7 Highlights from the Steve Martin Documentary, from Anxiety Struggles to Becoming a Father Later in Life

In the new two-part documentary, Steve Martin reveals sides of himself fans have never seen before

Published Time: 02.04.2024 - 18:31:09 Modified Time: 02.04.2024 - 18:31:09

In the new two-part documentary, Steve Martin reveals sides of himself fans have never seen before.

STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces consists of a part one titled “Then," mixing archival footage of early stand-up comedy days with narration, and a part two titled “Now," which includes glimpses of Martin’s life these days.

The latter includes interviews with the comedian and his friends and costars, including Diane Keaton, Tina Fey, Eric Idle, Jerry Seinfeld, Frank Oz, John McEuen and Martin Short.

The 78-year-old industry legend’s journey began with humble beginnings, working at Disneyland at age 10 and practicing magic tricks. While audiences may know Martin shifted from the stand-up comedy world to moviemaking, they may not know his reasons for doing so.

The Morgan Neville–directed documentary delves into the comedian-actor-musician-artist’s resistance to easy classification. 

Read on for the biggest takeaways from STEVE! (martin), now streaming on Apple TV+.

Growing up, the Inglewood, California-born Martin worked at theme parks, theater companies and eventually in nightclubs doing comedy. His “overly confident idiot” character, as he says in the documentary, became central to his offbeat act as he “started to realize what I was doing was a parody of show business.”

But as with most comedians, it took the Father of the Bride star years to hone his style and find a receptive audience. Though he studied philosophy in college, he didn’t consider other career paths — but vowed to quit if he wasn’t “making it” in showbiz by age 30. Through much trial and error — finding a cult following thanks to college gigs, but bombing at venues like Las Vegas or the Playboy Club — Martin began finding mainstream success not long before reaching his deadline. 

The act, which often involved magic tricks, playing the banjo and goofy glasses and props, brought him to television on the likes of The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. On the latter, Martin wowed Carson and fellow guest Sammy Davis Jr. during a 1974 appearance, earning the “instant endorsement” of a hug from Davis. Lorne Michaels then offered him the first of many Saturday Night Live hosting gigs that would lead to Martin becoming comedy’s biggest superstar by the 1980s.

Martin’s father Glenn “couldn’t quite be proud of an unconventional showbiz act that he didn’t quite understand,” according to the comedian. Among the documentary’s interviewees is his sister Melinda Dobbs, who remembers little affection from their father during childhood.

“I remember my father got very mad at me because I bought a pair of shorts that cost $4,” remembers Martin. “He was through the roof, that was a gigantic sum. But I earned it all myself. But then, from then on, I didn’t take any money from my parents, from age 10.” 

Elsewhere, Martin admits seeking his father’s approval overshadowed his career for years. Even after becoming a big enough star to headline 1979’s The Jerk, Glenn’s apparent reaction was saying, “Well, he’s no Charlie Chaplin.” 

“I always thought my father was a little embarrassed by me,” narrates Martin, who became “alienated” from him enough “that negative comments were actually my encouragement.”

A one-act play called Wasp, which Martin wrote in 1996, is dramatized in glimpses throughout part two of STEVE! (martin), with Finn Wittrock playing Martin’s autobiographically inspired father character.

Mostly chronological, Neville’s documentary includes occasional updates on Martin’s love life. At age 18, he remembers, he worked at a theater at Knott’s Berry Farm, where he fell in love with Stormie Sherk. Interviewed in the doc, she has since become Stormie Omartian, a Christian proselytizer.

The Planes, Trains and Automobiles star also dated Bernadette Peters and Melissa Trumbo, daughter of the blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. As he began working as a staffer on big break The Smothers Brothers Com -

edy Hour (which eventually earned him a writing Emmy Award), Martin dated a woman who it turns out was also dating the show’s head writer. Mason Williams is introduced in the doc as “Steve’s girlfriend’s boyfriend.”

Martin’s romances also included first wife Victoria Tennant (his costar in 1991’s L.A. Story) from 1986 to 1994, current wife Anne Stringfield since 2007, and a woman who Martin remembers accompanied him to a dinner with Steven Spielberg and later ranted at him, “Why can’t you be more like Steven Spielberg?”

But STEVE! (martin) also charts the artist’s struggles with depression and anxiety, particularly the loneliness that can accompany fame. “I was very isolated and very lonely. You literally can’t go outside,” he says of becoming a well-known comedian. “Your own silence is not there for you.”

Martin’s story of meeting the King in 1970 is one for the books. During a stint in Las Vegas opening for Ann-Margret and her husband Roger Smith, Presley apparently caught Martin’s routine.

“I see Elvis coming back to visit Ann-Margret,” narrates the Only Murders in the Building star. “He was all in white, and he had the big belt.” Presley, he continues, “says, ‘Son, you have an oblique sense of humor… You wanna see my guns?’ ”

“I feel like I still wouldn’t be able to say, ‘Well, the real Steve…’ ” says Fey in part two of STEVE! (martin). Idle, Keaton and other pals admit that although they’ve known Martin for years, they’ve never had a sense of who he really was.

“It’s a bittersweet chocolate bar,” explains Fey. “It’s Hershey’s Special Dark, it’s not milk. There is a longing at the center of pretty much everybody he shows us.” 

She adds with a laugh, “And the only person who can fix it is Martin Short!” 

Martin’s Three Amigos costar can be seen throughout part two of the documentary as the two work on their return to the stage together for a comedy tour. Short recalls how he clicked instantly with his longtime collaborator.

In a sit-down conversation with Martin, Jerry Seinfeld asks him what would happen to his career if Short were to die. “I would probably stop,” answers Martin.

Martin is among the many celebrities who have mourned the loss of Spaceballs star John Candy. In STEVE! (martin), he recalls starring with the late Canadian actor in 1987’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

“John Candy was very sensitive and very complex and we really loved each other,” he says to camera while showing off items in his home storage facility, including scripts of the John Hughes comedy.

“He had a beautiful scene,” he says, recalling “weeping” at a lengthy monologue Candy delivers — and that was subsequently “cut down to a line or two” in the final product. Martin holds back tears remembering his costar’s delivery of the speech.

Part two of STEVE! (martin) includes interview snippets from Stringfield, Martin’s wife of 16 years. In 2012 the couple welcomed a daughter —who the comedian specifies in the doc will not be shown in footage to protect her privacy —after being an onscreen father in the Father of the Bride films, the Cheaper by the Dozen films and more.

“The first time I saw true love in my life was after the baby was born,” Martin says in an interview, recalling Stringfield “looking into her face. And there was no one else on the planet.” 

The documentary offers glimpses of what Martin is like as a father: leaving cute video messages, teaching the banjo and making time in his still-busy schedule for his daughter. “He lets her style his hair a lot,” said Stringfield. 

“This child will never not know love,” says Martin’s sister, citing his rough childhood. “He can be the things that he wanted from our dad.”

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