78 Trivia Tidbits About Steve Martin on His 78th Birthday
In addition to a new season of Only Murders in the Building, now airing on Hulu, the comedic renaissance man Steve Martin turns 78 today. From his prolific stand-up career to his banjo-picking skills to his illustrious writing career to his dozens of funny movies (as well as a few clunkers), Martin is a singular talent in the history of comedy. So, to pay proper respects to the man on his birthday, here are 78 trivia tidbits about this wild and crazy guy.
He’s from Texas
Martin was born in Waco on August 14th, 1945. His family moved to Los Angeles in 1950.
He Had a Complicated Relationship with His Father
In an interview with Howard Stern, Martin recalled that his father was very stern and emotionally unavailable to him. “My view of my childhood always was that I was very happy,” Martin said. “Then I realized later that I was happy internally as a kid with friends and school, but maybe not so happy at home.”
His Father Once Penned an Article Criticizing His Son
Martin’s father wrote an article for a local newspaper where he criticized his son’s appearance on Saturday Night Live. Glenn Martin had wanted to be an actor himself, and some have speculated — though Martin disagrees — that Martin’s father was jealous of his son’s success.
But They Later Reconciled
Martin and his father reconciled in later years, though, as his father was supportive of his career and would even answer his son’s fan mail.
His First Job
His First Film Appearance
Ironically, his employment at Disneyland would serve as his first appearance on film as he was caught on a 1956 home movie that was turned into the short film Disneyland Dream. (In the footage below, Martin is in a top hat at the bottom of the frame, going left to right, distributing programs.)
He Began Playing the Banjo as a Teenager
“When I was about 16 or 17 years old, I heard it, and that was enough for me,” Martin said of when he decided to begin playing the banjo.
How the Banjo Became a Part of His Stand-up Act
“When you’re a young comedian, you really need material, so I really just incorporated (banjo playing) to fill time,” Martin has explained.
Even After He Got More Material Though, He Kept the Banjo
“Eventually, I got more material,” Martin has said, “but I kept the banjo in because I was doing very silly comedy stuff, and I wanted the audience to know I could also do something hard.”
He Plays Banjo in Two Styles
One is “Clawhammer Style,” which is where “strings are struck using the back of your index or middle finger nail, then alternately plucked with your thumb.” He also plays three-finger style, “where the strings are all plucked individually by the thumb, index and middle fingers” with metal picks on your fingers.
He Played Bonnaroo with Conan O’Brien
In 2010, Martin played the banjo at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. O’Brien also performed that year, and a year later, the duo performed “Dueling Banjos” on Conan’s TBS talk show.
He Tours with the Steep Canyon Rangers
Since 2009, Martin has been touring with the Grammy-winning bluegrass band
Born Standing Up
Martin began doing stand-up at 18.
He’s a College Dropout
He Appeared on ‘The Dating Game’
In 1968, Martin was “Bachelor #2” on The Dating Game. When asked what store he’d like to be stuck in overnight, Martin said Goodwill, where he could “try on all the old clothes and the ladies’ hats.” It was this answer that convinced the contestant to pick him.
His First TV Gig
Martin’s first job in television was writing for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour beginning in 1967.
His Sole Emmy
While he would be nominated many more times — particularly for Only Murders in the Building — Martin’s only Emmy came from writing for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
He’s Got a Bunch of Grammys Though
He has won five Grammys, including two for comedy and three for his bluegrass music.
His Other TV Writing Credits
In addition to The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Martin’s early TV writing credits include The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, Van Dyke and Company and John Denver’s Rocky Mountain Christmas special.
His Comedy Was/Is Revolutionary
As The Hollywood Reporter’s Mikey O’Connell once wrote, “The decades since may have compressed (Martin’s stand-up) career arc down to a few catchphrases and indelible images for the general public, but his iconoclastic sets forever minted Martin as a god to the comedy community. He shunned traditional jokes, launched into satirical rants, and, in one move that seems unfathomable amid today’s pressing safety concerns, frequently encouraged large crowds to follow him outside venues.”
In addition to regularly forgetting which city he was in while performing stand-up, Martin revealed that he once accidentally did the same joke twice in one performance. He didn’t understand why the joke bombed the second time until after the show ended.
“I knew it was kind of gimmicky,” Martin once said, “but when it started, it was crazy. One time I played Nashville, the EXIT/IN, and I took the audience across the street to a jazz bar. All 300 people came in, and we went to someone else’s jazz guitar show. When the audiences got to be like 1,000, I couldn’t do it anymore. It was dangerous. And they couldn’t hear me.”
