Comedy icons Steve Martin and Martin Short have shared a friendship since before their first joint venture, ¡Three Amigos!, a smart camaraderie that shows when speaking with the pair as they get ready to hit the east coast for Labor Day with their acclaimed live production, Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life. Ahead of their stops at Philly’s Mann Center on Aug. 30, a pair of New York shows on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, and a performance at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass. on Sept. 2, we caught up with Steve Martin and Martin Short to chat about their careers, what they’ve learned from each other over the years and why working in comedy never gets easier.
Steve Martin and Martin Short talk friendship, comedy and more
What have you learned about yourself and each other during your live tour?
Steve Martin: I actually found that I enjoyed live performance again as I haven’t done so in such for a long time. I mean, I did the Steep Canyon Rangers shows with Edie Brickell, but that was different, that was all music. I hadn’t performed comedically on a live stage since 1981. I do also know the reason that I am enjoying performing live is that I have a great partner. I wouldn’t be enjoying this as much if it was just me. In that case, I would be alone backstage thinking, afraid. Now, there’s Marty and the band. Everyone is joking around before the show.
Martin Short: I have to be honest. I don’t know that I‘ve learned so much, that I didn’t know. Steve’s work ethic, his focus, his writing abilities. His dedication to giving 100 percent for any job, no matter what the circumstance is always astounding. I knew that though. I have knowns Steve intimately for 35 years.
Martin: Well, intimately, Marty?
Looking at the show, what percentage of this are your writing or riffing?
Martin: Lenny Bruce once reminded people that his act may have seem ad-libbed, but he was adamant that he ad-libbed maybe three minutes, tops. Our show? We adlib maybe 5=five, maybe 10 or none. We’re planners. You got to have a reason to adlib. One adlib in one show could turn into a three minute routine in a subsequent show. You’re gingerly trying material from one town to another town.
Short: Steve has written books and plays and started as a writer. I started as an improviser. His focus comes from that tradition. I’ll give you an example: Steve loves to tweet. I’m not so comfortable with it. With him, there is a certain ease. We were going to a Vanity Fair party, and I remember looking over at him, tweeting. He wrote that he was anxious to get to know Cher on a first name basis. Now that is a great joke and if I had thought of it I would tweet that out too.
Martin: Writing is just—well, not just—it is organizing. Putting things together so to make them flow from one topic to the next. Marty organizes really well.
Are you working more from instinct or the right brain/left brain of writing?
Martin: Ah, definitely and absolutely instinct.
Short: I total agree, because Steve and I share comic instincts is why this works so well. It’s rare that I find a joke high-larious that Steve says is not funny. We also share the joy of saying great jokes, night after night. They’re harder to find than you think.
Within the framework of new material, what is turning you on or off, that you might include in the set? I don’t see the two of you as political.
Martin: We have developed, within the last three months on the road, about 25 minutes of new material. That’s thrilling to watch unfold. We like developing, cutting and hoping to make the show better.
Short: We’re not avoiding politics. We can appreciate that, in most cases, one half of our audience is one party, and the other half is the other party. But, it is like inviting people in your home. You don’t want to make one half of the room feel goofy. We just go from left to right and right to left.
What has changed most about the two men who met each other 35 years ago?
Martin: For me, it is the fact that I am looking at the end of a career. There is a certain kind of acceptance of that, and of us. With that, I feel more relaxed about going out there, onstage, because audiences have paid to see us with positive emotions regarding who we are. Sort-of. It just feels easier.
Short: It feels easier, but I will say that one of the misconceptions of being in comedy for many years the assumption is that it gets easier. It doesn’t. Like doing television as I did a new series two years ago, Maya and Marty (with Maya Rudolph). That new show had the same level of stress as when I did Saturday Night Live. That doesn’t change for me. Once you sit back and say you have made it… you really should just quit.
Martin: That is true. If you pull out a new joke and it doesn’t work, you told it with regret.
Are there qualities you envy in each other?
Martin: Everyone likes Marty. I don’t have that.
Short: Everyone knows you.
Martin: Yes, Marty, but no one is saying, “I wish I were a little less likeable—like Steve.”