When it comes to comedy, there are few people as influential and recognizable as Steve Martin. He was able to sell out a stadium that seats forty
-five thousand people, a feat nearly unfathomable for a comedian. In his autobiography, “Born Standing Up”, Martin shares with readers how he spent 10 years working on his craft before he became successful, and various lessons that he learned through his career. Interestingly enough, there are plenty of parallels between Martin’s career and that of any entrepreneur. I recently came across an article that discussed some helpful tips from his book.
When Steve Martin first performed on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, it didn’t really mean a lot. When he finished his set, not a lot of people cared. It took him about 16 appearances on the show over several years before he was truly famous. A lot of entrepreneurs assume that once they reach a specific milestone, then they’ll have made it. However, Martin teaches us that the reality is usually a lot different. It take a lot of time for success to come through, and when it does, it isn’t always what you thought it would look like. If you place your hopes on one single event, you could be limiting the possibilities and set yourself up for disappointment. But if you keep persevering, you will be successful. It might take time, but you just need to be patient and trust the process.
People are pretty bad at predicting their own happiness. Martin wanted to make it as a comedian, and after more than 12 years of multiple shows a night, he became wildly famous. His shows jumped from several hundred people to tens of thousands, and he was booked solid for two straight years. Yet this fame came at a high price, as Martin became exhausted and overworked. There’s a dark side to fame, as regular relationships with people can prove to be difficult, and you’re forced to say goodbye to privacy. Even the creativity of Martin’s craft was taken away from his performance; being on a giant stage surrounded by tens of thousands of fans means that you can’t really have fun with nuanced moves and experimenting with new material. This meant Martin became creatively stagnant, being forced to do the same material over and over again. He eventually quit stand-up, and didn’t reconnect with his creativity until he started writing screenplays and acting in films. Finding the “right” kind of success is difficult; it’s definitely possible to be “too successful”, so as you build a business, keep your values in mind and make sure that you’re creating something sustainable.
Make an effort to enjoy the early years of building a business or success, as those are the days that you’ll later look back at with nostalgia. Much later in his life, Martin visited one of his original performance venues, The Bird Cage, and commented how bad he wanted to relive those moments, before his career exploded. Enjoy the early days before you’ve made it big. There’s an innocence and simplicity to a new business that’s very difficult to maintain as you grow.