It’s easy to marvel at Steve Martin. Here at Culture Vultures, we participated in a round-table discussion with Mr. Martin last week, in which we discussed his experiences as a musician—he’s currently touring in support of his bluegrass album, Rare Bird Alert, on which he plays banjo with renowned blugrass band, the Steep Canyon Rangers. He plays the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown on June 28.
So, let’s be specific. Why do we admire Steve Martin?
- He knows the value of a good role model.
[On one of his role models, Wally Boag] I first saw him probably when I was 11 or 12 and he did – he worked at Disneyland in a place called the Golden Horseshoe Revue. And to give you an example of – by the time he had died – or quit working at Disneyland he had done 40,000 shows of the same show; 40,000 times.
And, you know, every – and I didn’t know what it meant to do the same show over and over and over, but every time he did it and I saw it, I probably saw it 100 times, you know, I didn’t realize that – what it took to do the same show over and over and over and still make it look like, you know, you’re doing it for the first time.
And I – it just made me love comedy, you know, and he was a great guy. I didn’t really get to know him well. I said hello to him. You know, I was so nervous around him because he was a real hero of mine and I wish I’d have, you know, knew – known what to ask him. But anyway, we got to know each other a little better as – you know, as I (toured) and I got to spend a little bit of time with him.
- He’s modest.
[When asked if people hate him because he’s so talented] Well, you know, I don’t consider myself like that. I know people think of it that way. But – so, when people say that, I always think of the people who are so much more talented than I am in that field.
So, I thank them very much, but I know that there’s people who, you know, are head above – head and shoulders above me in whatever field they’re talking about.
But, I also understand – I know what they’re talking about and, you know, I don’t know how this happened. I really don’t. I only – I think I only do three things and one is comedy, and that includes, to me, acting…and music and writing. And they really all fall – you know, they’re all kind of just all part f one big creative umbrella, you know? I like to make things up and I – and when I wrote for television you become essentially two people. You become a creator, you write a joke, and then you become a fixer, meaning an editor. And that’s involved in everything I do, whether it’s comic acting or performing on stage, writing a novel, or writing music. You are creating it and then you are fixing it. And that – those are the – really, the two things I do, you know?
So, I look at it as all as just one big conglomeration that has several tentacles.
- He’s figuring out the balance between musician and comedian.
If you look at it – if you look at the songs on Rare Bird, I guess you could call – you know, certainly – I debated whether to put King Tut on the record because I thought, “Well, that might diminish the seriousness of the record.” But then I thought, you know, first I thought it was funny to have a bluegrass version of King Tut, but secondly I wanted people who bought the record to know that our – the show we do is not a comedian who goes out, turns his back on the audience, and plays 20 songs in a row, and then says goodnight.
But, I wanted them to know that there was a show involved, that there was humor and it was fun, and we also are serious musicians, or at least I am. The group is definitely serious musicians, and so I wanted to put that on. Atheists Don’t Have No Songs is inherently a funny song — but I still think it’s a good song and it also adds, you know, a certain kind of point, I guess.
- He commits completely.
This is something at which I’m giving 100%, the same way I gave 100% – or am giving 100% to movies and writing, and so I’m enjoying it at the 100% level.
- He doesn’t play favorites between the things he loves.
It’s very hard to compare these kinds of apples and oranges because it’s – you know, it’s happening at a very different part of my life. When I was doing standup comedy I was sort of an up and comer, and so I have a whole different, you know, response to what I was doing.
And now, I’m very happy to be, first of all, doing something that’s completely new to me, and also to be, at my age, you know, to still be doing a show that I can tell is entertaining audiences. Let’s put the music aside for a minute. That – one that the audiences seems to be – the audience seems to be enjoying the music, and also enjoying the show.
You know, we do a lot of comedy in the show and I feel like while this really takes me back, and I’m so much more comfortable with it now than I was 150 years ago when I first starting doing it, you know? And – because we always have this – we always have a song to go to and sometimes the song – most – all – most – some of the times the songs are funny, but even when they’re funny they’re serious. It’s serious music and the songs are played seriously.
- He finds ways to blend his talents together.
I’ve been asked to write music for an animated film, but it wouldn’t be out for another couple of years and the Steep Canyon Rangers are going to play on it, and I’ve already actually written the music for it, and so we’re working on that. We’ve recorded some music for it already. It’s – actually it’s just too far out to – I mean too far away to even talk about it, you know?
- He knows exactly why he loves the banjo.
You know, I just think the banjo has…I guess every instrument has a unique sound or it – that’s why it exists because it doesn’t sound like anything else. The banjo sounds to me like it comes from a place. Like it comes from a locale. Like it comes from America. And you know I can tell sometimes that the audience almost gets inadvertently moved by – not by my playing, but by the sound of the banjo. And I’d like to think that that sort of runs through Americans’ DNA, you know?
- And he loves the people he plays with.
Well I must say that in the world of bluegrass, the people I’ve met have been the nicest, kindest, and among the smartest people I’ve ever met. You know, a lot of times you’ll meet a great banjo player and he’ll have a Master of Arts Degree from so and so, or you know – they do it because they loved it more than the direction they were going.
And so, I find everybody to be very welcoming and funny, very funny. You know, I asked – a friend of mine is a banjo player, Pete Wernick, a really well-known accomplished banjo player and Tony Trischka, you know, I have them edit my pieces. I write things for like banjo articles and I just send it to them and they edit it for me, copy-edit it, and they’re really good at it, and they’re really smart people.
So – but before the show, no, it’s all about, you know, practicing, playing together and it’s about communication. You know, doing standup comedy was about being a loner, and doing this is about being actually with people, so I like it much better.
So, what do we take away from all this? If you ever feel overwhelmed or discouraged because you don’t know which asset of your skill set to hone, or which of your thousands of interests you should capitalize on as a reasonable career choice, take a life tip from Steve Martin and choose (D) All of the Above
I think the big impression left by this interview is how important it is to work on your craft, or even better, let one that’s been sitting stagnant in your pool of talent finally surface. Have you always wanted to learn little piano? Well you won’t get anywhere without placing your fingers on the keys first.
So I’ve come to this…never, never stop learning, building, growing, and showing. I think that’s the core of Mr. Martin’s enduring resonance and multifaceted talents. Here at Culture Vultures, I hope we not only deliver entertaining news, but insightful information as well. It’s very important to me that you stay inspired and get a proper look at the personalities who inspire us every day by giving us positive proof of the bounties of sticking with a dream. Call it luck, call it persistence, or call it sheer fate, every artist has to work hard, practice, create a niche and fill it, because there is always a place for new artists. There’s plenty of room in this world for creativity.
This interview cemented that further into my heart. Every artist is unique, so stop at nothing to make your voice heard. And, apparently, you don’t have to stop being a nice guy in order to do just that.
Thanks, Mr. Martin.