Steve Martin, a Mild and Crazy Guy

In a revealing memoir, Steve Martin relives his birth as a comic

Michael Grecco for TIME

"I thought it was going to be really easy," says Martin of writing his memoir.

His look was reassuringly ordinary: a smiling, Waspy face under a helmet of graying hair. But what he did onstage was unsettling. His act was in part that of an entertainer at a kid's birthday party--juggling, fashioning balloon animals, wearing a gag arrow through his head--but the whole thing was set within ironic quotation marks. It was stupid-smart: a clever man playing someone with misplaced self-confidence who didn't realize he was a buffoon. This guerrilla comic in a three-piece suit was daring the crowd to get it. And for a long time, there were no crowds. He had one 3 p.m....

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