Ever describe someone as a wild and crazy guy? Heard someone say “Excuuuuussseee me!”? These verbal tics didn’t develop on their own. Whether you know it or not, you are quoting Steve Martin, or more specifically, characters Martin created.
“These phrases entered the vernacular. That’s doesn’t happen very often,” said Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein.
Edelstein celebrated Martin’s comic genius at the first rehearsal of his new comedy Meteor Shower, debuting on the Mainstage September 28. The play features Craig Bierko, Patrick Breen, Sophina Brown, and Arden Myrin. “In it’s own way (Meteor Shower) is not an unserious look at marriage and relationships. It’s a play about love, marriage, and sex,” Edelstein said.
Edelstein took a few moments at the top of the day to lay out the arc of Martin’s career before settling down to read the script. “It is easier to say these things in his absence because he gets embarrassed when people say nice things about him, but Steve Martin is one of the most influential comic minds of the last 50 years,” Edelstein said.
When Martin began his career in earnest in the 1970s, his comedy was unlike anything else at the time. If part of comedy is creating the tension an audience feels before a punch line is delivered, what happens if that punch line never comes? This was the territory Martin was exploring at the beginning of his career. “Martin was an anti-comic comic. It was a kind of postmodern comedy. The concept is the comedy,” Edelstein said.
His work spoke to zeitgeist of the 1970s in a way that few comedians could achieve. Even Bill Cosby, one of the most popular stand up performers of the 20th century, could not match Steve Martin at the height of his popularity. “Steve was selling out Madison Square Garden like Bruce Springsteen. He was the first stand-up comic to sell out Madison Square Garden for five nights in a row,” Edelstein said. “His first record album, Let’s Get Small, was number one in the country for months.”
Then one day, to oversimplify it, Martin simply gave up touring. The thought of another solitary night on the road was too much, so he began writing films, starting with The Jerk, launching his star even further. “It is astounding the quantity and quality of his output,” Edelstein said. Plays like Picasso at the Lapin Agile and novels like Shopgirl came later.
Meteor Shower, like all of Martin’s other comic ventures, mixes the serious and the silly in a delightful way, Edelstein said. “He’s a man of extremely high intelligence and literacy and his comedy is as stupid as it comes. Nobody combines stupid and smart the way Steve Martin does and therein lies his extraordinary genius,” he said.
– Steve Scarpa