From 'Jerk' to Novelist

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Martin had his commercial and critical successes — The Jerk, Roxanne, the Father of the Bride remake — but the misses had far outnumbered the hits. Even though he was earning in the neighborhood of $6 million a flick, it was time to move on. He’s spent the last few years of his life, reading, writing, and looking for new challenges. “It just wasn’t fun anymore,” he says. “I’ll do other movies, but maybe not many of the major Hollywood productions I did before.”

At the Y appearance, Martin, 54, looked as if he had finally grown into the hair that he allowed to grow prematurely gray in his standup comedy heyday. He looks a bit like the philosophy professor he once aspired to be. Still, the inner clown is irrepressible. Under his conservative dark suit, he sported neon green socks. Pulling up his pant legs at one point, as the audience laughed, he said, “I don’t know why I did it, I just had to.”

As his commercial output diminished over the last few years, he’s given himself space to grow as an actor and writer. His play Picasso at the Lapin Agile, first produced by the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago in 1993, marked a turning point in his life.

“I was in the audience thinking, ‘I’m really proud of this,’” he says. “This is what I want.”Message From Marty Shopgirl tracks the lovelorn Mirabelle, a beautiful aspiring artist who sells gloves at the Beverly Hills Neiman Marcus. She captures the attention of Ray Porter, a wealthy, lonely businessman. The consequences are both comic and heartbreaking as they flirt with love.

“I don’t know where the story comes from,” Martin says. “You have heartbreaks, you break other people’s hearts, you start thinking about it.”

Martin is not an autobiographical comic in the mold of Woody Allen, but the past few years of his life have certainly been filled with the sort of disappointments played out by his characters. His marriage to British actress Victoria Tenant ended in 1992. And he has since been known in the gossip pages as the man Anne Heche left before taking up with Ellen DeGeneres.