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5 Genius Life Lessons from Steve Martin

The famed comedian talks about finding the funny, being snubbed by Broadway, and his newest play, on stage now at the Old Globe
Barry Edelstein “In Conversation” with Steve Martin at the Old Globe on August 4, 2016. | Photo by Bob Ross.

By Kimberly Cunningham

On August 4, 2016, comedian-slash-actor-slash-novelist-slash-composer-slash-playwright Steve Martin sat down with Old Globe Artistic Director Barry Edelstein for an intimate discussion on the craft of writing and making people laugh. Here, five memorable moments and takeaways from that night.

Never miss an opportunity to learn something.

“I relish what I’ve learned,” Martin says. “I was not born with any gifts. It all just developed.” He told a story about his early days as a joke writer and admitted that he had to be taught where to put the punch line. “The head writer drew a circle around part of my joke with an arrow that pointed to the end. I needed a map!”

Don’t go for the easy laugh.

“Obvious jokes have no afterlife,” Martin says. “But esoteric jokes grow.” Not that there’s anything wrong with silly. “I grew up on silly,” he describes, citing Laurel and Hardy as a childhood favorite. But Laurel and Hardy were masters of nuanced comedy—those rarefied expressions and bits that only get funnier with time. The trick is flowing from comedy into the more serious moments. “Comedy is the most binary of the arts,” he explains. “I love when things operate on multiple levels. You can have something silly and then something smarter on top of it.”


Sound advice for anyone who wants to be a writer. Martin says, “I love language and the written word.” The comedian also talked about how he reads an entire draft of his work out loud to his dog, before he submits the piece or considers it done. “You catch things you would never catch otherwise.”

Don’t take it personally.

Martin spoke candidly about the disappointing Broadway run of his “almost wholesome” musical Bright Star, which debuted at the Old Globe in 2014. It was the year of Hamilton, which dominated the Tony Awards and left all other musicals, including Bright Star, in its wake. Martin says the show’s co-creator, Edie Brickell, was really hurt by the outcome, but he didn’t take it too personally: “I’ve just been around too long. No excuses. It’s a tough world. But you can’t hang onto it.”

Find the courage to be your best self.

That seems to be a major theme in Martin’s new play, Meteor Shower, on stage now at The Old Globe (through September 18). The play centers on two couples who convene on the night of a meteor shower. Wacky and sentimental events unfold. When Edelstein asked Martin about the play, he described it as a play about marriage. But Martin countered, “Actually, I really believe it’s about the individual”—how we cope with relationships and bullies and sadness. But you have to look hard for those poignant moments, as they are layered with belly laughs and silliness in the way only Martin can deliver. See lesson #2.

Tickets for Meteor Shower on sale now at

5 Genius Life Lessons from Steve Martin

Barry Edelstein “In Conversation” with Steve Martin at the Old Globe on August 4, 2016. | Photo by Bob Ross.

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