Steve Martin: A Comedy Life in Profile

If you asked someone who Steve Martin is, most people would probably know. For anyone who doesn’t know, or has heard the name but isn’t sure of the person, Steve Martin is an American actor, comedian, writer, producer and musician. His career spans almost five decades, and as of 2014, he is alleged to have a net worth of $110 million (although it could be higher). However, if I asked you which films Steve Martin has made recently, you might be a bit stuck for an answer.

Despite a long and continuing career in film and comedy, Steve Martin only received his first Academy Award in 2013. Despite earning billions of dollars for the US box office, it seems staggering that only in 2013 has he received an honorary Oscar. It is well known that comedy films are very often forgotten at the Academy Awards. At the 79th Academy Award ceremony in 2007, Will Ferrell, Jack Black & John C. Reilly performed A Comedian At The Oscars, a parody song about why comedians and comedy films are mostly forgotten from the Oscar categories.

In his emotional speech, he discussed his long and varied career. Steve Martin was born in Texas in 1945, and raised in California. His first job was a magician in Disneyland in his teens, and at the age of 21, he moved into stand-up comedy. By the mid-1970s, he was a regular guest host of Saturday Night Live, and viewing figures were reported to be one million more than average when he was hosting. This led a string of comedy albums, two of which went platinum.

In 1979, Steve Martin co-wrote and starred in The Jerk. The film was made on a budget of $4million, grossed over $73million, and was released to critical acclaim; it is now one of his most memorable and loved films. By 1981, Martin had left stand-up to concentrate on his film work. His style of comedy is hard to define, but appears to be a mixture of intellectual comedy, sexual innuendos, word play, comic anger, clownery and a slight amount of oddness. This mixture of comic style has helped his films and comedy remain visible through the years, without being too dated. His comedy appeal is very broad, and as such his highly acclaimed films are still very funny to a past and fresh audience.


How forgotten is his stand-up lifestyle nowadays? Steve Martin will certainly be remembered as being a “movie star”, and specifically a comic actor. Since The Jerk was released in 1979, Martin’s career has continually increased and increased in success to make him one of the most well known actors in the history of comedy. His most well known films include All of Me, The Three Amigos, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Parenthood, LA Story and Father of the Bride.

By the mid-00s, Steve Martin seemed to be hitting a different level in his career. In 2006, he played to role of Inspector Clouseau, made famous by Peter Sellers, in The Pink Panther. He reprised this role in the 2009 sequel. Despite receiving overwhelmingly negative reviews from critics, the films jointly made over $235million in the box office (the money never lies!). Despite this, he could not escape criticism for the types of films he was now making, which has been described as, ‘containing mostly unfunny, lame slapstick jokes’. Ouch.

The comedian Paul Kaye, in character as his celebrity interviewer Dennis Pennis, asked Martin in the late 1990s, ‘How come you’re not funny anymore?’ Martin subsequently cancelled all scheduled press interviews that week, allegedly due to the comment.

There seems to be no specific film or date when Steve Martin was suddenly seen as ‘unfunny’, but rather as he was making more family-friendly films in the late 1990s and into 2000 and beyond – such as The Pink Panther and Cheaper by the Dozen – he no longer has the appeal that he used to when making his ‘lovable idiot’ films of the 1980s. But does Steve Martin have the same appeal in 2013 as he did 20 years ago? Do any comedy actors keep their appeal after their peak? Tom Hanks became a dramatic actor, whilst Bill Murray made the move into indie films.

In the scheme of his career, it is already apparent that Steve Martin will be remembered for his peak films from around 1979 until 1995; the Steve Martin we know and love. As in, the 1980’s arrow-through-head, prop wearing, ‘Well, excuse ME!’ catchphrase-saying, box office hit. His appeal still seems very current; he has almost 5.4million follows on Twitter, and the focus of his career now seems mostly as a musician playing the Banjo on tour with his band. Although we may no longer see the 1980s comical Martin that we want back, we will always have DVDs and Youtube to re-live Steve Martin in his prime.

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