Actor, Comedian, Author Steve Martin | Teen Ink

Actor, Comedian, Author Steve Martin MAG

February 12, 2009
By Andrew S. & Shelli Gimelstein BRONZE, New Hyde Park, New York
Andrew S. & Shelli Gimelstein BRONZE, New Hyde Park, New York
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Listen to the interview with Steve Martin.

Steve Martin is a Grammy- and Emmy-winning actor and comedian whose humor has remained sharp and relevant for decades. While he is best known for his acting and standup comedy, he is also a successful writer and musician. In 2000, Martin received a Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy in recognition of his influential career. More recently, his memoir, Born Standing Up, was one of Time magazine's Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2007. His new movie, “The Pink Panther 2,” opens Feb. 6.

I am very critical of movies, and I was laughing hysterically during the screening of “The Pink Panther 2.” That being said, what legacy do you wish to leave?

I try not to think about legacy because it is all ­folly. If you study history, even recent history, you'll find many people who were quite significant in their time but are completely forgotten now. For example, I am surprised that even the stars I grew up with, like Humphrey Bogart, are not well known to young people anymore, and it seemed like they were going to be famous forever.

As far as my legacy, I hope people find my movies funny and will watch them years from now. And, in terms of writing, I hope that something remains that will not seem old-fashioned, that will still have a ­vibrancy to it 50 years from now.

It is so interesting to hear you speak after seeing the movie, since you speak so differently in “The Pink Panther 2.” What is the most gratifying moment you've had as an artist?

One of the most satisfying nights I ever had was at the premiere of my play, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile.” I had never written a play before and it was a successful night, so I was thrilled. When we make something like a movie there's always some dissatisfaction, but as I watched the play that night I thought, I couldn't have done this any better.

Do you treat writing as a form of personal ­release? As a way to entertain others? Or as a means of self-expression? Or even something else?

I think it's all of those. It's definitely self-expression. You have to keep an eye on the reader, try not to be so smart that you bore people. These things are meant to be read. But mainly I get a thrill from writing because it's one of the few things I do that's not collaborative. Acting is collaborative because you are working with another actor, and it's almost like a two-man juggling team. You have to really be in sync. But writing is extremely personal, and that's the joy of it for me. I also love expressing complicated ideas clearly.

Many teenagers shy away from comedic ­writing. What makes comedy so difficult?

First, I am not aware that teenagers shy away from comedy writing. Most of the writers for shows like “Saturday Night Live” come straight from college. But maybe it's something they pick up or that ­develops a bit later, because there are plenty of young comedy writers.

The teen years are extremely serious and everything matters and every insult really hurts. I know there are cliques and bullying. And you don't yet ­understand that it will all go away. I always think back to my high school days and realize all the people who were so popular then are nowhere now and all the people who were steadfast and steady-going are somewhere. So high school doesn't necessarily translate to later in life.

I am very interested in writing. What advice do you have for people who are just trying to create original material?

Write as much as you can. And at this point I wouldn't worry about submitting it, but I would give it to those you trust and get their feedback. I would show it to friends and adults. For my book, I hired an independent editor so I could get an opinion from someone who wasn't a friend.

Many teens have already experienced tragedy or major difficulties in their lives. What would you consider your biggest challenge or regret?

Well, I haven't had any major tragedies, fortu­nately. I think probably the most difficult challenge was just the climb and rise in show business because I went through my entire twenties with some success as a comedy writer but not much as a performer. And you have to be kind of informed and naive at the same time. You have to be naive about how badly you are doing because if you were smart about it, you would quit. So the most difficult thing was to have perseverance.

What movies do you think every teen should see?

I haven't seen many recently. There is a very touching film called “Sixteen Candles,” written by John Hughes and starring Molly Ringwald. It's about a 16-year-old's birthday, and it handles the difficulties of teen life really well. And it has a beautiful thought to it. I always go back to the Bob Dylan line, “For the loser now will be later to win,” and I always think that relates to high school.

Well, the times they are a-changin', aren't they?

Yeah, right. I'd like to say to teenagers in high school, “Believe me, the social structure now that might make you unhappy will change. And even the most popular, or the most academic, or the smartest kids, will undergo changes as they get older and ­mature. So you haven't landed anywhere yet.”

Other than just being funny, what is the most important quality for an a comedian to possess?

I would say confidence, even if it is false.

Have you become any less inhibited due to your time performing?

Yes, but it's taken a long, long time. I was always very shy – I guess I still am a bit – but as I get older I think, What am I being shy for? You just grow weary of your own hang-ups.

Do you think that performing comedy over the years has helped you to better understand human nature, behavior, or the way people work?

Performing comedy has not, but acting has. Even though some of my movies are comedies, they have a heart, like “Father of the Bride” and “Roxanne.” Acting has helped me understand people, not only because you are acting as a character, but also because you are watching other actors work. That really helps you identify in life when someone is acting, not being true.

