Steve Martin Ken Tucker - Essay

Ken Tucker

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Comedy Is Not Pretty! is Martin's third and most extreme collection of sweet-faced dirtiness, abrupt non sequiturs and fresh catch phrases…. Like most comedy albums, the new LP dulls after a few playings, and it ought to, because Martin relies so consistently on the gentle shock of his relentless meaninglessness. This must be going somewhere, you say about one routine after another, but they never do. He gets his laughs that way.

What Comedy Is Not Pretty! makes clear is the characteristic that's at once Martin's greatest fascination and biggest weakness: a complete lack of identification with his audience…. If his golden rule seems to be "Comedy is not pretty," its corollary is "The non sequitur is wholly subjective." For his absurdist jokes to work, Martin needs to control the atmosphere around them—which is why he doesn't do well with hecklers, why his suits are so prim and white (how can a guy this impeccable be this crazy?) and why he doesn't bother to make contact with the slavering hordes who are still wearing arrows through their heads and yelping "Ex-cuse me!" more than a year after Martin has gone on to something new.

Steve Martin's comedy is not only not pretty, it's also totally ironic. That's what keeps him such a daring artist and funny guy.

Ken Tucker, in a review of "Comedy Is Not Pretty!" in Rolling Stone, Issue 311, February 21, 1980, p. 57.