When discussing the greatest comedians of all time, often legends like Richard Pryor and George Carlin come to mind first, but during the ’60s and ’70s, there were few better than Steve Martin. From appearing as a guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to starring in classic comedies like Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and The Jerk, the Texas native has been making people laugh over 50 years. He’s won an Emmy, multiple Grammys, hosted Saturday Night Live 15 times and in 2000, was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy. In celebration of Steve Martin’s 74th birthday, here are 15 fascinating facts you probably didn’t know about comedy legend. Enjoy!
15. Was Never A SNL Cast Member
Steve Martin is well known for his connection to Saturday Night Live, but some fans might be surprised to learn that the comedian was never actually a member of the cast. Despite making a record 25 guest appearances on the show, hosting 15 times, and becoming the first and fasted member to join the Five-Timers Club, the comedian was never a regular member
Martin became a member of the Five-Timers Club in only 546 days, the only other member to do so in under four years is Buck Henry, who joined in 671 days.
14. His First Job Was At Disneyland
Everyone has to start somewhere and for Steve Martin that was selling guidebooks at Disneyland. He worked full-time during the summer and on weekends during the school year for three years before he learned enough magic tricks and illusions to land a job at the Fantasyland. While employed at the park, Martin learned to become a talented magician, juggler and by way of pure luck, appeared in his first film.
In 1956, Robbins and Meg Barstow shot a home-movie documenting their family’s first trip to Disneyland, which was later turned into a short-subject film called Disneyland Dream. At the 20:20 mark of the movie, you’ll see a young Steve Martin selling guidebooks, dressed in a top hat and striped shirt.
13. Philosophy Changed His Life
Before appearing becoming a regular on SNL, Steve Martin enrolled at the California State University, Long Beach, majoring in philosophy and at one time, actually considered giving up his dream of being a famous actor/comedian to become a professor.
During an interview with Rolling Stone in 1982, Martin revealed that despite transferring to UCLA and switching his major to the theatre, it was his philosophy classes at Cal State Long Beach that changed his entire outlook on life.
It changed what I believe and what I think about everything. I majored in philosophy. Something about non-sequiturs appealed to me. In philosophy, I started studying logic, and they were talking about cause and effect, and you start to realize, ‘Hey, there is no cause and effect! There is no logic! There is no anything!’
12. Has Never Been Nominated For An Oscar
Even though he probably doesn’t care all the much, some might find it hard to believe that Steve Martin has never been nominated for an Academy Award. Despite all the hilarious and memorable roles throughout his career, Martin is considered by many fans and his peers to the best actors to never to be nominated… and couldn’t agree more.
That said, at the 5th Annual Governors Awards in 2013, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented Steve Martin, Angela Lansbury, and Piero Tosi with an Honorary Award. When asked what he thought about Martin finally receiving an Oscar, GoldDerby editor Tom O’Neil said it was a long time coming.
“They really owed him one. He was snubbed for All of Me and he has presided with brilliance as Oscar host many times.”
11. Stanley Kubrick Is A Fan
After seeing Steve Martin’s performance as Navin R. Johnson in the 1979 comedy The Jerk, famed director Stanley Kubrick met with the comedian to discuss the possibility of him starring in a comedic adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s novel Dream Story, but nothing ever came of it.
Years later, Kubrick changed his approach to the script and cast Tom Cruise as the lead alongside Nicole Kidman in the 1999 erotic mystery psychological drama, Eyes Wide Shut.
10. He Suffers From Tinnitus
Shortly after starring alongside Chevy Chase and Martin Short in Three Amigos in 1986, Steve Martin was diagnosed with a condition known as Tinnitus, causing the comedian to hear a constant ringing sound in his ears. Some have said the condition may have been triggered after filming the pistol-shooting scenes in the classic comedy, but that’s only speculation.
When asked about how he manages to deal with the constant ringing, Martin jokingly responded by saying “you just get used to it or you go insane.”
9. The Simpsons Cameo
Various actors have voiced characters on The Simpsons over the years, but some fans might be surprised to learn that Steve Martin voiced the incumbent Sanitation Commissioner Ray Patterson in the show’s 200th episode entitled Trash of the Titans, which aired April 26, 1998. As a result of the strong environmental message, the episode went on to win the show an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming One Hour or Less).
Fun Fact: The episode also featured U2 as themselves. voiced by themselves.
8. Appearing On The Dating Game
Back in 1968, Steve Martin appeared on an episode of The Dating Game… and he won. But there’s more to this story. When Martin found out that he’d be on the show and the women he’d be competing for was a childhood friend, he and Marsha Walker met to discuss hilarious questions and answers to ensure their victory. As you might imagine, the pair duped the show and won an all-expense-paid trip to Tijuana to watch bullfights.
