Steve Martin and Martin Short Explain Why They Keep Making Comedy Together (But Not Movies)

TheWrap Emmy magazines: “If I say something that Steve thinks is too mean, I’ll take it out,” Martin Short says

A version of this story about Steve Martin and Martin Short first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

For the last few years, Steve Martin and Martin Short have been touring in a two-man show called “Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life.” A combination of conversation, standup and music, the show was turned into a Netflix special, which is nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded), as well as for its writing, directing and music.

Martin and Short (or should that be Steve and Martin?) talked to TheWrap about the show, and their past, present and futures.

You both have lots of other showbiz friends. What makes this particular relationship lend itself to a live show and a Netflix special?
STEVE MARTIN Availability.
MARTIN SHORT Seinfeld was booked.
MARTIN Yeah. Everybody else has their own lives. They’re busy. They’re working.

The show existed as a live show for a few years before you turned it into a TV special.
MARTIN Yeah. That’s actually how the show got good enough to be on Netflix, because we’d done it for three years.

So it changed over the years?
SHORT Oh, of course. It started off as a single conversation, and we enjoyed doing it. We had a natural chemistry. But we had to evolve the show, as opposed to just 90 minutes of conversation.
MARTIN I found that with these events where there are conversations, you have about 50 minutes when the audience is really interested. Then you have 10 to 15 minutes of questions from the audience. And that’s pretty much the limit for a conversation.

But if you throw in a piano and a banjo…
MARTIN That takes 10 minutes away. I said this once in my own show with the Steep Canyon Rangers — after about the third song, I said, “If I were you, I’d be sitting there saying, ‘OK, I got it. Let’s go — it’s just gonna be more of this.'”

So how do you keep the audience at this show from saying, “OK, I got it”?
SHORT I think you keep it moving. If they think they got it, they weren’t ready for a puppet.
MARTIN That’s what comedians do — they hold an audience. And I think we’re lucky, because we’ve got two of us. We can change it up.

At a certain point, though, you didn’t want to do stand-up anymore.
MARTIN No, I didn’t.

Is there something about this format that makes it OK to do live comedy again?
MARTIN Yes. When I hosted the Oscars by myself two times, it was scary. But when I hosted with Alec Baldwin, I kept waiting to be nervous, and I wasn’t. I think there’s something about having a buddy there. And when I started working with Marty, it seemed natural. It took the pain away and the responsibility of solo stand-up.

I would also imagine that in this case, you don’t have to deal with people who want you to put the arrow through your head or do an old bit.
MARTIN Yeah, absolutely. I don’t feel any urge to revisit that, either from the audience or from me. I don’t even get it anymore.

But Marty, you bring back one of your old characters, Jiminy Glick, as a puppet.
SHORT You can’t just resurrect a character that you’ve done to get applause from the audience in recognition. You have to come up with an idea: It would be funny for him to be a puppet. The puppet could be anybody, but who would be best to do sarcastic lines? Oh, that’s a great Jiminy Glick bit. So you bring him back.

He can say things that are much meaner that what you would say yourself.
MARTIN The ventriloquist’s dummy always gets to say terrible things. When he first started doing it, I just sort of set Marty up, and then I thought, “Oh, no, I can reprimand him, just like a ventriloquist does. I can be the voice of sanity.”

The show includes solo segments. Do you have carte blanche to do whatever you want in those segments?
SHORT I will give suggestions to Steve. He doesn’t necessarily respond. I remember saying years ago, “The banjo?” He just kept playing it.
MARTIN Yes, we have carte blanche in our own bits, but as experienced comedy people you can say, “Hey, what about this?”
SHORT And if I say something that Steve thinks is too mean, I’ll take it out.

But apart from the things that Jiminy Glick says, you’re only really mean to each other in this show.
MARTIN That’s right. I learned a long time ago from watching Jack Benny. Jack Benny, first of all, always made himself the butt of the joke, and I learned a lot from that. And he also let other people get laughs, which is essentially the foundation of our show.

You’re both making far fewer films now than you used to. Is film of less interest to you now?
MARTIN I definitely am less interested. I just feel like I did it. I gave it my best, I was really interested in writing it and having it be funny and worrying it. And I can’t go there anymore. I wrote a play for Broadway, it was fun and it was 10 blocks from my apartment. I have a young child, and to me, movies mean going away, never having a home life.

With the Netflix show out, do you want to continue doing your live show indefinitely?
SHORT We were just discussing this last night. I think the answer is you know when its time to say, “We’ve done it.”
MARTIN I have a feeling that something is going to evolve two or three years from now. Right now, we really like this, and we are obsessed with creating new material and making the show as good as it can be. But something might evolve, and we don’t know what it is.

To read more of TheWrap’s Down to the Wire issue, click here.

TheWrap Emmy magazine 2018 Down to the Wire cover