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The Real Story Behind Steve Martin Getting Asked, 'How Come You're Not Funny Anymore?' And Why It Made His New Documentary

 Steve Martin in Only Murders in the Building.
Steve Martin in Only Murders in the Building.

Steve Martin is one of the most successful comics to ever live. He sold out stadiums as a stand-up comic, something few have ever been able to do and has had an incredibly prolific career in films and television. Few would ever question that Steve Martin is hilarious, but the new documentary about his life and career does take a moment to recognize the time somebody asked him why he wasn’t funny anymore.

One of the moments that’s included in Steve! (Martin) the new two-part Apple TV documentary  is a bit with British comedian Paul Kaye, who interviewed celebrities as the character Dennis Pennis, grabbing Martin on the red carpet in 1996 and asking him “How come you’re not funny anymore?” Martin, not realizing at the time he was being ribbed, just turns away, looking quite dejected. Speaking with The Guardian, the comedian explains his reaction, saying that the question hit him quite hard in that moment. Martin explained…

It hurt because I was at a very vulnerable moment in my career.

The question was asked on the red carpet for Martin’s comedy Sgt. Bilko which, to be fair, is far from Steve Martin’s best work, and came during perhaps the roughest part of the star's career. It wouldn’t be that surprising if the reviews of that film did have an impact on him. While some stars say they don't read reviews, or claim they don't bother them, Martin admits that bad reviews do hurt. However, he says that claims that he stopped doing media entirely for a period following the red carpet blindsiding are simply untrue. He continued…

No! That’s just Wikipedia. Bad reviews hurt; they really hurt. But if I’m at a screening and I see the critic, I just go: ‘Hey! How you doing?’ Like you don’t know anything.

Considering that the documentary, which recently arrived for Apple TV+ subscribers, is designed to celebrate the life and career of Steve Martin, it might be somewhat surprising that the incident was included in the film at all. Director Morgan Neville says that, despite personally feeling the moment was “nasty” he wanted to show the way that talents like Martin’s are judged when they are trying to be creative. He said…

It was nasty. And I wanted to show how the world judges you when all you’re trying to do is be creative.

Steve Martin is arguably one of the most creative comics of his generation. He’s done serious dramatic work as well as his trademark comedy. He’s written novels and plays and is an accomplished banjo player. Not everything he’s ever done has been warmly received, but there’s no argument he’s been willing to try just about anything.  If you ever question the man's creativity and ability, there are some great Steve Martin movies out there to show you just how funny he truly is.