Martin grew up in California and in his teens worked at Disneyland, where he entertained crowds with magic tricks and banjo music. After attending UCLA, he broke into show business as a comedy writer. In 1969, Martin won an Emmy for his writing on the hit TV comedy program The Smothers Brothers. He later wrote and appeared on other comedy-variety shows, including The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.
Meanwhile, Martin began performing his own comedy at nightclubs and by the mid-1970s was appearing often on The Tonight Show and Saturday Night Live, notably in the role of the “wild and crazy guy,” a wannabe playboy from Czechoslovakia. By the late 1970s, Martin was famous for his best-selling comedy records and shows, which included the hit song “King Tut” and the catchphrase “Excuuuuse me.”
Martin’s first starring role in a feature film came in the 1979 box-office hit The Jerk, which he co-wrote. He reteamed with his Jerk director, Carl Reiner, for three more zany comedies: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), The Man with Two Brains (1983) and All of Me (1984), co-starring Lily Tomlin. Throughout the rest of the 1980s, Martin showcased his comedic talents in a string of hits, including Three Amigos (1986), Little Shop of Horrors (1986), Roxanne (1987), a modern adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, for which he won the Writer’s Guild Award for Best Adapted Screenplay; and Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987).
The prematurely grey-haired Martin went from wild and crazy to parental (with equal success) in such films as Parenthood (1989), Father of the Bride (1991) and Cheaper by the Dozen (2003). He also went a more serious route, appearing in David Mamet’s enigmatic suspense film The Spanish Prisoner (1997). In 2005, Martin co-starred in Shopgirl, based on a novella of the same name that he penned. In that film, he played a wealthy businessman who romances a far younger woman, played by Claire Danes. Returning to broad comedy in 2006, Martin played the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther. Over the years, he has continued to appear periodically on Saturday Night Live and remains one of the show’s most frequent hosts.
In 2007, Martin published a memoir, Born Standing Up, which critics praised for its humor and candor. He had previously opened up to interviewers about his personal life, including his marriage to the actress Victoria Tennant, his co-star in All of Me (they married in 1986 and divorced in 1994) and his subsequent breakup with the actress Anne Heche. Martin married Anne Stringfield, a writer for The New Yorker magazine, which Martin has contributed to, in July 2007.