Steve Martin and Carol Burnett were in conversation last night courtesy of Writers’ Bloc and Town Hall Los Angeles over at the Wilshire Theatre in Beverly Hills.
They swapped anecdotes and the occasional barb (all in good fun). Carol is charming, and Steve is a good sport for getting out there and talking about himself. Even though it is clear he will never return to stand-up, he seems curious about how a live audience will respond to him at this stage of his career—or even who that live audience is.
In the case of last night, the audience was a lot of 40ish and 50ish white folks who braved the elements and plunked down $20. The audience was enthusiastic and appreciative on the front end. The conversation went well, with both recounting tales of face-to-face negative fan feedback. In Carol’s case, it was a man in a hallway just after Carol had finished her performance. She knew she’d bombed, and she remembers looking down and seeing the tears on her shoes. “You stink!,” the man said. In Steve’s case, a woman in an antique store asked him if he was the one she had seen on Johnny Carson last night. When he said yes, she sneered, “EEEWWWWW.”
The Q & A session was pretty good too, but the lighting on stage made it almost impossible for Carol and Steve to see the questioners (even though the house lights were at least partially up). The facilitator didn’t notice that the audience was starting to leak out toward the end, so rather than a proper send off (Carol was more than ready to give a gracious bow) the evening ended rather unceremoniously. Middle-aged people love their icons, but apparently they loathe long lines even more. The audience quickly dispersed to the lobby to get in line for the book signing.
Martin’s latest book, Born Standing Up, chronicles his early career, from the magic shop Disneyland to performing at Knott’s Berry Farm. After a brief stint at UCLA in the theatre department, he got a job as a writer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. When CBS canned the show, Steve pursued his stand-up career, meticulously recording what worked and what didn’t work (a practice held over from his magic shop days).
Operating from the premise that you can question anything, Martin questioned the very nature of stand-up comedy. He refined his show, developing a ‘no-punch line’ approach that was cumulative. Laughs would build and build, then roll. The houses got bigger and bigger; ultimately the arenas that Martin could fill were too big for his nuanced comedy, and he moved on to films.
The might hand of Steve reaching for yet another book. He signed hundreds, and was very gracious about doing so. Way to be, man.
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We LOVED Steve Martin’s book!