The old showbiz twist that an artist “needs no introduction” certainly applies to Steve Martin and Martin Short, who play Stanford’s Frost Amphitheater on June 30. It is even daunting to start summarizing their careers. Separately, each has extremely successful experience on stage and screen as an actor, each has written a memoir (“Born Standing Up” by Martin and “I Must Say” by Short), and each has garnered countless awards and accolades.
As well as being 20th century movie stars, Steve Martin built a career as a legendary stand-up comedian, author of books and plays, and respected banjo player, while Martin Short’s famous appearances in the musical “Godspell”, in Toronto’s Second City improv troupe, and in the sketch shows “SCTV” and “Saturday Night Live”, established him as a character actor and musical performer of foreground.
Together, Martin and Short were two-thirds (along with Chevy Chase) of the “Three Amigos” in the 1986 comedy film that brought them together. Subsequently, they starred together in two ‘Father of the Bride’ films and are now headlining (along with Selena Gomez) the Hulu mystery comedy ‘Only Murders in the Building,’ which Martin co-created. with John Hoffman and which earned both Critics Choice Award and Golden Globe Award lead actor nominations.
Now a recognized comedy team, the duo chatted with this publication over the phone to promote their current live tour together, titled “You Won’t Believe What They Look Like Today!” The pair have been touring in tandem since 2015, with their previous touring show “A Very Stupid Conversation” evolving into the Netflix Original special “A Night You’ll Forget For The Rest Of Your Life.”
Presented with their history together, the two immediately get into their double act. Martin quips, “Well, first of all, we have no recollection of any of these facts.” “It was supposed to be a joke,” he adds, “Boy! If that’s any indication of what we’re gonna deliver, we better do more PR.”
The duo’s self-deprecating banter forms the backbone of their live act as they insult each other, with obvious affection, throughout the evening. The two also tell stories, Short performs a musical comedy song and dances with Jeff Babko on piano, and Martin plays banjo with his bluegrass buddies Steep Canyon Rangers.
When asked if he had any hope of ever eclipsing the brassy Short, Martin replied, “I would say there’s absolutely no chance. And I’ll tell you why. is a fighter. And if he felt that I was even close outshine him, you wouldn’t believe what he’d pull off.” I gave singer-dancer-actor Short the chance to say whether or not Martin posed a “threat” to a triple threat like Short. “Well, look, Steve is a brilliant mind, you know. It is therefore a creative force that I have never experienced (elsewhere) in my life. I don’t find it threatening. He wears me out with his wit sometimes because he’s so prolific, but, no, there’s nothing threatening about Steve. Short picks up a perfectly timed comedic beat, then adds, “Especially if you’re in a fight.”
Looking back to their youthful inspirations, both cite Jerry Lewis and the classic comedy crews of Laurel & Hardy and Nichols & May, with Short singling out Jonathan Winters and Lucille Ball, and Martin quoting Steve Allen, Lenny Bruce and Bob Newhart. Many of today’s young comedy stars of course idolize Martin and Short, who have memorably appeared on the late-night talk show circuit over the years. Martin explains, “I do gigs with Marty. I don’t do gigs anywhere else except for the Oscars or to pitch somebody for the Emmys or the Kennedy Center (Honors), something like that. But otherwise, the only reason why I’m doing these talk shows is to talk about a project.
“And then you have to have material. So you end up, you know, playing in the shows. When really I’m not going there to play. Marty will come out with nothing to promote, and I don’t. I always like to have at least two minutes to kill by talking about something (rather) than cracking a million jokes or being funny… Is that cynical? Short answers, “But when you’re doing a talk show, Steve, you have to admit, for two minutes, you kill.” He pauses. “The problem is, you’re there for 18 minutes.”
Regarding how they put together their show, Short says, “We have an uncanny ability to share what we think is funny and who should be on it. I can’t remember a time when Steve said: “I don’t find it funny, ‘ and I’m like, ‘Are you crazy? It’s hilarious.’ We share a comedic sensibility that way, so it helps.” Martin agrees, “Sometimes we rewrite something and go, ‘Oh, that makes things better, or I’ll say, or Marty will say, ‘Well , let me try. I think I can do something with that.” And we’re okay with that because we know the other person will fly with it.” By keeping things loose, the two allow for the moment when “something happens that you didn’t expect,” as Short puts it, causing an ad lib that then enters the show in the future.
The same week, Martin and Short hit town, “Only Murders in the Building” returns for its second season (the first two of 10 episodes are released June 28). Of their creative input on the scripts at this point, Martin said, “I would say we’re pitching. The scripts are good, and every now and then we’ll think about it, like any actor would.” Short recalls that during filming “of the first episode of the first season, I was learning about the character through the writing of the writer. And then after a while, you convey enough of your own understanding and development of the character to the character (that)…maybe by the fifth script, you’d say, “You know what? I don’t think Oliver Putnam would say that.” And they will listen to you. Because now you are a partner in this creation.
As we bid farewell, I tell these international treasures to be careful on the road, that I’m not above wrapping them in bubble wrap to protect them from dangers like monkey pox. “Hey listen, this is how I travel”, short jokes. “So I – I’m not going to unpack for the show.” Martin: “Yeah, yeah. But I read that monkey pox is sexually transmitted, so neither Marty nor I could catch it.” Short: “Unless you can catch it through the stacks.” And with that, they’re off to make their next audience laugh.
Steve Martin and Martin Short perform June 30 at 8 p.m. at Stanford’s Frost Amphitheater. Tickets start at $49.50. More information is available at live.stanford.edu.