By Steve Martin and Harry Bliss

Celadon Books


256pp/$30.00/November 2022

Number One Is Walking
Cover by Harry Bliss

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In 2007, Steve Martin published an autobiography, Born Standing U: A Comic's Life that looked at his life and career from his days working at Disneyland through his decision to leave stand up comedy at a time when he was filling stadiums. Twelve years later, Martin returned to continue his exploration into his life after his stand up career when he achieved success as an actor in movies (and, eventually, television). However, Martin also realized that while he had anecdotes to share with his readers, he did not have enough to say to merit another full autobiography. He solved the problem by teaming up with cartoonist Harry Bliss, with whom he had previously collaborated on A Wealth of Pigeons, a collection of cartoons. The two used the same technique for Number One Is Walking.

For the first part of the book, Martin shared his anecdotes with Bliss, who illustrated the stories. Martin tells stories from the sets of various movies: All of Me, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and Roxanne and also talks about his relationships with Robin Williams, Diane Keaton, and Mike Nichols. Over the course of a few pages, Bliss provides illustrations to show the story's Martin is describing. In many of these, Bliss's dog, Penny, shows up to interject footnotes to provide added context to the stories (noting, for instance, that Mike Nichols directed The Graduate as well as a production of Waiting for Godot in which Martin starred with Robin Williams.

Martin walked away from his stand up career when it appeared to be at its height. He states in Number One Is Walking that he lost interest in films just as films lost interest in him. Similarly, mid-way through this volume, he has shared all of the stories of his film career that he is willing to share. The second half of the book consists of a variety of cartoons in which Martin provided the idea and punchline for the cartoons and Bliss created the artwork. As with all good cartoons, it is the combination of artwork and the text that makes them work. This is demonstrated in one of the few strips in the second half of the book, called "The Dark Underbelly of Cartooning," which provides the punchline before, several frames later, showing how it works with Bliss's art.

In the television series, Only Murders in the Building, which Martin does briefly reference in the book, his character is mocked for being old and out of touch. The cartoons in the book demonstrate that Martin is actually very much aware of the changing culture and technology of the twenty-first century, certainly enough to satirize it. Mansplainers, data mining, Tik Tok, and other elements that weren't part of the cultural milieu when Martin made The Jerk in 1979 appear alongside cartoons which would have not been out of place when Martin started his film career.*

Number One Is Walking presents Martin's stories in a unique and interesting way, along with the cartoons that form the second half of the book, but it is ultimately an unsatisfying book. The stories Martin tells of his years working in Hollywood merely whet the reader's appetite, making them want to hear additional stories of Martin's time as a film star. The cartoons are clever and witty, occasionally displaying an off-beat sense of humor worthy of The Far Side and for those who enjoy the cartoons, Martin and Bliss have their previously published book to dive into.

* Martin's pre-The Jerk film credits include a bit role in Another Nice Mess, the short film The Absent-Minded Waiter, Maxwell Edison in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and a waiter in The Muppet Movie.

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