January 30, 2008
Steve Martin on Learning Comedy
So very cool.
Because I was generally unknown, I was free to gamble with material, and there were a few evenings when crucial mutations affected my developing act. At Vanderbilt University in Nashville, I played for approximately 100 students in a classroom with a stage at one end. The show went fine. However, when it was over, something odd happened. The audience didn't leave. The stage had no wings, no place for me to go, but I still had to pack up my props. I indicated that the show had ended, but they just sat there, even after I said flatly, "It's over." They thought this was all part of the act, and I couldn't convince them otherwise. Then I realized there were no exits from the stage and that the only way out was to go through the audience. So I kept talking. I passed among them, ad-libbing comments along the way. I walked out into the hallway, but they followed me there too. A reluctant pied piper, I went outside onto the campus, and they stayed right behind me. I came across a drained swimming pool. I asked the audience to get into it—"Everybody into the pool!"—and they did. Then I said I was going to swim across the top of them, and the crowd knew exactly what to do: I was passed hand over hand as I did the crawl. That night I went to bed feeling I had entered new comic territory. My show was becoming something else, something free and unpredictable, and the doing of it thrilled me, because each new performance brought my view of comedy into sharper focus.