Here’s one biography that should get the surveyors of all and sundry all excited. It’s not every day that violent incidents in childhood are marked out as the most significant milestone to success as an adult. But that is what Steve Martin, American comedian — and writer, producer, actor, magician, musician and composer, as his bio reads — has to say in Born Standing Up. Mr Martin tells the story of a particular incident in his childhood, when his father walloped the 9-year-old with a belt, leaving him with a bruised body and soul. Thirty years of icy relations later, Martin Sr and son made up, with the former telling his son, “You did everything I wanted to do.” Ah! that hoary old chestnut again.
Of course, it is a tribute to him that he grew up to be Steve Martin and not, say, Oprah Winfrey — on whose show Mr Martin will certainly have won his rightful place by the time his book appears. But this is certainly something that needs to be thoroughly studied. Can violent and abusive childhoods throw up success stories? Mr Martin certainly seems to have packed in quite a range of activities, from juggling to hi-jinks comedy.
While there is enough evidence that the world’s greatest comedians are, by and large, a lonely lot prone to stretches of depression, no one has quite put their finger on a particular incident that triggered revenge through success. This is one ‘condition’ the psychologists will have to figure out. As the comedian put it himself: “First, the doctor told me the good news: I was going to have a disease named after me.”