Martin’s Act Was Very Meta
In a Playboy interview, Martin explained his fondness for his famous arrow-though-the-head prop: “It’s not that the arrow through the head is funny, it’s that someone thinks the arrow through the head is funny. Kids like my act because I’m wearing nose glasses. Adults like my act because there’s a guy who thinks putting on nose glasses is funny.”
Martin on ‘The Tonight Show’
Like many comedians of the era, Martin’s career was boosted by appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson the first of which was in 1972.
When He Got His Distinctly-Colored Do
Martin’s hair went gray by the time he was 32.
His First ‘SNL’ Hosting Gig
On October 23, 1976, Martin Hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time. Among his sketches was a commercial for “Fido-Flex, the digital watchdog, the only canine that can tell the time” and a parody of The Mary Tyler Moore Show where Martin played Ted Baxter, who accidentally killed Mary during a prank.
On April 22, 1978, his fifth time hosting SNL, he performed “King Tut.” Decades later, the bit became controversial for cultural appropriation.
One, and Then Two, Wild and Crazy Guys
The phrase “wild and crazy guy” was something Martin would jokingly refer to himself as in his stand-up routine; the “Two Wild and Crazy Guys” sketch starring him and Dan Aykroyd as Czech brothers Jorge and Yortuk Festrunk debuted on September 24, 1977. While it was derived from his act, it was Aykroyd’s idea to create this into a sketch for Saturday Night Live.
‘Dancing in the Dark’
Alec Baldwin Broke His ‘SNL’ Hosting Record
Martin Hosted ‘The Muppet Show’ in 1977
According to Joe Hennes, proprietor of the Muppet fansite Tough Pigs, “The plot of Steve Martin’s episode is that Kermit sends the audience away so they can hold auditions on the Muppet Theatre stage. So, it’s the only episode to not use a standard laugh track. Since the theater is still occupied by a smattering of Muppets, you still hear laughing during Steve Martin’s routines. That’s the sound of the cast and crew laughing live, and if you’re a good voice spotter, you could potentially identify the voices of one or two Muppet performers.
His First Film Was Oscar Nominated
Also in 1977, Martin wrote and starred in The Absent-Minded Waiter. The short film was nominated for an Oscar (though it didn’t win). Martin played a similar role — the “Insolent Waiter” — in The Muppet Movie.
He Got Sick of Stand-Up
By 1980, Martin had tired of doing stand-up comedy even though he was still selling out stadiums. In an interview, he explained, “I couldn’t have kept doing that act, I don’t think. I didn’t want to do the same old thing, and I didn’t want to look like I was doing the same old thing.”
Fortunately, Martin’s film career was taking off at this time, and he was able to quit stand-up comedy altogether. “My job was to get off the stand-up train and throw my bags and myself onto the movie train, and I knew I had to do it while I still had some clout,” he later wrote.
‘Dr. Maxwell Edison’
Martin’s first feature film role was as “Dr. Maxwell Edison” in the truly terrible 1978 jukebox musical Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The Origins of ‘The Jerk’
The Jerk grew out of a single line from Martin’s act: “It wasn’t always easy for me; I was born a poor Black child.” From that, Martin envisioned a story of an idiot telling his life story about holding various odd jobs.
A Beverly Hills Buffalo Counter
One of the earliest jokes in The Jerk didn’t make the final cut. It featured Navin Johnson, Martin’s character, taking a job as a buffalo counter in Beverly Hills. Navin stood on a street corner with a clicker for a while before finally seeing one buffalo and clicking the clicker.
Writing ‘The Jerk’
When developing the script with Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias, Martin said their goal was to have “a laugh on every page.”
His Favorite Joke in ‘The Jerk’
It’s when Navin is hitchhiking in Missouri, and a driver pulls up and asks, “St. Louis?” and Navin responds, “Um, no, Navin Johnson.”
‘Tonight You Belong to Me’
Martin learned to play the ukulele for a musical duet with Bernadette Peters in The Jerk. The song was “Tonight You Belong to Me,” a sentimental pop song from the 1920s.
‘The Jerk’ Was a Big Box-Office Hit
The Jerk was a huge success, making nearly $74 million on a budget of just $4 million. When speculating why the film has endured, Martin guessed that it was because “it’s so innocent, because it’s very cheerful, because the lead character is pretty stupid, and you kind of get on his side pretty fast.”
