The comedy of Steve Martin : performance, narrative & the gag
In examining the comedy of American performer Steve Martin from stand-up through to film, this thesis positions his career predominantly within Seidman's important tradition of the comedian comic. A grouping of comedians encompassing the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Jerry Lewis and Woody Allen, comedian comedy stresses the maintenance into film of a popular comic persona derived from a live show business media. I argue how Martin's film comedy retains the essence of his stand-up - primarily an awareness of his audience and a transgression of performance boundaries - as well as specific 'wild and crazy' antics of his popular stand-up character 'Steve'. The very distinctiveness of Martin as a comedian comic, I show, is that, across stand-up and film, he is often playing the Everyman playing the Jerk. I use the minimum unit of comedy, the gag, to illuminate and come to terms with Martin's career as a whole. I trace instances of the gag across stand-up into film, noting primarily how it functions as spectacular and self-serving unit of performance, within the stand-up realm, and motivated, integral and spectacular part of the narrative in the film comedy. I illustrate how a distinctive narrative device of frustration figures in the more dramatic Father films, and how this works to tie performance sequences to issues of character, and allows Martin as performer to legitimately re-enact familiar antics from his stand-up. Using the gag, I suggest, allows to me to make important connections across Martin's career, and to fundamentally link the seemingly disparate Jerk-like characters of the stage and some of the early films, with the more serious Father figures of Martin's later career.