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Steve Martin's “Well, Excu-u-use Me!” - A Catchphrase That Started His Career

Icons | March 5, 2019

Paul Natkin ArchiveSteve Martin on 7/22/78 in Chicago, Il. Source: (Photo by Paul Natkin/WireImage)

Steve Martin was always a performer

Who would have ever thought that a high school kid selling guidebooks in Disneyland over summer break would end up becoming a world-renowned comedian? Even as a teenager and younger, iconic comedian Steve Martin found himself wanting to entertain others. He was happiest when he was in the spotlight amusing people. One or two were fine but a crowd is what he was going for and he never had any trouble gathering a mob to watch him perform. Steve Martin's stand-up comedy bits became popular because quotes from his performances would become not only his catchphrases but words that people used to emote in their everyday lives. The catchphrase "well excu-u-use, me" has been a pop culture staple ever since he first used it, and continues to pervade movies, TV, and even music to this day. 

Steve Martin. Source: (imgflip.com)

He had visual catchphrases

One of Steve Martin’s signature props was that crazy arrow through his head. This also turned into a fad and caught on almost as much as the "excuse me" catchphrase. For years after he began the routine it wasn’t uncommon to see people just walking down the street with one of those arrows on their head. It was so corny, but it got laughs and that’s what it was all about. Steve Martin’s comedy was self-mocking and always so offbeat and absurd that he just couldn’t be ignored.


Dan Akroyd (left) and Steve Martin (right)/Two Wild And Crazy Guys! Source: (pinterest.com)

He had so many catchphrases and famous jokes that everyone had memorized

Some of Steve Martin’s other quotes are equally comical although maybe not as well know. Listing them all would be impossible but below are some notable ones.

"We're two wild and crazy guys!"

“Always...no wait...never.....”

“I thought yesterday was the first day of the rest of my life, but it turns out today is.”

“A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.”

“I like a woman with a head on her shoulders. I hate necks.”

“Boy, those French! They have a different word for everything.”

“Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.”

“You know that look that women get when they want to have sex? Me neither.”

Many of Steve Martin’s famous punchlines were inspired by his time studying philosophy in college. Speaking about philosophy, Steve Martin has been quoted as saying, “It changed what I believe and what I think about everything. I majored in philosophy. Something about non-sequiturs appealed to me. In philosophy, I started studying logic, and they were talking about cause and effect, and you start to realize, 'Hey, there is no cause and effect! There is no logic! There is no anything!' Then it gets real easy to write this stuff because all you have to do is twist everything hard—you twist the punch line, you twist the non-sequitur so hard away from the things that set it up.”

Martin also recalled reading an essay on comedy leading him to think: “What if there were no punch lines? What if there were no indicators? What if I created tension and never released it? What if I headed for a climax, but all I delivered was an anticlimax? What would the audience do with all that tension? Theoretically, it would have to come out sometime. But if I kept denying them the formality of a punch line, the audience would eventually pick their own place to laugh, essentially out of desperation.”

Steve Martin posing for a picture while working at Disneyland. Source: (davelandweb.com)

Starting out, though, Steve Martin, by chance, ended up in the background of a home movie in Disneyland and VOILA! He had become a star!

During his time working at Disneyland, the Main Street Magic Shop was a frequent hangout for Martin in his free time. He found that performing magic tricks in front of the shop was a great way to get attention despite the fact that it didn’t get him a paycheck. In a stroke of luck, Martin was captured in the home movie of a family that had won a trip to Disneyland. The family was filming throughout the park to document the windfall trip which was subsequently produced and called, Disneyland Dream. As luck would have it, Martin was captured in the background performing, thus making that home video his first ever film appearance. 


Steve Martin/Let’s Get Small album cover. Source: (musicstack.com)

"Well, Excu-u-use Me!"

The “Excuse Me” track was on Martin’s first album, Let’s Get Small (1977) which went Platinum and made it to No. 10 on the Billboard Pop Album Chart. Make no mistake though, this wasn’t his first success in the writing arena. Steve Martin gained notoriety in the ‘60s as a writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. From there he began appearing frequently on The Tonight Show and the list goes on and on.

Steve Martin’s famous catchphrase, “well, excu-u-se me!” ended up being a comedy phenomenon made popular when he frequently hosted Saturday Night Live in the ‘70s. That common, three-word phrase that many of us have said countless times took on a life of its own when Steve Martin delivered it. The words themselves are not uncommon to hear but the emphasis he used coupled with his signature body language was brilliant and captured the hearts of everyone who saw it. The “well, excuse me!” catchphrase set off a national movement of sorts. Suddenly, it just seemed so appropriate and much needed in a lot of different circumstances. It was just what we needed, and boy did we use it. When Martin performed his excuse me bit, he would begin talking about something that would steadily enrage him. As he talked it through, he would get more and more agitated until he would exclaim, “well, excuse me!”

Even people who have never heard the track are familiar with the sentiment and still use it today. It’s just one of those sayings that will go down in the comedy history books. It is arguably one of the most memorable catchphrases and will forever be part of his legacy.

Steve Martin performing King Tut on Saturday Night Live. Source: (flixxy.com)

Steve Martin has since been in big screen films, television shows, and theater but is probably best known for his epic comedy bits including song parodies.

Chances are that if you are a Steve Martin fan, you probably have a favorite Steve Martin bit or catchphrase. His career as a stand-up comedian has incorporated everything from playing his beloved banjo to his appearances on Johnny Carson, to his iconic improvisation. Some of his bits are rehearsed and some are off the cuff, but you can be sure that they all get a big laugh. Martin has been quoted as saying, “The banjo is such a happy instrument--you can't play a sad song on the banjo - it always comes out so cheerful.”

Steve Martin. Source: (pinterest.com)

Steve Martin's legacy

Steve Martin was a groovy era pop culture icon who continues to wow fans. Throughout his career, he has been celebrated for his comedic genius with Emmy, Grammy, and American Comedy awards as well as an Honorary Academy Award and other honors.

Tags: A Brief History Of... | Famous Quotes From The 1970s | Rare Facts And Stories About History | Saturday Night Live | Steve Martin

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.