On Location with Steve Martin

On Location With Steve MartinSynopsis: Steve Martin’s HBO special was recorded as one of the network’s On Location series of stand-up comedy specials. Taped on October 31, 1976, this previously unreleased show provides a rare and uncensored look at Martin’s early act. 

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On Location with Steve Martin 7.25

eyelights: Martin’s absurdist humour.
eyesores: Martin’s rambling.

“Boy, that’s the last time I’ll ever ad lib.”

‘On Location’ is an HBO series that started in 1975. Featuring recordings of live stand-up routines by some of the hottest up and coming comedians, it featured some of the earliest works of Robin Williams and began George Carlin’s HBO reign. It also landed the first Steve Martin television special.

Recorded on October 31, 1976, at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, ‘On Location’ finds Martin at the tipping point of his career: he had made a few television appearances, was certainly a concert draw, but he had yet to release his platinum-selling comedy albums or star in any motion pictures.

1976-77 would change all of that.

Anyone who’s read my blurbs knows that I have very mixed feelings about Steve Martin. His early motion pictures are hilarious. The mid-period ones are nice, but not as funny. The later-period comedies are dreadful. The dramas are good. I’ve also tried to read his one of his books, but it was too corny.

‘On Location’ sort of redeems him. I had seen a concert of his many years ago and found it kind of boring. It was a later show, during his “rock star” phase that had him playing to thousands of people, filling up outdoor venues. Seriously: for a short while, in the ’70s, Steve Martin was a superstar.

For this show, Martin arrived on stage armed with his ubiquitous banjo. The backdrop was total shite: all brown, wood paneling, and rather claustrophobic. HBO was clearly only just getting started and didn’t have a budget for anything fancy. Either that, or their set designer was a total freak.

Martin went right into his routine with an intro that poked fun at the conventions of the genre and at novice acts (by crashing into the mic, …etc.). It’s fascinating to watch because not much goes on, but it’s funny anyway. He basically rambles, going on various tangents in an informal fashion.

Still, along the way he does deliver some amusing observations about picking women up and sex, philosophy, and even compared smoking with passing wind. He had a slightly absurdist and silly side, and his stage persona is a bit distracted, which keeps the momentum going, in an ADD sort of way.

Strangely enough, he also took the time to play a serious banjo solo, as opposed to just playing it for laughs. He also does some juggling, magic and parlour tricks, and even balloon animals – all with a humourous spin to them. I couldn’t help but think that he had to learn a lot of random skills just to do his act.

Sadly, the audio on this programme is rather poor, sometimes partially losing him when he stepped away from the mic stand. This might explain why it wasn’t released on home video until recently, if it was at all broadcast. Further marring the evening is an ending that was rambling and all too weak.

Still, up until that point, I was rather enjoying myself; I found Steve Martin pretty darned funny. Not laugh-a-minute funny, but consistently amusing and not overly corny or dialed up like he sometimes can be. For close to an hour, I was entertained. And I’m actually now quite intrigued to see more of him.

Stay tuned.

Date of viewing: June 6, 2015

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