I was enjoying a ritual re-viewing of The Jerk the other night, and realized what a long, steady career Steve Martin has had. Despite perhaps peaking in the late 1970’s from a total-mass-popularity perspective, he’s remained a consistent box office draw for over twenty years, without the typical overexposure backlash that long-term stars typically receive. Who else has had a similar run? Then I remembered Robin Williams’ career trajectory – arguably higher highs and lower lows, but also a pretty amazing run for someone that hairy. Who’s career has been better? Tough call – let’s take a look at the categories.
Music, Writing, Theater, Awards-Show-Hosting
Martin: I highly recommend Martin’s book, Born Standing Up, which details his early career, when he had a comedy/magic/banjo act. He won a Grammy in 2001 for his banjo-playing (in a band with Earl Scruggs) and has performed (non-humorous) songs/banjoing on television. He’s written the aforementioned memoir and a couple of novels, one of which (Shopgirl) was made into a movie. Martin also hosted the Academy Awards twice, wrote many pieces for the New Yorker, is an expert juggler and has appeared in some plays. Had a hit song with “King Tut”. Versatile – he was like the Ronnie Brown of the late 70’s.
Williams: Mork once was part of an Oscar-hosting triumvirate in 1986, along with Alan Alda and Jane Fonda (I bet talking politics with that crew was a real hoot). Williams has done a small amount of stage work (including Waiting For Godot with none other than – Steve Martin). He and Christopher Reeve were the only two students admitted to the Honors program at Juilliard in 1973, which is pretty cool. Being friends with Superman is pretty awesome. He also had a massive coke problem back in the day; given how manic he seems when he’s (allegedly) sober, I shudder at the thought of this guy on the horse. Wait, is that the right drug euphemism? Smoking rails? Doing coke – I shudder at the thought of Patch Adams doing coke.
Huge Edge: Martin. Read his book, he’s a driven, thoughtful, creative guy (who apparently has never really figured out how to relate to women, much to his chagrin).
Martin: Packed stadiums in the late 1970s and was literally a rock star. Ranked #6 in the list of all-time best stand-up comics by Comedy Central. Won two Grammys for Best Comedy Album. Stud.
Williams: Also was a huge draw as stand-up after Mork and Mindy. Upped the ante by winning three Best Comedy Grammys. Ranked #13 by Comedy Central.
Smidge of an Edge: Martin. In reality, he set the stage for comedians to fill stadiums and a lot of his bits are still part of the pop culture lexicon.
Martin: He has some old tv writing credits and was part of the ensemble that won a writing Emmy for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. That shit is older than me, so I’m pretty sure none of you fuckers have any idea what that even is. He’s done a few guest spots on shows like 30 Rock, but cameos don’t really count for much here.
Williams: He was fucking Mork! Mork! I think I had a Mork lunchbox back in the day. He wore his clothes backwards long before Kris Kross came stompin with somethin to keep you jumpin. Mork actually started as part of a dream sequence in an episode of Happy Days, but the character was so popular that it spanned the hit spinoff Mork and Mindy. Well it was a hit for a year, at least. And Mindy was pretty hot back in the day.
Huge, Huge Edge: Mork – nuff said.
Martin: This is going to be fucking difficult, so will just pick out their top ten movies: The Jerk, All of Me, Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Roxanne, ¡Three Amigos!, Parenthood, L.A. Story, Father of the Bride, The Spanish Prisoner (which I didn’t love) and Bowfinger. Has never been nominated for an Oscar but won other significant acting awards for All of Me and Roxanne. Still retains box office clout, with the Cheaper By The Dozen films and (inexplicably) the first Pink Panther movie all exceeding $80 million domestically this decade. (Holy fucking shit! Adam Shankman of So You Think You Can Dance directed Cheaper By The Dozen?!? And The Pacifier? I thought he was just a choreographer? No wonder they put him in the third chair permanently, he’s got a little clout.)
Williams: Good Morning, Viet Nam, Dead Poets Society, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, Insomnia, One Hour Photo, The Birdcage, The Fisher King, Awakenings, Cadillac Man. I admit, I haven’t seen the last four, but what I did was, I went through his filmography and cross-referenced both the critical reviews, audience responce and box office receipts for confirmation. Either that or I guessed. Three Oscar nominations with one win (Best Supporting Actor for GWH). Strong.
Slight Edge: Williams. The critical acclaim and greater stature of his biggest hits pushes him slightly over the edge. But honestly, if I was stranded and could only pick one of these two groups of films to watch for eternity, I’d take Martin’s. Better breadth.
Pop Culture Impact
Martin: “Well, excuuuuuussssse me.” “Wild and crazy guy.” “King Tut.” Popularized air quotes. (Punctuation, and especially visual punction, is awesome.)
Williams: “Nanu-nanu.” “Carpe diem.” “Good morning, Vietnam.”
Overall Better Career: I’ll grudgingly give the nod to Robin Williams. His best movies were more broadly appealing, and his performances in them were generally highly lauded. It’s close, though, because the breadth of Martin’s resume is more impressive and he arguably paved the way for the rockstar comedians to become movie stars. Both stars are in the twilights of their careers, but the Patch Adams‘ type roles have soured public opinion and shifted Williams to some very supporting or straight-to-video roles. But this here is a retrospective, so he gets the nod over the more consistent Martin.
(As a side note, “he hates these cans!” is still fucking hilarious. If I hadn’t started wastedpotentialz.com, I was considering starting a breast-rating website called hehatesthesecans.com. People would send in (SFW, of course) photos of women with breasts and then I, the narrator, would make disparaging comments about the breasts. Unless I couldn’t come up with anything disparaging – in that case I would send the person $100. Shit, that is actually a lot better business model than this one. Let me see what up with that domain name…)
Going to a reunion kids (that’s what you do when you get old) – maybe I’ll get my sober friend to help live blog? Probably not,