The Jerk: How Steve Martin Found His Rhythm

By Linda Speckhals
Source: (IMDb).

Steve Martin got his start writing comedy, before transitioning to standup comedy, and then, with The Jerk (1979) into acting. In the film, Martin’s first, he plays Navin R. Johnson, the adopted son of black sharecroppers. Although he is unaware of his adoption, it is clear, not just because of his skin color, but also because he has no sense of rhythm. He hears a rendition of “Crazy Rhythm” on the radio and starts to dance. He interprets this as a sign that he should head to St. Louis, where the song was broadcast. He stops in a hotel, where a dog barking at his door wakes him. Assuming that the dog is alerting him to fire, he wakes other guests. He adopts the dog and calls it “Shithead” based on the suggestions of the other hotel guests.

He Goes From Rags...

Navin begins working at a gas station, where he also gets a room. This leads to his address being listed in the phone book, where a madman finds it and decides to target him as a “random victim bastard.” While Navin is helping a customer, Stan Fox, with his glasses, he stumbles on a new invention, and Stan offers to split the profits with Navin if he can market the invention. When Stan leaves, the madman, who sees his opportunity, shoots and misses. The madman then chases Navin to a traveling carnival, where Navin finds a job as a weight guesser and meets Marie, and falls in love with her. When she leaves him because he is not financially secure, he tells Shithead to find a better master but changes his mind.