Steve Martin: Comedy Of Non-Realism

 

”Humor is enormously complicated and its very hard to come out with any generalized truths. I think what makes up comedy, like a chess game or a baseball game, are million psychological knows and unknowns. If something makes you laugh, its funny.” (Lax: 2009: 66)

Starring with his first film The Jerk (1979), Steve Martin plays a man who is a complete idiot, he tells the audience ”I was born a poor black child” when he hears music (blues) he tells the audience ”I don’t know why but it depresses me”. There is a lack of reality in the film, why is a white man raised by a black family? Just think about how he gets rich, completely unrealistic, Steve Martin comedy is produced by absences of reality.
In The Man with Two Brains (1983), Martin plays a brain surgeon, he is a brain surgeon like he is black. There is nothing realistic in the way brain surgery is depicted, he performs brain surgery by screwing peoples scalp back on and off without any surgical equipment. When performing two brain surgery at once (another impossible thing), the audience watching the scene is an Indian who is dressed like a Native Indian, an Arab and Lone Ranger. Even the little girl he meets at the beginning of the film turns out to be an extraordinary person, who can remember an impossible things, which no ordinary child would be able to remember. When he runs over a girl, it turns out it was not an ordinary woman but a femme fatal (a dangerous girl who is after men).
When the women wake up after surgery, he reads her a poem by a one-armed man, who was killed by the worlds first car, the poems themselves a ridiculous, the poet was not a real poet, but a play on realistic expectation.
The further we are removed from reality the more comic the scene seems to be. From his name (Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr) to the elevator killer who works with a mad scientist, when asked what he wants for a drink he says Tahitian Tingle (a nonexistent drink).
In Roxanne (1987), the film losely adapted from Cyrano de Bergerac, about a man with a long nose, who is also a fire cheif, when the girl he loves (Roxanne) is locket out of her apertment, naked, she calls Charlie (Steve Martin) to open the door for her, he tells her alright, he just going to get his tool box, he does so, when they arrive at her house, he opens the box, we see in the box only a master card.
There is always an element of non-realism in Steve Martins comedy, in Three Amigos (1986), the three actors become what they pretend to be, in Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987), his journey is completely unrealistic (not that we expect realism), in Little Shop of Horrors (1986), he is a dentist, who acts more like Marlon Brando in The Wild One (1953) then any real dentist.
The first image we see on the screen in the film L.A. Story (1991), are of beautiful girls, by the swimming pool, tanning themselves then all of sudden a giant hot dog floats by. In the film Steve Martin is a weatherman (non-realistic of course, he is more of a comedian), while on the highway, he hears the news that its the first day of spring, his girlfriend start loading the gun, then everyone on the freeway begins shooting at each other, it is never explained why people in L.A become violent when it is spring.
Again while on the freeway, the freeway traffic condition sign, starts writing him messages intended only for him to see. If the non realistic element of the film hasn’t broken through to you yet, then when he gets home, a dog start barking at him, he tells the dog to be quiet, while he enters the code for the house alarm, after he turns it off, the dog stops barking, it turns out, that the dog was the house alarm.


Steve Martin With Cary Grant.

In the films of Steve Martin comedy is in constant battle with realism, you hear a dog barking, you assume, immediately that there has to be a dog. The logic of non-realism is tested to its utmost limit in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), the film supposed to be parody of noir films, but what they have done is insert shots of Steve Martin into old noir films, so that it seems Steve Martin is talking to Barbara Stanwyck or is in the same space as Ingrid Bergman. Woody Allen tried something similar in Zelig (1983), where he inserted himself in every historical event, he could find footage of.