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Perseverance

On this week's Keepin' It Real, Cam Marston wonders if could do the same thing for fifteen years and know, just know in his bones, that it would pay off.

I’ve just watched the documentary on Steve Martin called Steve! A Documentary in Two Pieces. I’ve always liked Steve Martin.

What caught my attention the most is that he did his standup act for fifteen years. The vast majority of that time, his audiences were very small. In one video clip, he’s counting the number of people in the room during his act. There were fifteen people there. He got what he thought were big breaks that bombed, in one case opening for Anne Margaret in Las Vegas and after he finished his act all his belongings had been put in a box outside his dressing room.

However, the last stand-up comedy act he did was at the Nassau Coliseum outside New York City where he sold it out three nights in a row – 45,000 people each night. After the third night, he walked off the stage, never to do that act ever again. He was at the top of his game. It took him fifteen years to get there, and then he was done.

Question: Who of us have the will, the fortitude, to persevere for fifteen years – fifteen years - with the hope – actually, the confidence – that what we’re doing will ultimately pan out. When giving up or changing course is a very real option but we chose not to do it because our vision of what could be is so strong. I’m not sure I do. How many of us can see the need for a change, or see a change coming, and get out in front of it, remain confident amongst the failure and rejection, and never waver.

A number of times during the documentary Martin says that he did his act because he had few other options. The little money it brought in was all he had. Those interviewed, though, said he was waiting for society to catch up to his humor. Steve Martin changed standup and comedy and humor. He could see the change coming, but the vast majority of society wasn’t aware that a change was happening. Martin saw it coming, ever so slowly, so he kept going.

It's one thing to ID forthcoming changes in technology and how to get ahead of those changes to profit from new products – think Steve Jobs and the iPod – but what Steve Martin did was predict a change in the ethos of the United States following Vietnam. He had a hunch people would be different, and he kept at it, and, in time, he was proven right.

What’s the moral of this story? Someone like that is out there amongst us right here and right now, doing something we think is foolish or that doesn’t seem funny or saying something that doesn’t sound smart or goes against the grain of society. We ridicule them or cast them aside or, more likely, just ignore them, but they keep coming back. Perhaps we should take a look.

I’m Cam Marston, and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.

Cam Marston is the Keepin' It Real host for Alabama Public Radio.