Sunday, August 14, 2011

Happy Birthday, Steve Martin.

"Some people have a way with words, and some people...not...have...way."

"I like a woman with a head on her shoulders. I hate necks."

"Hosting the Oscars is much like making love to a woman. It's something I only get to do when Billy Crystal is out of town."

"The operation was a success, but I'm afraid the doctor is dead."

"I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, natural, wholesome things that money can buy."

"Talking about music is like dancing about architecture."

That poster above hung in my bedroom.

Steve Martin turned sixty-six on Sunday.

I've often considered, but never written, a post about the people whose senses of humor have impacted my life the most. My parents are most assuredly the gold medal winners, since their input was daily, and occasionally involved electric shock reinforcement.

But a silver-haired man is gazing up at them from the silver medal podium, and he's wearing a white suit and black tie, with an arrow prop mockingly impaling his head. A banjo rests at his side.

Steve Martin opened my eyes to comedy. As a thirteen-year-old who'd only recently been allowed to stay up late enough for a show called Saturday Night Live, I'd never tested the waters beyond the safer comic shtick of Bob Hope or Johnny Carson or Bill Cosby. When Martin guest hosted that first episode of SNL back in 1975, my parents had no idea what lay ahead.

I opted to suspend my true personality for about two years in order to channel this man. I memorized everything, and I mean everything, that he did:

The "wild and crazy" swinging Czechoslovakian dude: I'm a little embarrassed to admit that my mom was forced to hear "Wuh would lok to see yor big Amurican breasts her and now," at least fifty times while I honed the accent.

That dancing routine with Gilda Radner: Practiced only in the confines of my bedroom with anything that resembled a dance partner, such as a stuffed happy face pillow or long section of Hot Wheels track.

Three record albums: A couple of friends and I would compete with each other to recite entire album sides. We would argue such important minutiae as, "No, idiot. He said 'Reality is just an escape for people who can't cope with drugs,' not 'those who can't cope with drugs.' Come on. Shit, man."

In 1979, Martin melded some of his best material to date, this time in cinematic form, with the release of The Jerk. The lead-up to its debut was tortuous, and I'll never forget, at long last, traveling up to the Renton Cinema in my parents' green Ford Fairmont (with partial sunroof) to watch my idol's inaugural film, accompanied by the "Shit, man" friend mentioned above, whose name was actually Kevin.

I won't be so audacious as to liken it to a pilgrimage, was.

Steve Martin, along with so many others of his genre, like Radner, George Carlin, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd, had driven moving trucks containing irreverence, irony, satire, and plain old slapstick into a new housing development in my adolescent brain, where they've been residing ever since.

Here's to you, Steve Martin. Happy birthday, and remember: Always, no wait, never, no, always carry a litter bag in your car. When it gets full, you just toss it out the window.

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