Steve Martin tells the story of his career — through cartoons The banjo playing, acting and writer extraordinaire decided to tell his story in a new way: collaborating on his illustrated memoir, Number One is Walking with New Yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss.

Steve Martin tells the story of his career — through cartoons

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Steve Martin has done just about everything over his long career - stand-up, banjo playing, writing a novella and, yes, movies, a gazillion movies.


STEVE MARTIN: (As Navin R. Johnson) He hates these cans. Stay away from the cans.


MARTIN: (As Bowfinger) Hey, Jerry. How are you? Bobby Bowfinger, Bowfinger Films - we worked together on that thing, you know, a couple of years ago.


MARTIN: (As Jacques Clouseau) Officer Jacques Clouseau, gendarme, third class.


MARTIN: (As Neal Page) Where's your other hand?

JOHN CANDY: (As Del Griffith) Between two pillows.

MARTIN: (As Neal Page) Those aren't pillows.

KELLY: Martin says he has always thought about sitting down to write about his movie career. But so many of the best stories didn't fit into a cohesive arc.

MARTIN: I said, I don't want to do a book of anecdotes because, you know, oftentimes, they're tiny. They're little, tiny things. And I approached Harry, and I said, would you be interested in drawing up these anecdotes?

KELLY: Harry is New Yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss. And yeah, of course, he was interested. Their collaboration has now resulted in a comic memoir, "Number One Is Walking." When they came to talk with me about it, Bliss spoke of the creative process, of how Martin suggested anecdotes, including one when he, Bliss, was in a particularly receptive frame of mind. And just to note that he mentions drug use.

HARRY BLISS: One day, he called me, and I was hiking in the woods. And I had taken a small dose of a psychedelic, which I...

MARTIN: (Laughter) I didn't know that.

BLISS: Well, I didn't - this is not something I did as a kid. But...

MARTIN: I can tell you're high right now, by the way. Go ahead.

BLISS: I was walking in the woods, and I was feeling really good, and the phone rang. It was Steve, and I thought, well, I'm - I think I can handle this phone - I think I can handle this. So I answered the call, and he told me this really funny anecdote about - I think it was Selma Diamond. Is that right, Steve?


BLISS: OK. And so he told me, and I laughed out loud. And I got off the phone and I...

MARTIN: Well, you were high.

BLISS: I was - well, I was high, but I wasn't too high. But I just - when I got off the phone, Mary Louise, I was just standing there in the snow in the woods of New Hampshire. And it was just, like, indescribable to have that moment happen. So that's...

KELLY: Indescribable in what way? I mean, you have to describe it now.

BLISS: Well, it's almost like - I will describe it in a way that David Byrne described. It's like how did I get to this place? Where did this house come from? Where did this beautiful wife come from? I just...

KELLY: Why is Steve Martin calling me on this snowy walk in the woods to tell me to write his life story?

BLISS: Yeah. How did I get to this point? But it was a beautiful moment.

MARTIN: And by the way, each book comes with a dose.

BLISS: (Laughter).

MARTIN: Makes it easier to read.

KELLY: All right. We got to explain the title, "Number One Is Walking." Steve, go.

MARTIN: This phrase always stuck in my mind, No. 1 is walking. And it's used on a movie set. When the call sheet comes in, you know, the sort of lead actor, the ones with the most lines, is called No. 1. And then there's No. 2. and No. 3., the people - really, by lines. And when the AD - assistant director - is on his walkie talkie, they don't want to say - when you're outdoors, they don't want to say Steve Martin is walking to the set because it's heard all around. And it can create, you know, a hubbub or something.

KELLY: Right.

MARTIN: And so they change it to No. 1 is walking. No. 2 is walking. And it was always kind of embarrassing. So No. 1 is walking. So I'm doing these films, and I'm hearing No. 1 is walking. I'm getting even more proud. No. 1 is walking. That feels good. And then I did "It's Complicated" with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin. And I heard No. 3 is walking.


KELLY: You had been demoted. Did that actually happen? Is that true?

MARTIN: Actually happened.

KELLY: Well, that's something that struck me in this book. It's very funny. It's also very sweet. And I want to ask about the "Parenthood" chapter. There's a drawing of you, Steve, driving home after a screening of "Parenthood." And you're - you know, you're this huge star at that point, and you're really worried about your performance.

MARTIN: I guess there's an assumption that at a certain point, you're just supremely confident. And I don't think that's probably true for anybody. So I did this movie, "Parenthood," and I went to watch it. I could tell it was playing great. And driving home, I thought, wow, everyone in this movie is fantastic except for me. And I went home, and I laid in bed, which is part of the story. And I'm just thinking it over and thinking it over. And I thought, wait a minute. They didn't hire seven fantastic actors and one lousy one. So I must be good, too.

KELLY: Yeah.

BLISS: Yeah.

MARTIN: And, you know, it's just the thing of watching yourself because it's just you. I don't know how to describe it.

KELLY: Well, you say it in this chapter, which is something I hadn't thought about, but if you're ever feeling too insecure or sensitive, think about trying to watch a film of yourself for two hours in close-up and come out unscathed. And, Harry, your illustration of Steve...

MARTIN: It makes me laugh so much. It's what I'm seeing. Yeah.

KELLY: Harry, describe what we're seeing.

BLISS: Well, it's just a ridiculous pop - bug-eyed guy with a - he's got a hole in his tooth, and he's - it's just huge eyebrows. And the contrast between Mary Steenburgen...

MARTIN: Burgen.

BLISS: Burgen.

MARTIN: Steenburgen.

BLISS: ...In that drawing is pretty fun to do.

MARTIN: Yeah. And he put in my thought, which is, is that what I look like?

BLISS: And that - I will say this - the last - and this was a fun thing to do. The very last illustration - or drawing is more appropriate on this page - is Steve in bed and - you know, when he thinks to himself, I must be good. But I gave him two - a Laurel and Hardy dolls that he's sleeping with (laughter). And that's just fun because I know - we both love Laurel and Hardy and stuff.

KELLY: And so in this memoir about your movie career, Steve, it includes why you stopped doing movies. And there's a line - I lost interest in movies at the same time the movies lost interest in me. Really?

MARTIN: Well, I don't know if that's an exaggeration, but, you know, you get the feeling that the movies are moving on. There's new stars. There's new focus. Movies are different. They make different kinds of movies now. But also I wanted to stay home more because I have a family now. So I couldn't - I didn't want to go away to someplace, you know, for three or four months. And so when "Only Murders" came along, you know, I said, well, I have to shoot it in New York because that's where I live. And they - well, it's a New York story, so that's fine. And that's just worked out great.

KELLY: Harry Bliss, we've been talking about the arc of Steve's career. How about for you? Like, where does this tee you up for what you want to take on next?

BLISS: You know, I'm just not that ambitious anymore, I'm sad to say. I just - I don't know what it is, but I love working with Steve, and I love to cartoon. And cartooning I can do anywhere. But I'm with Steve in terms of family and, you know, I think that's far more important than constantly pushing yourself to be successful at something. I just - I like the process. The process is the most important thing for me. So...

MARTIN: Well, also my friend Marty Short said to me one time - he says, if we don't ease our ambition at our age, it's a little sick...


MARTIN: ...Or a little sad, I think he said as well.

KELLY: Well, here's to easing of ambition and to a great book, a great read. Thank you both so much.

MARTIN: Thank you.

BLISS: Thanks, Mary Louise.

KELLY: That is Steve Martin and Harry Bliss. They're the team behind "Number One Is Walking: My Life In The Movies And Other Diversions."


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