Steve Martin is a comedian, actor, writer, and banjo player — the consummate performer. But before he made a name for himself as a standup comedian, he wanted to be a magician. As a 15-year-old, Martin put together a magic act, but he quickly realized “the audience likes it better when the tricks don’t work.” Martin saw an opportunity. “I decided that I would try to lean towards comedy, and I began a slow process of eliminating the magic and getting into comedy.”
He went on to develop a stand-up act that commanded the full comic spectrum — high-concept surrealism as well as a kind of broad comedy that made fun of broad comedy. His second standup album, "A Wild and Crazy Guy," broke through to a huge audience. That album was one of 25 American recordings honored last year by the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress.
Dan Aykroyd appeared with Martin on "Saturday Night Live" in a series of sketches about the Festrunk brothers, based on Martin’s “A Wild and Crazy Guy.” Aykroyd admired Martin’s ability to write comedy that was both relatable and smart. “He always pointed high. He pointed above the brows of his audience,” Aykroyd says.
While Martin’s humor could get philosophical, he never talked down to fans. And by injecting zany physical humor into his work, he brought a goofy sensibility to his more esoteric gags. “[He] was able to connect with more intelligent material than many of his contemporaries who were kind of anchored in the real world,” says Aykroyd. “He was able to soar up and away from the real world of stand-up — you know, ‘What happened to me the other day when my wife locked me out of the car.’ That wasn’t his humor. He went way high, intellectual, philosophical, absurdist.”
This story was produced by Devon Strolovitch for BMP audio.