He’s Written a Lot of His Own Movies
In addition to co-writing The Jerk, Martin had a hand in writing Three Amigos!, The Man with Two Brains, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Roxanne, Bowfinger, L.A. Story, A Simple Twist of Fate, Shopgirl and his Pink Panther films.
He Also Wrote a Crime Thriller
He developed the story for the 2013 Don Cheadle crime thriller The Traitor.
His Second Film Was a Box-Office Flop
His follow-up to The Jerk was a dramatic musical called Pennies from Heaven. While the reviews were largely positive, it wasn’t a box-office success. On The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Martin said, “I found something: The people who like it are wise and intelligent people, and the people who don’t like it are ignorant scum.” He then asked Johnny, “You liked it, didn’t you?”
‘All of Me’ Was His First ‘Grounded’ Comedic Role
In 1984, Martin said of All of Me — a comedy where a dead woman’s ghost inhabits his body — “I think All of Me is the first real comic character I’ve played that is a person grounded in reality. He’s an average guy, in a way. Every other character I’ve played has been way out there.”
Meeting Martin Short
Martin first met Short on the set of the 1986 film Three Amigos! On The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Short described the meeting: “It was May 4, 1985. I went to his old house on Bedford Drive, and I remember I walked in, and it was so beautiful. There were Picassos on the wall and Hoppers, and I said to him, ‘How did you get that rich? Because I’ve seen your work.’” Short also said he was struck by how pale Martin was, “It was like I was being haunted.”
’Three Amigos!’ Was a Sleeper Hit
Although Three Amigos! was a modest success when it came out, Martin didn’t know it had become a cult hit until its 25th anniversary, when Empire magazine wanted to put him, Short and Chevy Chase on the cover.
A Big Nose to Fill
The 1987 film Roxanne was a re-telling of the 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. When asked what attracted him to adapting the play, Martin said, “I’d always known about the play since I was young. I was always charmed by it and moved by it and thought the story was relevant today.”
Martin on John Candy
In an interview after Candy’s death, Martin recalled that Candy was “very sweet and complicated. He was always friendly, always outgoing, funny and nice and polite, but I could tell he had kind of a little broken heart inside of him.” He thought this might have been why Candy’s character, Del Griffith, was so emotionally resonant.
The Deleted B-Story in ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’
In an interview with Cracked, Laila Robins, who played Martin’s wife in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, explained that in the original cut of the film, Martin’s character had a B-story where his wife believed he was having an affair. It was removed from the final film for time purposes.
‘The Jerk’ or ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’?
When asked to choose his favorite between The Jerk and Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Martin said, “That’s a tough one — made a lot of friends on both those films, but John Candy was a very special person, but then so was Carl Reiner, who directed The Jerk. Planes, Trains and Automobiles — a very difficult film to shoot; The Jerk — very easy film. Planes, Trains and Automobiles has a lot of resonance for people, yet The Jerk seems to be a favorite in many peoples’ hearts. So, I’d have to say Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”
Dirty Rotten Delight
In Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Martin and Michael Caine play rival conmen. Years later, Caine said, “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was the happiest film I ever made,” in part because of him getting to spend time with Martin, as well as filming in the French Riviera.
‘Parenthood’ Gave Martin an Appreciation for Parenting
Martin’s ‘Goodfellas’ Sequel
In addition to the Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas, My Blue Heaven — which came out a month before Goodfellas — is based on the life of mobster Henry Hill. Martin plays the character based on Hill, who’s a mobster in witness protection, but he was originally offered the role of the federal agent watching over him. After the filmmakers had trouble casting the Hill role, Martin decided to swap roles, and they hired Rick Moranis to be the federal agent.
The ‘Father of the Bride’ Trilogy
In 1991, Martin starred in Father of the Bride and then returned for the 1995 sequel, Father of the Bride Part II. During the pandemic, the cast did the half-hour Father of the Bride Part 3 (ish) centered around a Zoom call with the Banks family.
He Didn’t Like ‘Sgt. Bilko’
In 1996, Martin returned to his broader comedic roots with Sgt. Bilko, where he revived a character from The Phil Silvers Show. Martin later said he regretted the film. “I didn’t like this movie I did, Sgt. Bilko,” Martin said. “I didn’t like what I was doing in it, I felt I was going downhill rather than uphill, so I wanted a break. It’s not a bad movie, it’s a nice movie for kids, but I felt I was somehow letting myself down. I was getting a little lost about what I wanted to do.”
