Separately and together, Steve Martin and Martin Short have been making us laugh for decades, be it on “Saturday Night Live” or “Three Amigos.”
Or performing with the Steep Canyon Rangers. Or as Jiminy Glick. Or writing plays. Or books. Or doing one-man shows. Or in movies. Or, you know, everything the pair has done in a combined 95 years in show business.
You’ve probably seen them in one of the above roles. Or maybe you saw them the last time they were nearby. Maybe you watched their Netflix special.
But this time around is different.
“It’s so different,” Martin told The World-Herald in a joint interview with Short that was long on observations about comedy, their show and insults directed at each other. “It’s new jokes, new material and what we call in the comedy business ‘new chunks.’ You ever use the word ‘chunk,’ Marty?”
“I’ve never applied that word to comedy,” Short said.
“You’ve only applied it to cheese,” Martin quipped.
On Thursday, the pair will perform their show, “Now You See Them, Soon You Won’t,” a combination of stand-up, stories, songs and other, uh, chunks at the Orpheum Theater.
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This once-in-a-lifetime interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: I have a cold, so I’m sorry if I sound funny.
Short: You sound fantastic!
Martin: I’m going to go put on a mask.
Q: How much do you work this material? Feels like a lot of things are off-the-cuff, but maybe you’ve just worked it that much.
Martin: We actually work at making it look fresh every night. That’s what doing a play is. That’s what doing stand-up comedy is. There is a phrase for it in theater, which you’ve probably heard: “The illusion of the first time.” You have to make it look like it’s the first time you’ve ever said it.
And Marty, his premise is the illusion of the ninth time.
Short: That’s my gift. I work every night to make it feel as stale as the night before.
Q: How much do you enjoy the show? You genuinely seem to enjoy each other’s company and being up there.
Short: I think we are. I think that’s why we love doing it. The show is fun to do. We are great friends, so we love to hang, also with the Steep Canyon Rangers and Jeff Babko. These are people that it’s fun to just have dinner with them. The whole event is as much fun as you could do.
Martin: I don’t think we are. I know we are. We really enjoy the show. We rehearse before every show. Go over stuff we’ve done a million (times) and get it in our bones again. And it’s really, for me, this is my career. And also, it’s so fun. They always do something you love to do. For the first 40 years of my career, I did it, but I was always nervous and always worried. This is the first time I’ve actually really enjoyed just going out there on stage and doing the show and having some laughs and feeling secure in a way.
Q: For both of you, it’s a show that touches on every part of your career.
Martin: I love the variety show element of it. I wouldn’t do a variety show for its own sake, but it’s just defaulted into, “And now we’re gonna play a funny song. Now Marty’s gonna do a monologue. And now he’s gonna sing a funny song. Now we’re gonna do something together.” It’s just kinda worked out that way.
Q: Do you enjoy that you can do whatever you want?
Short: Well, it’s all pretty structured. We do structure it out. We know they have come to see comedy. Steve will be overly cautious about how many songs can we in a row do without a joke. It’s the combination of all of that that makes it such an interesting evening.
Q: You’ve done the show a lot. Do you see yourselves continuing for a long time?
Martin: We’ll continue as long as the audience is there. We have crisscrossed the country quite a bit now. We’ll probably take a little break and look into other ways to do the show, whether it’s Europe or something like that. We don’t know yet.
Q: Has it been hard to do it among the other things you have going on?
Martin: One year, we did 60 shows. Sounds like a lot. But it’s probably four shows a month. It’s not that demanding on our time. It’s demanding on our psyche, because we want to do a good job. In terms of physical pain, it’s pretty easy.
Q: Tell me about how you met. Did you meet on “Three Amigos”?
Short: Yeah, exactly. I actually met Steve at his house, going over to his house to pick up a script for “Three Amigos.”
Martin: We had never met before.
Short: It was, “Here you go.”
Martin: That meeting was too brief, but during the shooting, that was where we clicked.
