If Steve Martin and Martin Short had more time, the longtime friends would embark on a proper tour. However, it isn’t easy for the comic-actors to hit the road together since their schedules are typically jammed.
“We’re both always very busy,” Short says, calling from his Los Angeles home. “Steve is always working on a movie, and I always have something going on. But Steve and I try to do some shows each year because we love to have fun onstage with each other. We have a such a great time together. However, we rarely have the time to do shows together. We only play a handful every year, but when we get to perform together it’s unlike anything else you’ll see.”
Fans never know what Martin, 71, and Short, 67, will do when they hit the stage. There is a plan for their productions, of course, but the longtime friends allow for plenty of in-the-moment improv during their old-school performance.
“Anything can happen when we get up there,” Short says. “I don’t know how many shows are like that anymore. We try to do our best as entertainers and we’re going to have as much fun as possible – and hopefully it’ll be fun for those who come out and see what I believe is a truly unique show.”
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“An Evening You Will Forget For the Rest of Your Life,” the title of Martin Short and Steve Martin’s show April 20 and 21 at the Durham Performing Arts Center, is an amalgam of comedy, music, film clips and conversation.
“I think we cover all of the bases during the show,” Short says. “Steve and I do what we do best.”
Short and Martin have worked together for decades, but there is no competition between them.
“It’s the opposite,” Short says. “What we try to do is bring out the best in each of us. We try to inspire each other to be better. What’s great about where we are now is that it’s not about money. We don’t have to worry about making rent. It’s about making things as interesting as possible for us and the audience. We’re doing all that we can in the moment – and we also look back.”
Short never was part of a blockbuster movie, but the 1989 film “ Three Amigos,” which also starred Martin and Chevy Chase, was a commercial success – albeit one that received mixed critical reviews. However, it has become a cult favorite in recent years.
“I think the years have been kind to that film,” Short says. “I remember when the three of us did the ‘Today’ show and (host) Bryant Gumbel said, ‘How do you feel being in a silly movie?’ Steve said, ‘It depends on how you look at it. If you view silly how you just said it, maybe it’s not so thrilling. But if you take it another way, it could be really good. Look at the Marx Brothers movies. They were silly and they’re great.’ I look back fondly on that film.”
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Both Martin and Short have enviable resumes. Martin, who appears in Ang Lee’s latest film “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” which hit screens in November, has starred in a number of classic films, such as “Parenthood,” “The Spanish Prisoner” and “The Jerk.” Short has impressed in movies, such as “Mars Attacks!” and “Father of the Bride,” which also starred Martin.
But the Canadian humorist has left his biggest mark on television.
Short earned raves for his work on the Canadian sketch comedy show “SCTV,” the FX drama “Damages” and of course, “Saturday Night Live.” (Short’s NBC variety show, “Maya and Marty,” with “SNL” alum Maya Rudolph debuted last May and NBC is considering a second season.)
In fact, Short was part of one of the most underrated casts in SNL history. In 1984-85, Short was part of a troupe that included Christopher Guest and Billy Crystal.
“People have no idea how close ‘Saturday Night Live’ was to being canceled back then,” Short says. “People can’t believe that today since ‘SNL’ will inevitably air since it’s an institution, but back then, things were very different. Eddie Murphy left the prior season and we had to deliver to keep that show alive.”
But before SNL, there was his work on “SCTV.” Short, who introduced the quirky character Ed Grimley on “SCTV,” was a late but prominent addition to the seminal sketch show.
“I had to be on the top of my game with ‘SCTV,’” Short says. “It was a daunting experience. What a great cast.”
Even though it aired a generation ago, ‘SCTV’s’ irreverent pieces are still fresh today. “It’s still very funny and works today because it’s not joke oriented and it’s not of an era,” Short says. “It’s about characters, and the acting was so great.”
No time to rest
With a resume that is beyond enviable, Short, much like Martin, could rest on his laurels.
“It’s been an amazing career,” Short says. “There’s nothing like what I do. When I work on an animated film and I’m told to say a line with more of a smile, it’s a reminder of how unique of a career I have. It’s been great to be able to do so many different things. I embrace the variety. That’s what I’m about. I love the variety show with Maya.”
And then there is the variety show Short does on tour with Martin, which also includes the latter’s bluegrass band, the Steep Canyon Rangers.
“It’s without a doubt a variety show Steve and I do,” Short says. “We’re throwing so many different things at you. We have fun. Steve pulls out his banjo with his band whenever he wants. I wish we could do this show more often but I’ll take what I can get.
“When Steve and I have the chance to perform, it’s truly a special thing. It’s one of my favorite things to do. The fans come out and they are so enthusiastic. Every show is a special night for Steve and I.”
What: Martin Short and Steve Martin: An Evening You Will Forget For the Rest of Your Life, featuring the Steep Canyon Rangers and Jeff Babko
When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, April 20-21
Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham
Cost: Sold out