DVD Review: Steve Martin: The Television Stuff

Once upon a time…let’s call it the ’70s, Steve Martin was a very big deal in comedy. That might be hard to believe that he was ever funny after starring in Pink Panther, Pink Panther 2, The Big Year, Cheaper By the Dozen and Cheaper By the Dozen 2 in the last decade. He was a true Wild and Crazy Guy before becoming Dean Jones 2.0. Steve Martin: The Television Stuff contains the videotape proof that a man in a white suit made generation of American say, “Well, excuse me!”

“On Location” (1976 – 55 minutes) features the birth of Steve Martin as a sensation. HBO recorded his set at the Troubadour club in Hollywood on Halloween night. The crowd is completely into the man who arrives on the tiny stage with his banjo on his knee. They howl at his every goofy voice change. There’s probably less people able to pass a drug test in that room than cyclists in the Tour de France. But it wasn’t the drugs that made him funny. Henry Winkler (The Fonz) howled from his VIP table. Steve Martin had been a writer and bit performer on The Smothers Brothers Show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and The Sonny and Cher Show. Steve’s set is his own version of a variety show. He’s the goofy host and all the guest stars. He becomes the serious musical guest when he focuses on his banjo playing in the middle of the set. Steve goes all out in the performance and forgets to be funny for those minutes. But then he gets back to being the world’s greatest variety show guest with his juggling and balloon fun. As the special wraps up, Steve takes the cameras onto Santa Monica Blvd to riff with the crowd for the next show. He was no longer going to be writing jokes for Sonny Bono. He became Steve Martin superstar.

“A Wild and Crazy Guy” (1978 – 34:18) mixes Steve at his live performing peak with comedy sketches. Fans arrive at the Universal Amphitheatre wearing bunny ears and arrows through their head. Steve was a rock star with a banjo. He had gone from 400 seats at the club to 6,000 that night. This is not the complete special, but don’t complain that the live segments are gone. The complete stage show is featured later in the boxset. The stage show work by themselves. Steve demonstrates why he likes buying an upside down car. He also explores the pressure of his new stardom.

“Comedy Is Not Pretty” (1980 – 48:56) is funnier than the album with the same name. The special opens with a wild west video set to Marty Robbins’ “Streets of El Paso.” The twist is that Steve acts out the songs with the helps of apes and elephants. Steve stars in an effective drunk driving PSA for something bigger than a car. He takes on the Olympics with his unique diving skills. He promotes his own brand of insurance.

“All Commercials” (1980 – 48:59) is themed with Steve lambasting the sponsors. Antonio Fargas, Anne Lockhart, Louis Nye and Paul Ruebens are his guest stars. That’s right, you get comedy from Huggy Bear, Sonny Drysdale and Pee Wee Herman with a dose of Steve. You might want to watch this special near a computer so you can see the ads being spoofed on Youtube.

“Best Show Ever” (1981 – 49:37) takes him onto the Saturday Night Live studio. He drags out plenty of the original Not Ready For Primetime Players including John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Laraine Newman. The show was done live to give it even more of an SNL feel. This special had such an SNL vibe that you might misremember a few of these sketches as SNL segments especially his Elephant Man spoof. Monty Python‘s Eric Idle hosts a segment that ponders if dinosaurs built Stonehedge. Steve’s most delighted moment is when he and Gregory Hines tap dance.

“Homage to Steve” (56:33) includes the Oscar nominated short “The Absent Minded Waiter” and “Live At The Universal Amphitheatre.” This was released as a VHS tapes back in the mid-80s. “The Absent Minded Waiter” serves Buck Henry and Terri Garr a memorable meal. Steve constantly screws up, but that’s why the couple wanted to be seated him his section. It’s almost a screen test for The Jerk except a little more classy. The live show is the entire performance that was recorded for “Wild and Crazy Guy.” It’s much better to get the whole routine without interruption. The odd thing is that Steve does quite a few jokes from the HBO special. Nowadays once a comic does a routine on a TV special, the punchlines are retired. The show wraps up with “King Tut.” Henry Winkler shows up once more. There’s a short introduction sketch where Steve gives a comedy class to David Letterman, Henny Youngman, Alan King and Paul Simon. This was done for the original home video release.