Short: As you do when you make a film, you can be in Istanbul for three months with people and never see them again. But in this case, I think we both made conscientious effort to keep seeing each other.
Martin: But when you showed up at my house with my bags packed, that concerned me.
Short: I just assumed that’s what you wanted. I had no idea. Your reaction was so negative.
Martin: You’re misreading my cues.
Q: You’ve done a lot together. Those times when you were in the same film, was that by chance or on purpose?
Martin: We did “Three Amigos,” and we were identified as people who knew each other. Then “Father of the Bride” came along. Pretty much, they wanted Marty Short to play that role and they wanted me to play my role. But it had nothing to do with that we’re friends. That worked out really well. It made the movie so much more fun, and we had Diane Keaton there to laugh with.
Q: You guys grew up in totally different places — Los Angeles and Hamilton, Ontario — but your comedic sensibility is very similar. Can you explain that?
Short: I don’t know. I think that’s one of the reasons that working with each other is so easy, because we don’t come from different approaches to working or rehearsing. We share a similar instinct. If I pitch a joke and Steve goes, “Eh,” there’s a good chance that it shouldn’t be in the show.
Martin: And if I pitch a joke and Marty goes, “Eh,” I know that’s a joke that should be in the show because he has terrible instincts. I don’t know that our styles compare.
Short: You’re right. Not our styles, but our instinct.
Martin: Our ethic is very similar. Trial and error. No rehearsal is too much. We’re always kinda looking for a bit of change. But if we said, “Let’s switch roles tonight,” we would have a problem. Neither of us do what the other person does.
Short: I can’t play the banjo, and Steve has trouble moving.
Q: You guys have been doing comedy for a long time. Do you think comedy has changed?
Martin: I think that comedy is constantly moving. And since we came into the public eye — for me the ’70s, and for Marty the 2010s — comedy has been through so much changing. And sometimes it goes back to square one. You have comedians in the ’80s who are completely filthy, but now you have John Mulaney, who’s completely clean. Or Jerry Seinfeld. It’s just all over the place. It’s completely different styles.
Andrew Dice Clay, he just did a character onstage. I did, too, but his was a more definable character. There haven’t been any comedy teams. I don’t know if you’d call us a comedy team. We’re just two guys. I guess we’re a comedy team in that we’re a dumb one and smart one.
Short: Kind of a good-looking one and a monkey. That could be me, too. Damn it.
Martin: That’s what I mean about the dumb one.
Short: I think all styles change. You even look back at stars of the ’30s and ’40s who wouldn’t get a smile from anyone now. But some of them, like W.C. Fields or Laurel and Hardy, if you played it in a movie theater, you’d get the same laughs. That’s always interesting why certain kinds of comedy are more timeless than others.
Certainly, this is a tricky time with (political correctness). But that will probably go back to a rebellion against that in 15 years, you know?
Q: One of the funniest things you guys do is make fun of each other. Is that off-the-cuff, or do you practice the insults?
Martin: First of all, that reflects our personal life. That’s the most accurate reflection of how we behave off screen. We try to hone it. We don’t ad-lib that much during that section. We like really clever jokes and material. When you start ad-libbing, you don’t know what you’re going to get.
The puppet-masters: the 20 best puppets of all time
With “Muppet Babies” returning to the air, Frank Oz starring in “Muppet Guys Talking,” a new puppet murder mystery coming from the Jim Henson Company and ventriloquist comedian Jeff Dunham in town, we’re feeling a bit fuzzy.
But with all of these felt and foam characters invading our headspace, it got us wondering: Which puppets are among the most powerful? Who are the puppet-masters pulling the strings of modern society? Why do we keep asking rhetorical questions? Will these questions ever end?
In an effort to address this age-old query (one that was once posed by Socrates himself), we have asked and answered the question of the most powerful puppets. Here is the power ranking of the best puppets of all time. — Words by Kevin Coffey and Micah Mertes, illustrations by Matt Haney