For Steve Martin and Martin Short, it’s all about making each other laugh
Special to the Daily
If you go ...
What: Steve Martin and Martin Short, Whistle Pig Vail
When: Sunday, July 14, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail
More information: Visit www.grfvail.com or call 970-777-2015
When Steve Martin and Martin Short take the stage for their “Now You See Them, Soon You Won’t” show, don’t expect to see comedy sketches or either performer doing characters he’s made famous over the past four decades.
Martin won’t roll out King Tut or his wild-and-crazy guy from “Saturday Night Live,” and Short won’t get into full garb or grease his hair to become Ed Grimley or any of his other numerous characters.
“We really wanted to make it new and not a nostalgia show,” Martin said in a recent phone interview. “The problem is, if you’re doing a nostalgia (show), you do all of your old bits, you never really feel sincere. You feel like the applause is ‘Oh yeah, I remember that’ rather than I’m actually laughing.”
In fact, the show, which they’ve been doing for several years now, is so new that it has evolved considerably since May, when Netflix debuted a show earlier in the tour, billed as “An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of your Life,” filmed in Greenville, South Carolina. The Netflix special earned nominations for multiple 2018 Emmys, including Outstanding Variety Special (prerecorded) and Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special, but Martin and Short have not rested on their laurels, putting in plenty of new content to go with the new name for this year’s tour.
“At first, we changed out everything, and then we realized there were certain bits the audience wanted to see again,” Martin said of the current show. “So we put them back in, and now we’re at about 70 %new material and then 30% on demand.”
The Martin and Short show is quite different from stand-up or sketch comedy. Instead, it works as almost a freewheeling conversation between the two comedy legends that mixes in good-natured insults, some memorable stories from throughout their careers — and music. Short, accompanied by “Jimmy Kimmel Live” pianist Jeff Babko, showcases his considerable talents as a singer, and Martin, joined by a band — at most shows including Vail’s it will be his regular collaborators, the accomplished bluegrass group the Steep Canyon Rangers — to play his signature banjo and perform a song or two.
The chemistry and friendship that Martin and Short enjoy is obvious on stage, and it’s a friendship that has endured for the more than 30 years since they met while making the 1986 film “Three Amigos.”
At the time of that film, Martin, now 73, was already a comedy superstar, having been the go-to guest host in the early seasons of “Saturday Night Live,” performed his stand-up comedy show at some of the largest venues in the country, and released several hit comedy albums, including 1977’s “Let’s Get Small” and 1978’s “A Wild and Crazy Guy.” He had begun what became a fruitful career as a movie actor, including featured roles in such late-70s/early-80s films as “The Jerk,” “Pennies From Heaven” and “All Of Me.”
Short, by the time of “Three Amigos,” had gained considerable popularity as a featured performer on the weekend late-night comedy sketch show, “SCTV,” and was coming off of his single season in the “Saturday Night Live” cast where his aforementioned characters, including the manic man-child Ed Grimley, the nervous, chain-smoking corporate lawyer Nathan Thurm and celebrity interviewer Jiminy Glick, provided some of the most memorable moments during the mid-80s. Short, now 69, has since acted on Broadway, had roles in numerous films and television shows, and had his own sitcom, comedy sketch show and syndicated talk show.
The current “Now You See Them, Soon You Won’t” show grew out of an invitation the two received to interview each other at the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Chicago in 2011. Martin and Short enjoyed the experience and realized that they could build a bigger show using interviews as a component. Short had also been doing his own touring show before the Just For Laughs gig happened, and elements of that production were incorporated into early version of the duo show. Then Martin got further into the act.
“He (Short) had a live show, and I sort of forced my way into it,” Martin said. “But the big thing, when the show started to jell — I didn’t feel I was contributing enough — was when I brought my band (the Steep Canyon Rangers) in. Now we had music for the show. We had some comedy I did with the band. We had funny songs.”
“And it just overshadowed Martin so much,” Martin concluded, firing off one of several quips aimed at his comedic partner.
For Martin, teaming up with Short for the initial shows represented a return to performing comedy on stage — something he had not done since famously quitting stand-up in 1981 at the peak of his comedic popularity. He isn’t breaking his promise about stand-up, though, because he considers his shows with Short to be a whole different undertaking.
“I don’t feel I’m doing stand-up. Stand-up is one person on stage for an hour and a half,” Martin said. “I would not have that ability. Even when I think about it, if Marty gets hit by a bus — which I’m driving — I wouldn’t even go there. It would too alone, too alone.”
“In fact, if somebody said, ‘would you like to do an hour stand-up,’ I’d say, ‘no way,’” he added. “But working with a partner is a very different thing. It takes the pressure off. You know, when I hosted the Oscars the third time, I was working with Alec Baldwin. And I loved it. The other two times, I loved it, but I was nervous. This time I was not nervous. I had a partner, and we could look at each other, we could talk to each other. It’s just a completely different thing with a partner.”
Short also prefers working with a partner to doing shows on his own, noting that he was never a stand-up comedian in a strict sense.
“My history was not stand-up,” Short added. “I was just someone who had to do a show. There was a part of it that was stand-up, but there were also characters, and my background was improvisation in Second City. I never did the clubs and did stand-up material.”
So, the fast friendship between Martin and Short that began on the set of “Three Amigos” has helped the pair construct a great show. That friendship was built around a simple foundation — they made each other laugh. Then there were other things they found they liked about each other.
“If he just made me laugh and wasn’t a kind or interesting person, then I would see him less,” said Short, who joined Martin for the phone interview. “But the main first thing with people like us is we make each other laugh.”
See Martin Short and Steve Martin play with Steep Canyon Rangers in “Now You See Me, Soon You Won’t” at at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, the first installment of the Whistle Pig Vail series. Tickets start at $65 for lawn seating.