Why actor Steve Martin hasn’t watched ‘LA Story’ in 30 years

Written by Kathryn Barnes, produced by Christian Bordal

When actor Steve Martin was 10 years old, he biked from his Garden Grove home to the newly opened Disneyland in Anaheim, where he sold guidebooks to tourists.

“That kind of changed my life and put me in the entertainment world,” he says. 

Now at age 76, Martin is still immersed in that world — as a comedian, actor, writer, and banjo player. This year, he co-created and starred in the Hulu comedy series, “Only Murders in the Building.”

This year also marks a special anniversary for Martin and LA itself. Three decades ago, the satirical romantic comedy film, “LA Story,” hit theaters. In it, a wacky weatherman (played by Martin) tries to win the heart of an English newspaper reporter (played by Victoria Tennant, Martin’s wife at the time), who is struggling to make sense of early 1990s Los Angeles.

The movie pokes fun at some of the LA stereotypes we know and mostly love: constantly sunny days, earthquakes that seem to faze no one, and shallow, beautiful people obsessed with fitness.

“Once I was on a plane from New York to LA, and I sat next to a woman who was very elegantly dressed. And we were talking a little bit. And she was very snooty about California. And she said to me, ‘You know what they're doing in Los Angeles now? They're dipping their bread in olive oil.’”

He laughs. “I don't think that's true anymore about New Yorkers' view of California. I never hear that anymore. But I do think it was a thing for a long time.”

Martin’s character in “LA Story” roller skates through LACMA. Film still courtesy of Kacey Porter.

The film also dabbles in magical realism inspired by LA itself.

“I remember driving on the freeway, and they were installing these freeway signs that could speak to you. … I was trying to be creative during that time and I thought, ‘What if they spoke to me and only spoke to me?’” he recalls.

LA takes some getting used to for out-of-towners, he notes. “It's sort of like you took a normal town and then stretched it.”

It’s not a criticism, he notes, but an opportunity of sorts.

“You know those shows where you can choose your own ending? Well, in LA, you can choose your own city,” he says. “You can link Santa Monica to whatever town you want to. You can link the beach to Pasadena and that's your city. You're going to have five stops and that'll be your city. You can have Melrose be part of your city, and not Olympic.”

“LA Story'' pokes fun at LA’s art world in the 1990s, which many viewed as inferior to other cities. Martin says that’s changed. “California artists started manifesting importance, and people had to take a retroactive look at the art and culture.” Film still courtesy of Kacey Porter.

Martin hasn’t watched “LA Story” since it was made 30 years ago. He doesn’t like to rewatch his films because he says he always notices something he wishes he had done differently. He has no idea if the film holds up.

“I was surprised that you called.”

Steve Martin grew up and went to college in Southern California. Now he lives in New York City, but he hates the cold. “I stay in my apartment from about November through April. I don't go out. I look outside. But I don't go outside,” he says. Photo by Danny Clinch.