Things Steve Martin Taught Me: Persistence > Talent

This week, the new speech will be about the three things Steve Martin taught me about life and creative work from his audiobook, “Born Standing Up.” I’m planning to write up the points in a multi-day blog post.  I’m a big fan of Born Standing Up, it’s a autobiography of Steve Martin’s life leading up to his tremendous success as a comedian.  The book not only talks about Steve’s success but the majority of the book is about all the work he did before his success. I think it’s one of the best books about how you need to approach the creative process in almost anything, not just comedy.  Steve worked on his comedy and performed as much as he could, sometimes during as many as three or four shows a day.  He highlights not not his successes but also his many failures, the ultimatum he gave himself to make it by age thirty, and psychological issues of being alone on the road for extended periods of time.

I’m planning to turn these three posts about what Steve Martin taught me into a speech for the fourth project, Keep Them Laughing, in the Toastmasters Advanced Manual: Humorously Speaking. In this project, I need to open my speech with a self-depreciating joke and then use to sets of two or three jokes throughout the body of my speech.  I’m being trying to accomplish this speech for a few weeks but I’ve been putting this off because I’ve been have a hard time writing my own jokes.  That’s why I decided to do the speech about Born Standing Up so I’ll build joke sets off of the examples in Steve’s audiobook to help tell my story.

The three things Steve’s book taught me about creating art is how persistence is greater than talent, using everything you’ve ever known, and getting over the need for acceptance.

The first an most important rule from the book is the idea of persistence is greater than talent.  In my blog post from a week or two ago, Persistence trumps talent.  In the book, the exact quote Steve makes is this, “Thankfully, persistence is a great substitute for talent.” Steve didn’t view himself as talented.  He wasn’t born to be a comedian.  It was only after performing through 1000s of shows that eventually his act broke through and he became famous. From starting out doing tricks in a Disneyland magic shop for customers to his first steady performing job at Knots Berry Farm to writing comedy for TV shows to a struggling comedy headliner to his breakout to movies like the Jerk.

Steve was always working on his craft, always trying new material, and perfecting his timing. It was far from the overnight success that many people assumed.  This was a man who put in the work.

Here are a few of Steve Martin’s jokes I’m thinking about including into my speech:

  1. “I opened the show with this line: “I have decided to give the greatest performance of my life! Oh, wait, sorry, that’s tomorrow night.”
    ― Steve MartinBorn Standing Up: A Comic’s Life
  2. “How many people have never raised their hand before?”
    ― Steve MartinBorn Standing Up: A Comic’s Life
  3. “In my opening seconds, I would say, “It’s great to be here,” then move to several other spots on the stage and say, “No, it’s great to be here!” I would move again: “No, it’s great to be here!”
    ― Steve MartinBorn Standing Up: A Comic’s Life