An Underrated Martin Gem
While not as well remembered as The Jerk, Planes, Trains and Automobiles or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, many regard Bowfinger as an underrated part of Martin’s filmography. Among those who have sung its praises was the late Roger Ebert.
He’s Done with Studio Comedy Films
After the failure of The Pink Panther films and the Jack Black/Owen Wilson comedy The Big Year, Martin has stepped away from big studio comedies. He’s even poked fun at himself for it, saying, “Go into theaters with a comedy movie starring me? It’s got failure written all over it!” He also doesn’t want to be away from his family for months at a time anymore.
He Doesn’t Think Comedy Always Has to Make You Think
After his play Meteor Shower was criticized for being funny but without deep meaning, Martin remarked, “I don’t want to make them think. There’s plenty of people who can do that. I just want to deliver entertainment. I want them to go, ‘Oh, that was so good.’ That’s what I’m after.”
He’d Rather Be Invisible
In an interview with Jack Black and Owen Wilson, he was asked if he’d rather fly or be invisible; he chose invisibility.
To keep in touch with and soothe his fans during the pandemic, Martin regularly played the banjo on social media.
A Collector of Art
He’s Been Married Twice
From 1986 until their divorce in 1994, Martin was married to British actress Victoria Tennant. In 2007, he married former staff writer for The New Yorker, Anne Stringfield. He and Stringfield have a daughter together.
He’s Hosted the Oscars Three Times
Martin hosted the Oscars solo in 2001 and 2003, and co-hosted with Alec Baldwin in 2010 (which should count as half an SNL hosting gig for their record books).
He’s an Accomplished Author
In addition to his widely beloved 2007 memoir Born Standing Up, he’s written several plays, novels, children’s books and an instructional book on banjo playing.
‘You Have to Kill Every Time’
Tina Fey once recalled a conversation she had with Martin where she complimented him on a very funny appearance on Letterman. Martin’s reply was a matter-of-fact statement that revealed his philosophy behind comedy and celebrity: “Well, you have to kill every time.”
He Loves to Bounce Jokes Off Martin Short
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Short gave further insight into Martin’s perfectionism. “He phoned me up once and said, ‘Do you have a minute to hear some jokes? I’m doing Jimmy Kimmel in two months,’” Short said. “That’s why he’s Steve Martin. That’s why he’s still Steve Martin.”
He’s Fond of the Fist-Bump
With the pandemic, Martin decided he was done with shaking hands, opting for fist-bumps instead.
He’s Officially a National Treasure
In 2007, Martin was honored by the Kennedy Center. He’s also an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award winner and received The Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Honorary Award.
One for the Birds
Martin loves birdwatching.
He Cameos in a Kelly Clarkson Song
‘Only Murders in the Building’ Was in His Head for 10 Years
On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Martin explained, “I just had this thought over 10 years ago, and it was for three older guys who live in a building in New York who realize they have a common interest in solving crime. But, because they’re old, they don’t want to go outside the building because it’s too tiring, so they decide they’ll just do only murders in the building.” (Later, the third old man Martin envisioned was changed into a young woman who would be played by Selena Gomez).
‘You Know, We’re Old’
His ‘Only’ Conditions
When developing Only Murders in the Building with producer Dan Fogelman and writer Jon Hoffman, Martin said he’d only act in the show if he was cast alongside Short. He also demanded that they film in New York and that he could be home by 6 p.m. every night (though, during filming, the time constraint didn’t always work out).
His First Real TV Starring Gig
Shockingly, Only Murders in the Building is the first TV show in which Martin is more than a guest star.
He’s a True-Crime Fan
Martin explained that part of the inspiration for Only Murders in the Building came from being a fan of true-crime podcasts and TV shows. He also said, “I’m always thinking, just walking around in my life, ‘What’s my alibi? If something were to happen right now, could I prove I was in my car?’”
His Favorite Podcasts
Among his favorite true-crime podcasts are My Favorite Murder and the Australian podcast Case File.
He Might Retire After ‘Only Murders’
“When this television show is done, I’m not going to seek others. I’m not going to seek other movies. I don’t want to do cameos. This is, weirdly, it,” Martin said last year.
Then Again, He Might Not
In the same interview, Martin backtracked a bit by saying, “I’m really not interested in retiring. I’m not. But I would just work a little less. Maybe… My wife keeps saying, ‘You always say you’re going to retire, and then you always come up with something.’”