Born Standing Up, by Steve Martin

I've always admired Steve Martin. He's smart, funny, and avoids engaging in the kind of behavior that ends up in celebrity tabloids. (He's also a terrific banjo player.) I recently read his autobiography, Born Standing Up, and now I admire him even more.

This short book is about Steve Martin's career as a stand-up comic, which lasted about 20 years and ended abruptly (by his decision) in the 1980s. Martin starts with his childhood, which is full of wonderful anecdotes about working in the magic trick store at Disneyland as a young teenager, and doing magic and comedy routines at Knott's Berry Farm. Martin highly praises the old vaudevillians and magicians he worked with at the theme parks. These stage show veterans took Martin under their wings and mentored him in the art of timing, patter, trick presentation, and joke delivery. Fortunately for Martin, the Orange County high school he attended didn't assign homework, so he was able to spend every waking minute outside of school at the theme parks, learning his craft. (If he had been required to do as much homework as a student does today, he may very well have ended up working alongside his dad as a real estate agent, albeit a funny one.)

Martin goes on to describe how he went on the road, spending years developing his unique style of stand-up. As he describes it, he was not doing stand-up. Instead, he played the role of a foolish comic doing stand-up. In the 1960s, he experimented with his routines in the small clubs of San Francisco's North Beach, sometimes to a completely empty room, save a bartender. Read the rest

You're Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations, by Michael Ian Black

Before I read this memoir, You're Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death, and Other Humiliations, I'd never heard of the author Michael Ian Black. After reading it, I still know little about his career, because he barely mentions what he does. Black was on a comedy show on MTV in the early 1990s and he's been a TV and movie writer and actor most of his adult life. The reason I read You're Not Doing It Right is because Ruben Bolling strongly recommended it on a recent episode of Gweek (Gweek 055, with Rainn Wilson).

Ruben and I are both fans of Little Lulu and Uncle Scrooge, so I figured if he liked this book, so would I. And I was right! You're Not Doing It Right starts out as a sarcastically funny memoir of Black's life as a young, horny pick-up artist with a terrible track record. But as it goes on, it becomes a much darker and revealing confession of a middle-aged man struggling with his marriage, his family life, and his painful insecurities.

Black is brave to write openly about the inner goings-on of his marriage counseling sessions. I'm surprised his wife was OK with him being public about their troubled relationship. His two chapters on the misery of caring for newborn babies ("I Hate My Baby" and "Baby Jail") were refreshing and I completely related to his experiences of having no sleep yet being responsible for tending to a perpetually screaming, shitting infant for months on end. Read the rest

Rudy Rucker's autobiography: Nested Scrolls

Rudy Rucker sez, "So I decided that I’d better write my autobiography before it was too late. What with death and senility closing in! I didn’t want my autobio to be overly long or dry. I wanted it to read something like a novel. Unlike an encyclopedia entry, a novel isn’t a list of dates and events. A novel is all about characterization and description and conversation, about action and vignettes. I wanted to structure my autobiography, Nested Scrolls, like that."

In addition to the Tor edition, there's a fine limited edition from PS Publishing.

Nested Scrolls reveals the true life adventures of Rudy Rucker--­mathematician, transrealist author, punk rocker, and computer hacker. It begins with a young boy growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of a businessman father who becomes a clergyman, and a mother descended from the philosopher Hegel. His career goals? To explore infinity, popularize the fourth dimension, seek the gnarl, become a beatnik writer, and father a family.

All the while Rudy is reading science fiction and beat poetry, and beginning to write some pretty strange fiction of his own­--a blend of Philip K. Dick and hard SF that qualifies him as part of the original circle of writers in the early 1980s that includes Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, John Shirley, and Lewis Shiner, who were the founders of cyberpunk.

At one level, Rucker’s genial and unfettered memoir brings us a first-hand account of how he and his contemporaries ushered in our postmodern world. At another, this is the wry and moving tale of a man making his way from one turbulent century to the next.

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