As live comedy evolved from exhausted Catskills stage banter to fang-laden stand up and off-the-wall sketches, Steve Martin and Martin Short presided at the comedic vanguard. They’ve since united with late-night TV’s Jeff Babko and the Steep Canyon Rangers bluegrass band for the variety show “An Evening You Will Forget For The Rest Of Your Life.”
In advance of the show’s Toledo Zoo Amphitheater (2700 Broadway) performance on May 25th, the City Paper called Steve Martin and Martin Short to talk about foregoing political jokes, giving the audience its money’s worth as well as Steve Martin’s pulse.
TCP: After a few decades in show business, is performing as exciting all these years later?
Steve Martin: Yes, in fact, it’s actually more exciting for me now. As a stand up [comic], I always worked alone and to work with someone else on stage, I did it with Alec Baldwin at the Oscars and I thought, “Gee, this is great.” It’s so great to have someone else there to bounce off and to work with. And that’s the way I feel working with Marty.
Martin Short: The whole group is harmonious and fun. The hang is sometimes more important than the actual job, but the hang is perfect on this show.
Steve Martin: Does anybody want to know what my pulse is?
TCP: Your pulse?
Steve Martin: It’s 67.
TCP: That sounds healthy.
Steve Martin: I’m looking at my Fitbit and my pulse is 67. I want that in the article.
Martin Short: Just imagine what it would be if you were alive.
Steve Martin: Is Toledo still in Ohio?
TCP: Yeah, it used to be a disputed part of Michigan and then there was a conflict in the 1800s that officially gave it to Ohio.
Steve Martin: I always remember that Toledo was always moving around.
TCP: What extended metaphor would you use to describe the show?
Steve Martin: Does it have to be a metaphor?
TCP: Not necessarily.
Steve Martin: Good. I’m this WASP-y guy from Orange County, CA, and I feel like I want to give the audience their money’s worth. I want them to go out going, “That was worth it.” When I was doing stand up, if I did a bad show, I’d go, “Ugh, I can’t stand that I did a bad show. They got dressed and they drove here and I did a bad show.” But we don’t really do bad shows.
TCP: Do you have a philosophy for writing jokes?
Steve Martin: There’s no real adages that I think we operate by, but I have noticed that as I’ve gotten older I tend to do less iconoclastic material. I’m not out attacking people whereas I would have when I was younger. I would almost say anything. And now you have a little more life [experience] and you have a little more empathy with people. We’ve taken jokes out when we thought, “It gets a huge laugh, but it’s just too cruel.”
TCP: I’ve also read that you guys are doing your best to avoid political jokes too.
Martin Short: Well we do a little bit of it.
Steve Martin: We don’t try to be, “Oh, they’re left; oh, they’re right.” We just try to do a funny show. We have a section with Jiminy Glick where we do a lot of political material, but somehow we get away with it.
Martin Short: Part of the gimmick here is that if you’re doing it as a character, it’s not the same as if you’re Steve Martin or Martin Short.
TCP: How would describe how comedy and music mutually enhance each other in a live performance?
Martin Short: I think it traditionally always has. You look at SNL for 43 years and they have a band.
Steve Martin: And all the talk shows have a band. When I grew up in the 60s, it was all folk music at folk music clubs. The structure of a folk music act was you have a funny introduction to a song, then you play the song, whether it’s serious or it’s funny too. Then you say some more jokes, then you do another song. We don’t do exactly that, but it’s kind of that.
TCP: So it’s inspired, consciously or not, by the structures of these older folk shows from the past.
Steve Martin: Here’s the problem: there’s nobody doing this type of show. If you see a rock show, it’s a rock show with a big production and fire pots and all that. And we don’t do that. We’re not doing a solo stand up show. And, when you see comedians working, they’re suddenly not bursting into song. Very rare. This thing is a unique animal and I’m not sure of its origin. Even Martin and Lewis, they rarely paused for a full song from Dean that Jerry didn’t interrupt.
TCP: Just generally, if somebody is terrified of public speaking, what would you say to them to get them to instantly summon some kind of stage presence? You guys have been at it for a minute and know what you’re doing, so you’re authorities on this matter.
Martin Short: Stage presence is a tricky thing to gauge. If you’re directing a movie, I don’t know how you make someone not funny, funny. I think that one of the reasons why Steve and I have stage presence is because we’re relaxed. We kind of feel the audience. You want to become, in a huge crowd, intimate with them and that’s a huge part of stage presence. I don’t know how you teach it.
Steve Martin: I don’t really have an answer.
“An Evening You Will Forget For The Rest Of Your Life”
Friday, May 25 | 8pm
$65 – $155 | Toledo Zoo Amphitheater, 2700 Broadway