Steve Martin: The Television Stuff brings back such warm memories of his time as a force in comedy. The specials hold up for the most part. Even the sketches that fail would be considered genius on today’s Saturday Night Live. He wasn’t merely a guy that was funny for his time. The TV specials erase the pain of his recent cinema career. Now if only someone can release a box filled with what the audience at the Troubadour was taking before Steve’s set.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. Most of the material is from videotape so the details are a little fuzzy. But Steve’s white suit glows on the stage. The audio is mono. The levels will let you hear all the weirdness taking place on the stage.

Steve’s Comments
(26:38) lets the modern Steve explain how he ended up doing the TV specials. He didn’t make much money off the specials since he had to sink his paycheck into the production for cost overruns.

Steve’s Lifetime Achievement Award Acceptance Speech was given at The American Comedy Awards back in 2000. He jokes about never dreaming of getting an award at such a ceremony. This turned out to be the penultimate ACA show.

Steve Plays the Banjo is his first TV appearance on Dusty’s Treehouse. It’s a black and white clip as he goofs around on a kid show.

“What I Believe”
is a comedy bit from his The Steve Martin Brothers album. It’s rather dirty with marks for the optical house for transitions. He believes the only good laugh can come from a professional comedian. It’s an awe inspiring piece.

“Freddie’s Lilt”
is a banjo track also from The Steve Martin Brothers album. Steve is in black cowboy garb while picking away on a Western backlot.

“Las Vegas Parody”
is Steve killing it on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1974. He’s overwhelmed by how Vegas acts can charge $15 which was big bucks back then. Sammy Davis Jr. races off the sofa to embrace him on the stage. No sighting of Henry Winkler on the sofa. Johnny’s suit is blinding.

Jean-Pierre Louey: The French Johnny Cash
is Steve doing his French guy character on Johnny Cash’s Christmas special in 1978.

“Steve Martin’s Holiday Wish” is an SNL bit from 1986. Steve’s holiday wish goes from sweet to self-centered as he asks for extra wishes.

“Ode to a Loved One” is romance from 1989’s SNL. He once more turns sweet into disturbingly piggish when it comes to love.

“Steve’s Penis Beauty Creme was the funniest thing on SNL in 1994.

Steve’s Tribute to Gene Kelly is a snappy speech from Kelly’s AFI Award special. He goes straight for the showbiz phoney tale of how he made Singin’ In the Rain happen.

Best Actor in a Comedy Acceptance Speech
was from the People’s Choice Award in 1992. This is his prerecorded speech since he didn’t want to sit around for hours to “win.” He doesn’t say which movie he won it for, but he shows us where in his house the award will go.

The Great Flydini puts Steve on Tonight Show show stage as a magician who pulls objects out of a place normally not shown on TV in 1992. Johnny Carson loves it.

Steve’s Paul Simon Tribute comes from the Kennedy Center Honors of 2002. Steve takes credit for “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Steve would be honored in 2007.

The Making of a Steve Martin Appearance explores the weirdness of his visit to Late Night with David Letterman in 1995. They practice being showbiz phonies.

Dave & Steve’s Gay Vacation
is another bit from Late Night with David Letterman in 1998. The guys feed each other ice cream at the beach.

Steve’s Acceptance Speech
was given for the 2005 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Steve runs down his previous awards which is a slim list. But Mark Twain Prize is special to him since it “is more recent.”

Steve Martin: The Television Stuff reaffirms that Steve can be an amazingly funny guy when he’s not in Shawn Levy films. These specials and concerts are the reason why teen boys put up Steve’s “Best Fishes” poster on their bedroom wall.

Shout! Factory presents Steve Martin: The Television Stuff. Starring: Steve Martin. Boxset Contents: 6 Specials on 3 DVDs. Released: September 18, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.

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