Timing is everything when it comes to comedy, and Steve Martin has been waiting an awfully long time to get something off his chest. “Let me ask you about something,” he says, speaking from New York, with his friend and current comedy partner, Martin Short, also on the phone call in Toronto. “In 1978, your newspaper published a review of one of my shows,” he continues, building up to something.
“Oh boy,” Short says with glee. But Martin quickly ramps down. “Oh, never mind,” he says, with a theatrical sigh. “Things pass.”
Short, who puts the imp in this impromptu routine, is not done, though. “Wait, what did they say about you?”
“I think it was negative,” Martin says. To which the zany Hamiltonian replies, “Well, I assumed that. But what was it?”
And on it went, with this interviewer a willing bystander to the banter of “two of the eight funniest people in the world,” according to talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. The duo are touring their comedic stage show, An Evening You Will Forget For The Rest Of Your Life, which is also the self-deprecating name of their Netflix special. The concert (featuring musical sketches, pro-level zingers, show-biz chattiness and double-barrel stand-up) is in Canada, with visits this weekend to Ottawa, Montreal and London, Ont., and Windsor, Ont., next month.
A show planned for Toronto’s Sony Centre was scuttled due to scheduling issues. But enough about that. What did The Globe and Mail say about Steve Martin in 1978?
The story, written by the late Donn Downey, was a review of a television special – a “one-man Laugh-In,” according to The Globe writer. Despite Martin’s salty recollections, the review of his show was not a pan: The comedian with the rabbit ears and white suit was deemed “hilarious,” with a “hard-edged brand of lunacy.”
What Martin may have remembered was that the praise thrown his way seemed to come grudgingly, from a critic whose compliments – “[Martin] has become a household word for the under-30s” – had a dismissive air. The reviewer also saw Martin’s performing personality as “unpleasant,” and, well, it was, wasn’t it?
Forty years later, for An Evening You Will Forget For The Rest Of Your Life, Martin has dropped the haughty-loony persona and let the clown’s mask fall away in a bid for a more relaxed kind of funny. He and Short are comfortable together as they jab each other and compete for laughs.
“We want to do a show that’s appealing,” says Martin, 73, when asked about whether his act has changed since 1978. “We just want to have a fun show.”
Short, 68, a Tony-winning veteran of SCTV and Saturday Night Live, has a hard time putting his comedy in context. “I have no perspective, on any level, of anything in my life. Maybe that’s sad. When I started, I tried to make people laugh. That was my intention. I’m still doing it.”
That Short is doing it with Martin now is natural development. After interviewing each other onstage for a Just for Laughs festival performance in Chicago, the pair – two-thirds of the stars of the 1986 movie Three Amigos – decided to expand on the concept and take it on the road.
Asked if the two of them are good friends, Martin says they are “friends.” Wait, just friends, not close pals? “We’re friends,” Martin reiterates. “Anytime you can get paid, that’s your friend.” After Short laughs, Martin feigns – I think he feigns – confusion. “Well, that’s the way I look at it. Do you not look at it the same way, Marty?”
Short answers quickly. “Absolutely, Steve.” And then a beat, before adding: “Is it Steve?”
Martin mutters, “Yeah,” just as the clock-minding publicist gets on the line to wrap up the interview. The last word, about Martin’s banjo playing, goes to Short. “When I see Steve play the banjo, it seems impossible,” he says. “It’s so intricate, like two brains going at the same time.”
Two minds at work simultaneously. Now that would be something to see.
Martin Short and Steve Martin perform An Evening You Will Forget For The Rest Of Your Life at Centennial Hall, London, Ont., Oct. 19; The Arena at TD Place, Ottawa, Oct. 20; Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Montreal, Oct. 21, The Colosseum at Caesars, Windsor, Ont., Nov. 3.