From 'Jerk' to Novelist

A Wild and Crazy Guy Goes From The Jerk to Shopgirl

By Buck Wolf

Oct. 5, 2000 — Steve Martin has a new message: Let’s get small.

And if you are familiar with Martin’s work, you know that this was his message even before he became that wild and crazy guy.

Martin was at the cusp of his Saturday Night Live superstardom, still doing standup comedy at 3,000-seat auditoriums, when he recorded his first album, Let’s Get Small. Political humor had gone out with Richard Nixon. So armed with bunny ears, Groucho glasses and an arrow through the head, Martin ushered in the era of postmodern slapstick — show business that made fun of show business.

Martin’s self-absorbed, wannabe hip Hollywood persona didn’t get high. He smoked something else. He liked to “Get small,” he said. “Real small … It’s a wild drug.”

“A cop stopped me the other night when I was driving and said, ‘Are you small?’” Martin said, “And I said, ‘No man, I’m tall, I’m tall.’

“Well, the cop said, ‘I’m going to have to measure you.’” And the officer had a test. He pulled out a balloon. If you could fit inside, the cop knew. You were small.

Now, once again, Steve Martin is getting high on being small. His latest work, a novella called Shopgirl (Hyperion), hits book stores in mid-October. He’s written several plays and a series of essays in The New Yorker, and this is the next step in the evolution of Steve Martin.

The Sgt. Bilko Merry-Go-Round

Novellas aren’t exactly cash cows. But that’s OK with Martin. He’s not thinking big. “That’s one of the advantages of having money,” he told the audience at New York’s 92nd Street Y at a Sept. 24 reading hosted by Gore Vidal.

“I’ve made two decision in my life,” he says. “One was to leave standup and go into movies. The other is to write. Now is my time to write.”

If you haven’t noticed, Martin has stepped off the merry-go-round of appearing in at least one major Hollywood picture each year. He decided to slow down after 1996’s Sgt. Bilko. It had been the latest in a series of bombs including Mixed Nuts and Leap of Faith. It was time for a change.