“Steve! (Martin): A Documentary in 2 Pieces” review: A… | WORLD
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Steve! (Martin): A Documentary in 2 Pieces

DOCUMENTARY | A famously private comedian opens up about finding joy late in life

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<em>Steve! (Martin): A Documentary in 2 Pieces</em>
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Rated TV-MA
Apple TV+

“HOW DID I GO from riddled with anxiety in my 30s, to 75 and really happy? How did this happen?” This question is at the heart of the new documentary Steve! (Martin): A Documentary in 2 Pieces, in which the famously private comedian opens up about where he’s been and how he’s changed.

The first half of the documentary, titled “Then,” recounts how Martin revolutionized stand-up comedy, becoming one of America’s biggest stars. Martin began his entertainment career as a teenager by stealing jokes and working in a magic shop in Disneyland. But during his college years, he became more thoughtful. He studied philosophy, wanting to discover the essence of humor, and he became discontented with mere joke telling.

Martin challenged the ethos of the 1960s with a new style of comedy that wasn’t interested in politics. Instead, he pursued an aggressively silly style that some people didn’t understand. What’s so funny about a gray-haired man in a white suit wearing bunny ears? Even so, Martin’s act resonated with young people, and he became a cultural phenomenon. Success, however, doesn’t necessarily bring happiness.

“Then” has historical clips spliced one after another, without the intervening talking heads that are common in most documentaries. This frenetic editing helps generate in the viewer a bit of the anxiety felt by Martin during these years. The first episode ends in 1980, when Martin at the height of his popularity walked away from stand-up after perfecting his act over the course of 15 years.

The second half of the documentary, titled “Now,” takes a more traditional approach, interweaving clips of Martin’s current life with the historical material. Martin describes his transition into films and reflects on what he’s learned over six decades of performing. “Now” starts to answer that central question.

Martin might have played a “wild and crazy guy” on Saturday Night Live, but for most of his career he had no personal life. His friends and family remark on his shyness and say he struggled to let people really know him. Loneliness became a defining feature of his life, and a sense of longing began to pervade his films.

Martin’s father looms large over this documentary. Young Steve didn’t receive affection from his dad, and even after Martin became a celebrity, his father never really understood what it was his son was doing. We hear the story of how the son came to terms with his feelings about his father, and how he ultimately found joy in becoming a father himself at the age of 67.

The show is rated TV-MA for language, but many PG-13 movies have more expletives than this documentary. Steve! (Martin) offers an honest appraisal of someone who only late in life feels comfortable with vulnerability, and it reminds us of the chasm that can exist between someone’s exterior and interior lives.

Collin Garbarino

Collin is WORLD’s arts and culture editor. He is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Louisiana State University and resides with his wife and four children in Sugar Land, Texas.



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