Steve Martin: A Wild and Crazy Guy

Steve Martin - A Wild and Crazy GuySynopsis: Steve Martin’s first network special for NBC offers part concert footage (shot at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles) and part sketch comedy.

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Steve Martin: A Wild and Crazy Guy 6.0

eyelights: the absurdist humour.
eyesores: the corny, unsophisticated humour. the editing out of the live footage.

“This is fun, isn’t it, kids? Sitting outdoors, roasting a watermelon over an open fire.”

‘Steve Martin: A Wild and Crazy Guy’ is the legendary comedian’s first network television special. Broadcast on November 22, 1978 on NBC, and intended to piggy-back on the success of his eponymous double platinum-selling comedy album, it was a mixture of live bits recorded at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles on September 9th, 1978 and new skits produced for the programme.

‘A Wild and Crazy Guy’ (which was Martin’s sobriquet for a time) was released in 2012 as part of the ‘Steve Martin: The Television Stuff’ 3DVD boxed set by Shout Factory. Unfortunately, since the live material returns uncut in ‘Homage to Steve’, another show from the set, Shout deemed it redundant and cut it from this special. This leaves only the sketches, the connecting threads.

This not only affects the flow of the programme, but it changes its intent. While it’s true that the material would have been repeated on the set, it would have been recontextualized and played differently. I totally disagree with the assertion that it is redundant and its resulting ablation. If it was merely a question of disc space, this could have been fixed with seamless branching.

In any event, the now-35 minute programme (it used to be closer to an hour), is book-ended with sketches that take place backstage, naturally leading to the live material. Now it feels completely out of place with the live stuff gutted out, especially since Martin segues by taking a look at and commenting on the “audience” (clearly plants), many of which are dressed up in silly costumes.

The rest of the set takes place in various settings and is really the equivalent of sketch comedy, with much of it taking place outdoors. By far my favourite consisted of an absurdist bit where he’s looking at a used car, asking questions about it, trying to talk the price down, but remaining oblivious to the fact that the car is upside down. There was a delightfully silly aspect to it.

But that was right at the onset, and the rest of the set quickly devolved into some especially corny, horrible gags. Some of the somewhat amusing ones were “Famous Door Slams”, which showed an obnoxious Steve Martin knocking on people’s doors and getting the door slammed in his face, and the social satire medley, which included a plea to save a dump from being turned into a park.

There was even a lesser sketch that was worth seeing for Martin’s performance, a satire of conventional cowboy plots which finds Martin challenged to ride the wildest beast at the rodeo, and succeeding where everyone else failed – except that the steeds are large sea turtles. It’s not a very funny gag and it overstays its welcome but Martin plays it straight, doing an admirable job of it.

But there are skit like “Tennis Court” which blends courtroom shows and tennis, with the participants discussing the rules and protocols of tennis, “Ballet Parking”, which is really dumb, a dreadfully dull ski instructor skit, and a seemingly humour-free camping with kids skit. The problem is that the humour in most of those is devastatingly unsophisticated or hinges on terrible wordplays.

I have no idea if watching the programme with the live bits in it would have spread things out and made it more enjoyable, but it’s certainly not in its current form. Perhaps the additional 15-20 minutes of live material would have made the end result long and tedious; perhaps it’s a mixed blessing. But I honestly believe that it’s been hobbled by the cuts more than anything else.

Shame on Shout for making that decision and not leaving it up to viewers to decide for themselves; they easily could have added an option to watch it with or without the live material. By removing the material altogether, they have basically taken away the option of seeing the programme as it was intended – much like George Lucas has done with his original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy.

And there’s nothing funny about that.

Date of viewing: June 9, 2015

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