Steve Martin Saves The Jerk’s Script With One Sentence
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Steve Martin Saves The Jerk’s Script With One Sentence

As it happens, when Martin is on stage doing standup comedy, he often has a line in his back pocket that he will always use to win back an audience he deems lost. That “backup” comedy was enough to get “The Jerk” rolling.

The opening of “The Jerk” finds Navin living at home with his adoptive family, Black sharecroppers who feel they should never explain the adoption status of white Navin to him. Navin is so sensitive, however, that he assumes that he too has always been Black. Playing a joke on racial stereotypes, all of the Navins have beautiful musical rhythms while the Navins don’t. It wasn’t until he heard Lawrence Welk’s bland version of “Crazy Rhythm” from the 1928 musical “Here’s Howe” that he realized he could indeed snap his fingers to the music. Bland and boring “white man” music.

This entire introductory set is inspired entirely by Martin’s standup “run dry” line. As Gottlieb puts it, the process is stalled until Martin saves things. He started:

“No idea. We sat there every day. We had a nice little office in the writers building right on the Paramount yard with some new pencils and yellow pads and we’d go to work every morning and look at each other and say ‘Well, how about a . ..’ And then a few weeks went by and we had nothing.”