Steve Martin On Howard Stern

Utterly fascinating.

The readout said “Steve Martin” but it did not sound like him. Obviously, it was him, but he didn’t sound “on,” but like a regular guy.

And that’s who Steve is.

Steve grew up in SoCal, Orange County, Garden Grove, worked at Disneyland, honed his chops at Knott’s Berry Farm and got a gig working on the Smothers Brothers TV show via a dancer he went to school with at Long Beach State.

This is the nexus. The relationship and the ask. You can’t make it if you know no one and you ask for nothing. It’s not pure talent that brings you to the foreground.

And then Martin quit at the top of his game, making dough writing for others, because he wanted to hear the words come out of his own mouth.

I was driving down the hill to meet with the anesthesiologist. My surgeon wanted to know if my sleep apnea required the operation to be done in the hospital as opposed to the surgery center. But as I was cruising down Wilshire I lamented my arrival, I just wanted to listen to Steve.

Not that I’m the biggest Steve Martin fan. Of course I like his work, especially “Roxanne” and “All Of Me,” but the truth is most people come on the radio to sell. That’s what’s wrong with late night TV. The combination of the hype and the prepared comedy material. Who are these people? We never get to know.

But we do on Howard Stern.

At the end of the interview, which lasted the better part of two hours, Steve complimented Howard on his change. That’s right, we can all do it, except for politicians, who are afraid of gotcha moments. You outgrow friends, you realize certain behavior isn’t working for you and I’d be lying if I didn’t say my psychiatrist changed my life. He taught me how to interact with people to my advantage. Instead of just saying whatever popped into my head, feeling I had to be me all the time, he taught me I had a choice, I could behave in a way that improved the odds of a better result, the one I desired. Howard talks about going to the shrink, I’m not sure what transpires there, but I do know too few people are willing to look at themselves and change. They’re locked into their image, to their detriment.

Which is to say I sat in my car and listened as Steve said he didn’t want to be in Vegas singing “I Got You Babe” at the age he is now. Cher took offense, Steve was a writer on her show. Celebrities have thin skins. And despite what they say, they read everything about themselves. And they hold grudges even worse than you and me. But Steve explained he wasn’t saying Cher shouldn’t be singing the song in Vegas, but HIM!

But then I had to go inside.

I wish I didn’t waste so much time listening to Howard Stern. But the show provides not only entertainment, but a community. I think I know all these people. Furthermore, there’s no artifice, no climbing the ladder, Howard hates when his employees try to leverage their airtime into broader success. Instead, the focus is on revealing insecurities and warts, failings, humanizing everybody, and that makes me feel more comfortable in my own skin.

I ended up listening to most of the interview via the Sirius app, which is a piece of crap, everybody knows it. It’s fine if you’re listening live, but if you want to download something… Not only are the menus unintuitive, you’re constantly being thrown back to the live show and having to start all over. But if you stay with it, you can get the show, and I did.

Now one of the reasons this interview was so good is because Howard is in the same wheelhouse as Steve, he too is a comedian. And when two pros go at it the level is heightened, it’s less of an interview and more of a conversation. You feel like a fly on the wall, you don’t want to speak for fear of being noticed, interrupting the flow.

And the flow contained so much.

Steve’s father writing a bad review of his appearance on SNL. Saying Steve was no genius after a screening of “The Jerk.” How do you cope with such a dad?

Well, Steve didn’t know any better. But for a long time had no desire to pass his genes on, feeling he didn’t know how to parent.

But what we learn here is about a life. Of someone who caught the performance bug and tried to figure out how to get ahead. There’s no boasting and no reluctance. Success was a lot of hard work. Interwoven with moments of anxiety and extreme loneliness. We think it’s just a straight shot to the top, but it’s not. And despite starting in his teens, Steve didn’t make it until his thirties.

And when he did…

You’ve got to listen for the philosophy. That’s what Steve studied in school that made him realize he didn’t want to write punch lines, but just be funny, so that the audience was laughing but people didn’t know what they were laughing at.

Upon hearing a recording of himself he stopped drinking during the show, he realized he was slurring his words, he was horrified.

And despite so much success, Steve still heard no, execs didn’t get it. He pitched “Roxanne” to a majordomo who had no idea who Cyrano de Bergerac was.

And I could recite all the details, but that’s not what made this interview so good. Rather it was hearing the story of a guy who wasn’t sure where he was going but definitely wanted to get there. One who had moments of self-doubt and was willing to throw over his success because it no longer felt good. Doing arenas allowed him to stockpile some money, but it wasn’t enjoyable, he stopped. He stopped the two wild and crazy guys skit before it was overdone. You’ve got to have a feel for your career, you’ve got to be in charge, something so rare in today’s executive dominated landscape where money comes first and everybody’s replaceable.

And if you’re listening for tips, this is the wrong place. Oh, you’ll glean some wisdom, but the truth is this Steve Martin interview is so good because it’s a peek into an American life. A boomer born to parents doing what they should who wanted more out of life and went in search of it.

Of course there was some talk about Martin and Edie Brickell’s musical, you can’t get any legend to appear unless they’re hyping something. But the truth is that wasn’t even 5% of the conversation.

Conversation. That’s what we live for. Interaction, knowledge, experience. Steve writes so well from a female point of view because he’s constantly asking women why they got married, what caused the divorce, not for material but because he’s interested. I want to know everybody’s relationship story, because that’s what life is about.

Now you can hear some excerpts via SoundCloud.

And you can live without subscribing to Sirius and listening to Stern.

But your life will be so much richer if you do.

“Steve Martin’s Relationship with His Father”

“Steve Martin on Getting His Comedy Writing Chops with The Smothers Brothers”

“Steve Martin Accidentally Insulted Cher”

“Steve Martin’s Friendship With Johnny Carson”

“Steve Martin on Stand-Up”

“Steve Martin’s Musical ‘Bright Star'”

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