This will be the first in a series of book reviews. Books come in many categories. There are books you like but have to labor through, books you just plain don’t dig, and books that you read like there is no other task in your life. Over the past three weeks, I’ve had two of those books.
The first was Born Standing Up by Steve Martin. It’s a breezy read about Martin’s years as a stand-up comedian. It’s strange to see him today as a quasi intellectual, until you get into his movie roles. Martin spent years perfecting his craft, and it made me think of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and the magic 10,000 hours a person puts into his or her career before becoming a master. Martin did the time, and at the point that he finally reached fame, he decided that he didn’t want it anymore. He left standup at the right time, gave a classic performance in The Jerk, and the rest is history. Now he does horrible movies to finance his art collection.
I just finished a much more sober read about a comedian who never completely tapped his potential. The Chris Farley Show is a downer. It’s not the fault of his brother Tom, who co-wrote the book. Instead of a traditional narrative, 95% of the book is taken directly from interviews of his friends, family, and colleagues. Everyone who met him was touched by the innocence behind his manic stage presence. The downfall of his incredible comedic gifts was his addictive personality. He discovered alcohol at age 17 and immediately got smashed. After tasting success with Chicago’s Second City and Saturday Night Live, he couldn’t outlast his demons.
Farley was sober for three years, but the pressure of Beverly Hills Ninja and personal issues got him off the wagon. The tale of his last few days, a four-day drug binge that led to an overdose, is as sad as anything I can recall.
To make myself feel better, I’m going to review his interview with Paul McCartney. He’s not in character in this scene.
I’m also taking a break from non-fiction with the latest novel by John Birmingham. Looks like the Titans aren’t winning the Super Bowl in this one.