The American Film Institute program that gave the AFI’s Life Achievement Award to Steve Martin, which took place on Thursday night at the Dolby Theatre, reinforced what the AFI no doubt learned two years ago with its uproarious tribute to Mel Brooks: If you want to put on an entertaining show, honor somebody funny.
The fact that Martin was the honoree encouraged some people to go a little overboard — AFI chairman Sir Howard Stringer took the stage with a phony arrow through his head, as Martin used to do in his standup days — but it also ensured a steady stream of funny people and funny lines on the stage of the Dolby.
Here are a few:
1. “I remember the first time I saw one of Steve’s movies – it was on the plane ride here today. And in the part I saw before my biscuit arrived, Queen Latifah was really funny.”
- Tina Fey, the first in a string of co-stars and admirers who paid tribute to Martin.
2. “He’s not just the silly comic genius, but a real person. A real stiff, awkward, aloof person, but also standoffish.”
– Sarah Silverman, who also described the transformative effect Martin’s movie “Roxanne” had on her.
3. “Usually, when I hear white people playing banjos, it’s time for me to get the hell out of that neighborhood.”
– Queen Latifah, describing the choice of musical instrument played by her “Bringing Down the House” co-star, who she dubbed “the whitest man in America.”
4. “We’ve had some fun and had a lot of laughs, but now it’s time to remember why we’re here – to raise money for FIFA. And to support its new president, Queen LaFIFA.”
– Amy Poehler, turning the fundraiser for the AFI into a fundraiser for the embattled soccer organization.
5. “I have spent the majority of my life doing a pale imitation of Steve Martin, and I resent him for this.”
– Steve Carell, drawing comparisons between his own movies and the comic films Martin had already made.
6. “Somebody who’s as multi-talented as Steve, he oughtta be a dick.”
– Director Ron Howard, testifying on video that Martin is not a dick.
7. “We all know that Jesus Christ never wore ties.”
– Carl Reiner, explaining that the “JC” stitched on his tie was proof that he got it from Johnny Carson, not another celebrated person with the same initials.
8. “I’m going to make this quick, because my Uber is waiting – and you know how testy Randy Quaid can get.”
- Martin Short, before launching into a sidesplitting speech that was definitely not quick.
9. “Steve, I’ve always wanted to ask you: How far did they get into the embalming process before you jumped off the table?”
– Short, in a riff on Martin’s pallid complexion.
10. “Tonight is especially meaningful to me, because when I was a kid, I used to get all dressed up and play AFI Lifetime Achievement Award.”
– Steve Martin, accepting the award.
11. “If you two don’t shut up, I’m going to blow you!”
– Diane Keaton to Steve Martin and Martin Short when they were talking too loudly in Martin’s trailer while Keaton was trying to watch the O.J. Simpson trial during the shooting of “Father of the Bride,” according to Martin.
12. “Diane, you have to work on your threats.”
– Martin Short to Diane Keaton, again according to Martin.
13. “I don’t really deserve this award. But I have arthritis, and I don’t deserve that, either.”
– Jack Benny, as quoted by Martin at the end of his acceptance speech.
Most of those lines, and no doubt others from participants Jack Black, Dan Ackroyd, Lily Tomlin, Conan O’Brien, Carl Reiner, Diane Keaton and Mel Brooks, will be included in the televised version of the AFI tribute, which will air on TBS on Saturday, June 13.