All of Me is the first comedy I watched multiple times to make myself cry with laughter. From there, Steve Martin came into my world in welcomed waves of absurd hilarity: The Jerk, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, old and new “Saturday Night Live” sketches (that dance with Gilda Radner!) and his stand-up. He’s written awesome books, screenplays and plays. And, if you didn’t know already, he’s an extraordinary banjo player. Lest you think this just another case of some celebrity trying his hand at being a cool musician, I’m telling you now, you’re wrong. Martin has been playing banjo since he was 17 when he used to take 33rpm bluegrass records and slow them down to learn the tunes. He’s used the banjo in stand-up routines as well, but over the years he’s only gotten better. In 2001, he played banjo on Earl Scruggs’ remake of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” and the album it was on won a Grammy the following year. In 2009, he put out his own full-length music-only album—sans stand-up material—called The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo. That album, which included a cameo from Dolly Parton, won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album in 2010, and it’s amazing.
That same year, Martin went on “Late Show with David Letterman” and gave out a statue and $50,000 check to a young banjo player named Noam Pikelny. Martin was warm and funny, but mostly selflessly promoting the rising banjo star on the show. When they played dueling banjos sitting next to Letterman, it all started out serious, but then, like an “SNL” skit, Pikelny got fancy with his finger-picking and Martin, in classic Martin deadpan, stared him down as the check in Pikelny’s pocket magically moved back into Martin’s, as if he’d decided to take his money back. It’s funny, and you still get a taste for good banjo-picking.
Martin’s upcoming show in Missoula promises to be a treat for audiences and showcase his sweet mix of comedy and musicianship. Do I have a celebrity crush on Steve Martin after all these years? Obviously. I bet you do, too.
- Erika Fredrickson