Is there one thing you would like audiences to walk away with after having seen “The Pink Panther 2”?

Yes. I would like them to feel happier than when they went in. [Laughs] I really mean that. I want them to have had a good time and laugh, and they might discuss a few jokes on their way home and say, “That was really funny when that happened.”

You are a comedian, an actor, a playwright, producer, author, artist, art collector, special commentator and more. So truly, you are a renaissance man. Which of these ­interests means the most to you?

What means the most to me changes through the years. There was a time when movies meant the most. But when I'm concentrating on a project, that's what means the most to me. Right now I'm doing an album – banjo songs I have written – with some really great performers like Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Mary Black, and Tim O'Brien. And I'm writing a book about the art world. I think that's why I do so many different things – because I get very focused and interested in one thing at a time.

How do you think the original Pink Panther ­series differs from the movie?

Well, certainly because Peter Sellers is taller than me. [Laughs] I think my character is a little warmer. You know, he falls in love and gets his heart broken. I don't think they did that much in the original. It was just a different style. I can't say whether it is better or worse.

When you were a child, did you display any ­inclinations for comedy or acting? Was there a “eureka” moment when you knew you wanted to pursue this for the rest of your life?

When I was a child, I loved watching comedy on television. There were mostly old movies on with ­comedians like Laurel and Hardy, and that's what made me love comedy. But eureka moments … I can't say. There were so many. It was a gradual thing. I grew up with a general love of comedy.

What books do you think everyone should read while in high school?

That's a very hard one because what was right for me when I was a teen probably wouldn't fit. You know, I grew up on Catcher in the Rye …

I love that book.

It's a great book. But I don't know, I only remember that when I was in high school I was assigned to read Silas Marner by George Eliot. I can't remember if I read it or not … I wasn't a very enthusiastic ­student in high school, but I was in college.

When I read it years later I thought, This book is great! But it was too complicated for me when I was a teen, and I wish they had given me Charles Dickens, which was lively, funny, and understandable, and the writing was still elegant and complicated. There are so many classics that are entertaining and will suck anybody in. I mean, if you read A Tale of Two Cities, you are going to ask, “What ­happens next?”

What is the best advice you've received about writing?

There are couple of things. One, I have to tell an anecdote. I was sitting with Martin Amis, the writer, when I was just starting my prose writing career. It was the early '90s, and he was commenting about ­another writer and he said, “He is a good writer, but I think he is sloppy.” And I said, “What do you mean by sloppy?” And he said, “Repetition of words and unintended alliteration.” And I thought it was so practical because you can write a paragraph and look back and you will find a word like “sunshine” three times in eight sentences, little things like that to watch out for. They are very telling. I felt pleased because I've caught those in my own writing. And unintended rhymes was another one.

The second thing is to write what you know. Right now you could probably write a pretty good book about high school.

After all these years in the limelight, how do you deal with critics?

I was very vulnerable to criticism for many years. I could read a bad review and remember it my whole life. One day, in the early '90s, my play was opening for the third time in Chicago. This free press paper gave it a terrible, terrible review, saying, “It's horrible this type of play gets put on and keeps other good writers from getting their play put on.” And I looked at the review and thought, You know what? I wrote a play and he wrote a review and that's the difference between us. And I was never bothered by it again.

How do you feel when you watch yourself on screen?

Depressed. [Laughs] I don't watch myself gener­ally. I do something, see it once, and then I'll probably never see it again unless it's an accident. It's spooky to look at yourself, because you are never quite what you think you are. And you are never as good looking as the person you are acting with, or something like that. So I learned to stay away from it because it was giving me more negative feelings than positive ones.

Mr. Martin, I think you are hysterical. Do you think you are funny? Can you laugh at yourself?

Thank you. Yes, if I write a joke or something, I might think, That's a really good joke. I can't wait to perform it. Or if I am writing something, I might come up with a line that will make me laugh. It's ­embarrassing to say because it means you are sitting there alone laughing at something you wrote, but I have heard other writers say that. I think that's always a good sign. You are not patting yourself on the back. You are just enjoying one of the accidents that happen when you are creating something artistic.

Are there any mottos or sayings you live by?

I have never found one that applies to everything. You can't really conduct your life by one or two phrases.

What do you think is the most important ­challenge facing teens today?

Rising above the portrayal of mass culture as ­frivolous and making sure you become educated … realizing that what is presented in the media represents probably five percent of American life.

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This article has 27 comments.

Alycia. BRONZE said...
on Jan. 1 2014 at 10:37 am
Alycia. BRONZE, Lower Gwynedd, Pennsylvania
4 articles 8 photos 41 comments

Favorite Quote:
“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” -- David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

Great interview! You asked thorough questions and his responses were brilliant!

