In his 2007 autobiography Born Standing Up, Steve Martin pinpointed the moment he knew his stand-up career was over. It was 1981, and he was playing Las Vegas. As he scanned the packed floor, he saw something he described as “so disturbing that I didn’t mention it to my friends, my agent, or my manager.” It was, in the back of the room, one booth with empty seats.
Then he played Atlantic City, and for third night in a row, the guitar that was supposed to descend from the rafters failed to do so. After the show, he was enraged, not at the prop, but at the fact that he’d lost touch with his art. “I never did stand-up again,” he wrote.
With the success of The Jerk, Martin transitioned into movies, and down the road also became a playwright and novelist. He would still pop up on Saturday Night Live, on late-night talk shows, and made a couple of appearances as “The Great Flydini,” a magician who pulls things from the fly of his pants. That was the main body of his live performing.
In 2010, Martin discovered Twitter. Martin’s account, @SteveMartinToGo, might be the closest he ever comes to doing stand up again; it wasn’t the same as being in a room with and performing for a live audience, but it did allow Martin to reach people in real time. He enjoyed it so much, his new book, The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten.: The Tweets of Steve Martin, is comprised of some of Martin’s best tweets and the responses from his fans.
In the Introduction, Martin writes that he first started Twitter to promote his other projects. That didn’t work out, but he got hooked on the connection to the fans. This is, after all, a guy who used to take his audiences out of the club to a McDonald’s or a swimming pool after a show. He craves a creative challenge and enjoys interacting with his audience, two needs that were impossible to fill once he became famous.
Once he discarded it as a promotional tool, Martin was hooked on the comedy potential of Twitter: “I found the limits exciting, and liked that these thoughts popped up randomly on someone else’s device, perhaps catching them at an odd moment.” He was thrilled when he found out people were tweeting him back, but when they sometimes complained, it “would make me panic and sweat like I was a first-time comedian on an audition stage.”
The book has the feel of a new comedian testing his abilities, and Martin acknowledges that. He tries one-liners, storylines, strings with a theme and photo tweets. Sometimes his audience outshines him, something that also seems to thrill him. A lot of comedians were quick to use Twitter to toss bons mots to their fans (and WitStream was quick to aggregate those posts). Many also tweet with their fans. And hashtags allowed a lot of people to join in and monitor trends.
Martin goes beyond all that. In one string, he starts a sing-along where his audience filled in the last line of different Christmas carols. He would pick his favorite, tweet the complete verse and move on to the next.
“Don we now our gay, I mean stylish,
red sweater.” Fa la la la la, la la la la.
Troll the ancient…?
In another, he tells the story of being on jury duty.
REPORT FROM JURY DUTY:
Defendants hair looking very
Conan-y today. GUIILTY.
The one-liners tend to be absurd, very much in the vein of Martin’s first book, Cruel Shoes. It might take a minute to discern what he was doing when he tweeted, “.I leef driew yadot.” But when it does register, Martin’s old stage voice comes ringing through.
At first, Martin tracked his responders as anonymous before finally starting to take note of their handles. Occasionally whole pages are devoted to Martin’s fans, which is a little disappointing for a book of only 103 pages. Sometimes the responses are corny, but sometimes Martin’s tweets are, too. And sometimes Martin almost seems like the straight man.
There’s a rumor that a recent Oscar
Host is going to play Catwoman.
Waiting by my phone for the call.
Oh no, Steve, that was Anne
Hathaway. I see why you’re confused though. You
have hosted the Oscars.
There is no doubt comedians will find different ways to use Twitter as the technology evolves. It must be gratifying to Martin that he found a way to present the new technology in an old format. And it’s amusing to think he might draw an older audience onto Twitter once they see how it works in print. But most of all, it’s good to have more immediate access to that comic mind once again.