Banks attended Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Clown College. Shortly after that (during his honeymoon), he met fellow clown college alumnus Penn Jillette and began a lifelong friendship with the future magician. Both shared a fascination with punk and classic rock and roll music, yet both men eschewed drugs and alcohol. The two also shared a love for comedy.
In 1987 Banks landed his first acting role, performing as a minor character in the fantasy-comedy Date with an Angel.
Banks hit it big when he developed (and starred in) a one-man theatrical show titled Home Entertainment Center – a comedic play about an easily-distracted procrastinator trying to meet a work deadline. He gave 440 performances of Home Entertainment Center at venues like the Canon Theater, Pasadena Playhouse, Marine's Memorial Theater, and The One Act in San Francisco (where the show ran for eleven months). For his performances, he was awarded the LA Weekly Theater Award, four Drama-Logue Awards, and three San Francisco Bay Area Critic's Awards. He also performed at the Aspen Comedy festival, the Cast Theater, Callboard Theater, and Las Palmas Theater.
In 1989 Home Entertainment Center achieved national fame when it was filmed and aired on Showtime; the filming was done at the Marine's Memorial Theater. The show featured original songs written and performed by Banks. On May 14 of 1989, he appeared (with Penn) on the Dr. Demento radio program (that year's Mother's Day Special) and performed a number of his songs live on-air.
The ensuing fame landed him a tv pilot on Showtime in January 1991 – The Steven Banks Show (sometimes inaccurately referenced as The Steven Brooks Show). The plot of the show was much the same as his one-act play: Banks portrayed Steven Brooks – an underachieving, chronic procrastinator fascinated by trivia and cursed with a penchant for comedic songs.
In the summer of 1991 after Paul "Pee-Wee Herman" Reubens was arrested for allegedly masturbating in an adult movie theater, Banks was among a number of entertainers who protested the decision of CBS to drop Reubens' show from their lineup. Banks can be seen in a crowd of protestors on an LA street in the E! True Hollywood Story episode about Reubens' arrest. Reubens was later offered (and declined) a supporting role on Banks' fledgling TV program.
Showtime aired the pilot for Banks' show, but never ran any other episodes. In 1994, PBS took an interest in his act. They filmed and aired The Steven Banks Show that summer – the first original sitcom ever produced and run by PBS. Brandon Tartikoff produced the show, filmed at WYES in New Orleans. A CD album for the show was also released, consisting of original songs written and performed by Steven Banks. 13 shows were shot and the program garnered critical acclaim, but one episode "Miss Janie Regrets" was not aired due to controversy over a PBS-like children's show parody. Banks' show has attained a kind of cult status despite its short run on PBS.
However, that same year, Banks landed a bit roll in Beverly Hills Cop III. By the late 90s, Banks was making guest appearances on various TV shows, including Dharma & Greg, King of the Hill, and Dream On. He also appeared in Caroline in the City.
In 1998 Banks began writing for Nickelodeon's animated series CatDog. He wrote several CatDog books as well. He continued working for Nickelodeon, penning several SpongeBob books (including The Big Halloween Scare which actually charted on the New York Times bestseller list). In 2002 Banks was named head writer for The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, and in 2004 he was nominated for one of the 56th Annual Writers Guild Awards for the episode Rescue Jet Fusion.
In late 2004 he became story editor for the hit show "SpongeBob SquarePants" and has worked on the show for five seasons and continues as head writer for season eight.
Banks's novel (King of the Creeps) was published by [Knopf] in 2006.
He wrote the book and additional lyrics for "SpongeBob Squarepants: The Musical!" opening May 2007.
He was nominated for an Emmy in 2008 for the SpongeBob episode he wrote "The Two Faces of Squidward"
In 2009 he collaborated with the dance company Pilobolus on a full-evening piece "Shadowland" opening in Madrid.