When Andrea Martin turned 65 two years ago, she made a decision. She’d had it with saying no to offers, with taking time out between jobs to “normalize” her life, and with the stop-and-start career momentum that that had created. She decided screw it. (She put it more colourfully than that.) From then on, she was going to go for it. She was going to say yes.
“When I heard the words ‘old age pension’ and ‘retirement,’ and learned I can get into the movies for $4 cheaper, everything kind of hit me,” Martin said by phone from New York on a recent Friday night. “I have less life to live than I have lived. I hate to use an Oprah word, but it really was an a-ha moment. I thought: ‘Life can change on a dime, so I’m going to change it.’ I realized I’ve got to walk the talk.”
Based on the day she was having, it was more like running: She had been up at 6 a.m. to work on the final chapters of a book to be published in September that she hopes to call Andrea Martin’s Lady Parts (her editor at Harper Collins is almost persuaded). It began as a collection of humorous essays, but has evolved into more of a memoir, and the manuscript was due March 17.
“It wasn’t truthful to strictly make it comedic and superficial,” Martin says. “How could I not include things that I’ve experienced in the last 20 years? My mother’s and father’s deaths, my kids getting older, my friends dying of AIDS or cancer, my relationships with younger men.”
Relationships with younger men? “There was one,” Martin admits. “You’ve got to buy the book to hear about that! I’m not dating anyone now, but I don’t think it’s ever too late. I mean, love happens in prison, so you never know.”
Throughout our conversation, Martin’s words tumble out so quickly I feel like I’m running alongside her, trying to keep up. Her voice is familiar, warm, inflected with her Armenian roots and Maine upbringing. (People think she’s Canadian, because she spent formative years in Toronto, but she’s American.) Her manner is intimate, just us gals; she calls me by name a lot, occasionally adding “babe,” or “honey.” Even when earnest, she has a can’t-help-herself comedian’s delivery, peppering her chatter with ba-da-bump punchlines and the occasional BURST of volume.
To continue her day: From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., she was in final rehearsals for Act One, a play based on Moss Hart’s iconic book about theatre life; previews began March 20 at New York’s Lincoln Center. (For those in the dark, Hart and partner George S. Kaufman were the premiere playwrights of the 1930s, winning a Pulitzer for You Can’t Take It with You.) In Martin’s last turn on Broadway, in an acclaimed revival of Pippin for which she won a Tony and that she left in September, 2013, she had dangled on a trapeze nearly five metres in the air, doing an acrobatic routine created by Les 7 doigts de la main. This time, she’s playing four characters, which she says is equal parts thrilling and gruelling.
Now, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m, she’s doing interviews for her new sitcom, Working the Engels, which debuted on Global on March 12 and will begin on NBC on July 10. She plays mother to three eccentric grown children who unite to save the family law practice. (In real life, Martin has two grown sons from her former, 24-year marriage to Canadian screenwriter Bob Dolman.) The three episodes I’ve seen take full advantage of her manic physicality: She falls off a roof, makes hay with crutches, stomps her way through a hip-hop contest. The series was shot in Toronto, where Martin keeps a home, and old pals dropped in to guest star: Eugene Levy, Martin Short, Scott Thompson.
To cap her day, Martin planned to squeeze in another hour of writing before bed. “I have a lot of energy,” she understates. “Some of it is genes. I’m healthy, I work out. Most of it has to do with attitude. I have a real enthusiasm for life. I love what I do. I’m curious. Things excite me, they make me laugh.”
It’s not like Andrea Louise Martin had ever quit working. She acted in films (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) and telefilms, guest-starred on television’s Nurse Jackie and 30 Rock, appeared steadily on New York stages. But she sometimes let fear get in her way. “Fear of succeeding, fear of failing, fear of what people thought,” she says. When 65 rolled around, however, she suddenly stopped caring what people think.
“And the reason is, I have no control over what they think!” she exclaims. “You win the Tony, some people think you shouldn’t have, but it doesn’t matter! Because you know what? People are into their own lives. They really care less about you than you think they’re caring.”
Other things Martin has learned: Botox and Restalyne make her feel good, but no one notices. (I disagree there; it’s noticeable.) Five pounds on her body don’t make a difference. Spanx don’t work. “We can talk about happiness, success and love, but I think the most important thing to own is one’s authenticity,” she says. “That’s taken me a long time, a really long time, to honour. I was too concerned with pleasing people. Now I can say: ‘I’d love to be at your function, but I’m too tired.’ Or, ‘I really appreciate the note you’re giving me, but I don’t agree with it.’ I feel like I’m an adult, and I’m going to talk to somebody like an adult. That’s a very big thing for me.”
She has also found the secret to her comedy. “This may surprise you,” she says. “It’s truth. I approach every comedic role the same way I would a classic role. It’s all about intention. What does the character want? What does she need? Otherwise, the stakes wouldn’t be as high. That’s why you don’t laugh at bad sitcoms. Because nobody’s playing the real intention, they’re just doing one-liners.”
Another comedic trend she opposes is crassness for crassness’ sake. “Comedy can do whatever it wants, and there’s an audience for it, and God bless,” Martin says. “But I want to stay clear of that. Maybe that’s my roots in Second City. Cheap humour is the easiest laugh. It’s much more difficult to write characters who are funny, than words that are dirty. I mean, how many times can you say ‘vagina?’
“Now, hon, I have to sign off,” she finishes, her timing sharp as ever. She tears into her next interview. I go and lie down for her.
An earlier version of this article on comedian Andrea Martin incorrectly said in a headline that she is 65. In fact, she is 67. Also the article said incorrectly that the show debuted on NBC and Global on March 12. The show is on now in Canada, but it starts its NBC run July 10. Also the article incorrectly said Cirque du Soleil designed her trapeze routine, when in fact, the production of "Pippin" features circus work by Montreal-based Les 7 doigts de la main.