Interestingly enough, those close to Martin have suggested his experience in Tijuana and watching the bullfights inspired one of the comedian’s greatest films, the 1986 western comedy Three Amigos.
7. His Father Disliked SNL… A Lot!
Most parents would be ecstatic to learn one of their children would be appearing on Saturday Night Live, but not Steve Martin’s father. Glen Martin, who worked at the Newport Beach Association of Realtors at the time, was so unimpressed that he decided to write a review of his son’s performance in the company newsletter. Glen wrote that “his performance did nothing to further his career,” which he later followed up with “I think Saturday Night Live is the most horrible thing on television.”
Steve Martin has since revealed that his relationship with his father wasn’t great as a child largely because two were so remarkably different. His father was a stern and relatively emotionless man, whereas he grew up a goofy jokester who just wanted to entertain and make people laugh.
6. He Became A Father At 67
Although it might be hard to believe, Steve Martin didn’t become a father until he was 67 years old. He and his wife Anne Stringfield, a writer for the New Yorker, gave birth to their daughter in 2010, three years after the couple was married. Shortly after his daughter birth, Martin appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman – a close friend of his – and was asked what name he and his wife decided on, to which Martin hilarious replied, “Conquistador.” The comedian went on to explain that he “didn’t want to go with one of those Hollywood weird names. Conquistador is a statement.”
5. He’s An Excellent Banjo Player
Steve Martin is best known for telling jokes and being goofy, but what some fans might be surprised to learn is the comedian is quite the accomplished musician. At the age of 17, Martin taught himself to play the Banjo with the help of friend John McEuen, who went to join the country-rock group Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Martin will always be best known for his comedic work, but considering he’s been nominated and won more Grammies than any acting awards
In Martin’s 2007 memoir Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, the comedian revealed that to tune his banjo he would take 33 rpm bluegrass records and slow them down to 16 rpm, allowing him to achieve the perfect sound.
4. Five-Time Grammy Winner
As mentioned above, Steve Martin is more than just a hilarious comedian, he’s an accomplished musician who has been lucky enough to win Grammys in his career. He won Best Country Album in 1978 for Let’s Get Small and again in 1979 for A Wild and Crazy Guy. Twenty-one years later, Martin and others won the Best Country Instrumental Performance for Foggy Mountain Breakdown.
Nine years later Martin won the Best Bluegrass Album for The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo, which featured Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Earl Scruggs, Tim O’Brien, Tony Trischka and Mary Black. Martin won his final Grammy (for now) for Best American Roots Song for Love Has Come for You, which he shared with friend and fellow musician, Edie Brickell.
3. Ranked No. 6 On Comedy Centrals’s 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time
Back in April 2004, Comedy Central ran a special broadcast where they ranked the 100 greatest stand-up comedians of all time and despite the stiff competition, Steve Martin was chosen at No. 6. To no one’s surprise, Richard Pryor topped the list and was followed by George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, and Chris Rock (in that order). The rest of the Top-10 consisted of Rodney Dangerfield, Bill Cosby, Roseanne Barr, and Eddie Murphy, although we have a strong feeling the Top 10 would look slightly different if it were done in 2019. Despite being one of the greatest comedians of his generation, Martin retried from stand-up in 1981 to focus on his acting career, which he later elaborated on during a 2007 interview with Time Magazine:
“My act was conceptual. Once the concept was stated, and everybody understood it, it was done. … It was about coming to the end of the road. There was no way to live on in that persona. I had to take that fabulous luck of not being remembered as that, exclusively. You know, I didn’t announce that I was stopping. I just stopped.”
2. He Created The Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Award
The comedian is so passionate about bluegrass and the banjo that in 2010 he decided to create the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Award to recognize “a person or group who has given the board a fresh appreciation of this music, either through artistry, composition, innovation or preservation and [who] is deserving of a wider audience.”. The prize includes a bronze sculpture designed by Eric Fischl, a cash award of $50,000, and a chance to perform with Martin live.
Recipients of the award include Noam Pikelny (2010), Sammy Shelor (2011), Mark Johnson (2012), Jens Kruger (2013), Eddie Adcock (2014), Danny Barnes (2015), Rhiannoon Giddens (2016), Scott Vestal (2017), and most recently, banjoist and songwriter Kristin Scott Benson (2018).
1. He Had A Surprise Wedding
Even though Steve Martin has spent the majority of his career in the spotlight, he prefers to keep his personal life private. When he and his current wife Anne Stringfield (also an introvert) tied the knot in 2010, rather than send out invitations to friends and family, they decided to tell everyone they were throwing a house party at their Los Angeles home. Once the guests arrived the couple informed everyone they were actually at a surprise wedding.
Some of the notable guests at the surprise wedding include Carl Reiner, Tom Hanks, Diane Keaton, and Eugene Levy.