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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Steve Martin is still finding new ways to make people laugh. Forty years on stage, on record albums, on the big and small screens, sometimes playing his banjo, the comedian is now on Twitter with nearly two and a half million followers. And his funny, slightly demented Twitter feed has gone old school, collected on paper in a book, where many of the biggest laughs come from his followers' responses.

When Steve Martin came into our studio he was carrying his banjo, and quick to admit that before he started tweeting in 2010, he was skeptical.

STEVE MARTIN ACTOR: I was actually talking to a friend of mine, Tom Hanks, and he was tweeting. And I said why do you do that? Because I had this perception of tweeting - that it was very low. And he said, Well, I use it actually for a promotion. You know, I talk about the movie I'm doing and I sometimes tweet photos, and it builds awareness. And I thought, well, that's interesting because I was growing frustrated that when you do a movie or a record that you have to promote it.

So, I was going on television. You know, I was playing to an audience of four million, for example, and maybe only 400 of them were actually interested in my so-called product. And I thought, well, if I had a Twitter feed, you know, and say I had followers of a 100,000, that means 100,000 of them would be interested in my book, let's say.

MONTAGNE: Which is logical.

ACTOR: It was logical, but it didn't turn out to be true. It turned out if I had a Twitter feed of a 100,000, four of them were interested in my book.

MONTAGNE: Its proportional - turned out to be...

ACTOR: Yeah. And so, now I have a following of almost two and a half million, and it turns out that tweeting is really only good for one thing: it's just good for tweeting.

MONTAGNE: When you first started, you were doing a series. Sort of, it seems like, something like a monologue on Twitter. I mean there's one of these - starts with this nice saying: A watched iPhone never sings.

ACTOR: I did a little series there. It's, you know, my iPhone is now lip synching. And iPhone just synched perfectly with toaster.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: What point were you at when you got to the - it's almost like a riff on jury duty?

ACTOR: This was inspired by, you know, I was actually called for jury duty, like, the third time in seems like three months. I started pretending as though I were at jury duty. I think the first tweet was, Report From Jury Duty: Defendant looks like a murderer. Guilty. Waiting for opening remarks.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: It goes on, and you're commenting on the other jurors - other jurors as stupid.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ACTOR: Well, yes. Report from Jury Duty: other jurors are stupid, they don't believe in hexes, plus they want me to put my magazines away.

What I started to find was that when people started responding, I found they were really writing well. I remember running into my wife a couple of times since and reading some of the responses, and we were laughing out loud. Like, oh yes. My tweet was - this was I was promoting my album "Rare Bird Alert."

And I tweeted: Rare Bird Alert number three on Amazon, I'm happy as a clam - Wait, are clams really happy? And a responder said, The chilling sound of clam laughter has caused many fishermen to quit the sea.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: Pure poetry. Why do you think people seem to be funnier in their tweets than they would ever be on comments on blogs and...

ACTOR: I agree and that's another thing I found. I felt like I was looking at kind of a new form of comedy, in a strange way, that was talking and response, and talking and response in a written way.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ACTOR: There's some of it and you can laugh just kind of looking at.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: Well, there's a whole riff on your Caps Lock key.

ACTOR: Yes, it was the premise that Caps Lock key was talking to the audience when I was away.

MONTAGNE: And so, everything is in uppercase. And...

ACTOR: Yeah, it was: Hi, I'm Steve's Caps Lock Key - it's all in caps - And I'd Like to Meet Other Caps Lock Keys. I'm Interested In boating and hiking.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ACTOR: And then...

MONTAGNE: There's a whole...

ACTOR: ...a guy wrote back in lowercase: your kind are not welcomed here.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: It is this you have gained these comedic collaborators.

ACTOR: Yes. And I've always believed that there are funny people everywhere, but they're just not comedians. In fact, some of my best comedic inspirations were not professional entertainers. You know, I had a friend in Texas, and his wife told me they were at an amusement park, and they came up to one of those maps and it had a map of the amusement park. And it said, You Are Here. And he looked at it and he said to her, How does it know?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MONTAGNE: Do you - it does seem like there was a random thought that would lead to a theme. And as the book goes along, it just often seems like totally random thoughts. Like, finally thinking about getting a computer.

ACTOR: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ACTOR: I like the absurdity of that. That you can't possibly be tweeting and finally be thinking about getting a computer, and then people immediately catch on to it. You know, I like the idea that one thing leads to another. You can tweet something completely innocuous and then find yourself going off on a tangent that's inspired by a response.

And, you know, these things appear on people's phones in the middle of the day. You know, it's not like people are gathered in a hall and they're expecting something funny. You know, talk about the unexpected.

MONTAGNE: Which is one of the key elements...

ACTOR: Yeah, it's a good thing. Yeah.

MONTAGNE: ...of comedy.

ACTOR: And there's absolutely no reward, but it.

MONTAGNE: But it's rewarding.

ACTOR: It is rewarding because it's just its own reward. It's sort of like Heaven.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER AND BANJO MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: The book is "The Ten, Make That Nine, Habits of Very Organized People. Make That Ten: The Tweets of Steve Martin." And remember the banjo he brought in? After we chatted, he picked up and played a new song for us, the song that you're hearing right now, which he may or may not be playing when his band, The Steep Canyon Rangers, goes on the road.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANJO MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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