Zarea said...
on Feb. 15 2012 at 10:28 am
Steve martin is awesome. I really liked all the funny movies he's in and his writing i have read

Tobias BRONZE said...
on Apr. 22 2011 at 7:01 am
Tobias BRONZE, Tulsa, Oklahoma
3 articles 1 photo 12 comments

Favorite Quote:
"I decide who offends me."- Klaus Kinski

I think it's his last answer to the last question that won me over:) I always liked Steve Martin, thank you for this wonderful interview.

karensean said...
on Apr. 15 2011 at 2:39 pm
Thank you for this thoughtful interview. The questions were great and I found Steve Martin to be an honest person with answers that were concise and came from the heart. He'd be great to have over for dinner!

raquel said...
on Apr. 14 2011 at 7:05 pm
Great interview! Steve Martin seems like a really talented, intelligent artist :)

wilectric99 said...
on Mar. 23 2011 at 7:34 am

how do u interview someone as great as him?


on Jan. 5 2011 at 8:27 am
Scissorluv BRONZE, New Orleans, Louisiana
2 articles 0 photos 14 comments

Favorite Quote:
When you can't have something it makes you want it even more. Stephanie Meyer.

how do we get interveiws with these people. sandra bullock lives just blocks from my house!


on Dec. 24 2010 at 2:36 pm
cantabile BRONZE, Boerne, Texas
1 article 0 photos 12 comments

Favorite Quote:
"We walk by faith not by sight" 2 Corrinthians 5:7
Let it come to you

How were you able to get an interview with him?

teenstar25 said...
on Dec. 3 2010 at 11:09 am
that guy is sooo funny!

on Nov. 10 2010 at 9:38 pm
writingrocks GOLD, Brooklyn, New York
16 articles 23 photos 145 comments

Favorite Quote:
"You have to learn to love yourself before you learn to love others."

reallly great interview!!!!!!!!!!!!!

on Apr. 22 2010 at 2:26 am
AlexandraVasari PLATINUM, Fort Stewart, Georgia
28 articles 4 photos 174 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Writing songs is super intimate. It's a bit like getting naked"~ Gwen Stefani

Great Job! I love Steve Martin!!!!

Pillow BRONZE said...
on Jan. 15 2010 at 8:48 pm
Pillow BRONZE, Spokane, Washington
1 article 5 photos 300 comments

Favorite Quote:
Nothing says oops like a wall of flame.

I've always wanted to know what he was like. Steve Martin seems like he's really down to earth. He's absolutely hilarious though. "Do you know what they say about the length of a man's nose?" Steve Martin in Roxanne. Great movie.

Megan said...
on Aug. 21 2009 at 3:37 pm
Great piece! Keep up the good work. Congrats -- from another long-ago teenager.

on Aug. 11 2009 at 11:42 am
Electricity PLATINUM, Bradenton, Florida
30 articles 0 photos 271 comments
Great interview. But how do you contact these famous people for an interview? Trying to get to theses famous people seems like an award itself!

on Jul. 24 2009 at 12:09 am
yourworstnightmare BRONZE, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
4 articles 0 photos 96 comments

Favorite Quote:
The best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. (Teddy Roosevelt)

Really great interview! You guys really did a great job asking questions and getting his opinion.

Lizzy BRONZE said...
on Jul. 20 2009 at 7:37 am
Lizzy BRONZE, Helena, Alabama
1 article 0 photos 2 comments
Those were some great questions, and you worded them well! I learned a lot about Steve Martin and your questions went beyond the movies. Good job.

jmc.13 said...
on Jun. 22 2009 at 8:02 pm
jmc.13, Dobbs Ferry, New York
0 articles 0 photos 58 comments

Favorite Quote:
"I'd rather regret what I did than what I didn't do."

Great questions! Very interesting! And Steve Martin's responses were great too, I could tell they were true and heartfelt.

Really nice writing!

on Jun. 15 2009 at 3:21 am
GreenDayFan SILVER, Phoenix, Arizona
7 articles 3 photos 134 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Every story has an end, but in life, every ending is just a new beginning."
-Uptown Girls

very well written and i love steve martins work he is truely a insperation

on May. 28 2009 at 1:51 pm
ArleneNicole BRONZE, Porter, Texas
2 articles 0 photos 23 comments

Favorite Quote:
"You read too much!" Balbulus was always saying. But what was she to do? Without words she would die, she'd simply die.
-Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke

I think you did a very nice interview. The questions you asked weren't too cliche, like, "what was it like acting in ____?" or "Did you have fun doing ____?" You asked questions that went beyond just his career, but it went in-depth to his opinions and thoughts, and I really enjoyed that!

Great work! I look forward to see more from you.

on May. 9 2009 at 9:12 pm
RainWashed PLATINUM, Park City, Utah
46 articles 1 photo 86 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Repeat the good and the bad. Do it all again. And pile on the years."

You did a great job at interviewing him!! I never even thought of him that way!! That's what an interview is supposed to feel like, that you actually get to know the person behind the acting or whatever they do. BUt i think you did the BEST job ever!!!