.
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