On a recent Saturday afternoon, Steve Martin and Martin Short were at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan rehearsing a duet of “Send in the Clowns” for their show, “An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life.”
“This might be harder than I thought with my sore back,” Mr. Martin said, climbing atop a piano and nearly atop his comic partner.
“We almost had a #MeToo moment there,” Mr. Short quipped.
Close friends for more than 30 years, Mr. Martin, 72, and Mr. Short, 68, instinctually complete each other’s jokes. After rehearsal, they plopped down on a two-seater in Mr. Martin’s dressing room and discussed their friendship and their show, a combination of clips, musical numbers and scripted bits that have been filmed for a Netflix special due May 25.
You met when Marty went to Steve’s house to pick up a script for your first movie together, “¡Three Amigos!” What were your initial impressions of each other?
STEVE MARTIN I’m not an easygoing guy, so I’m kind of hard to get to know.
MARTIN SHORT Mmm-hmm. [Laughter]
MARTIN I had a suspicion “SCTV” people didn’t like me because I was kind of broad.
SHORT Did you ever see “SCTV” [the sketch comedy show with Mr. Short]? Bring in the circus! I truthfully was struck by the beautiful paintings in Steve’s house.
MARTIN He doesn’t know anything about art. It could have been anything.
SHORT Hey, I saw one painting, and I thought, “This is a beautiful sky, and they’ve left No. 3 blank.” No, it was really brief, just to say hello. Then we bonded quickly.
MARTIN Through humor.
SHORT After a film ends, you always have a choice: You can either be in the trenches with someone and never see them again or continue seeing them. We continued.
You’ve been doing this show for several years. Do you adjust your material for different areas?
SHORT Once in a while, we’ll drop something if we’re in a very conservative city. But that’s why we deliberately never mention Donald Trump by name.
MARTIN We’re not trying to divide the audience. What I don’t want is to hear someone go, “Boo!” Or “Yay!” It takes you out of the show.
MARTIN I said to Marty, “Maybe we should cut those jokes,” and he said, “No!” He’s less compromising than I am.
SHORT I would never do those jokes as Marty, but Jiminy can do them.
MARTIN It’s like the ventriloquist’s dummy — no offense — gets to say more than the ventriloquist.
Marty, you were just called one of the greatest late-night guests of all time.
SHORT Not to correct you, and it doesn’t matter, but it wasn’t “one of the greatest late-night guests of all time,” it was “the greatest.”
MARTIN I’d like to read that article again and see if it said “among the greatest.”
You two were always great on “Letterman.” Why did you do so much preparation before your appearances on his shows?
SHORT When I started out, you would have a heart attack to go on Johnny Carson. Letterman was more of a peer, but we admired Dave so much.
MARTIN I also liked Dave’s audience. They were always right there with you.
In your final Carson appearance, Steve, you played the magician the Great Flydini, and it struck me both you and Marty have an affinity for old-school showbiz but also love to satirize it. Does that connect you?
SHORT That’s fair, but we don’t analyze it. I just do what I do, then people say, “Do you realize that’s old show business but modern?” And I go, “All right.”
I guess the worst thing you can do is explain comedy.
SHORT Well, it’s your job, but it’s not necessarily mine.
MARTIN Don’t tell him what his job is.
SHORT Someone’s got to. [Laughter]
You’ve both done a lot of theater. Marty, you’ve headlined numerous musicals, and Steve, Amy Schumer just got a Tony nomination for your play “Meteor Shower.”
MARTIN I’m very proud of that. To have written a part that qualifies someone to be nominated for a Tony makes you feel good.
Do you think about starring on Broadway again?
MARTIN I’ve got a 5-year-old. I can’t do eight shows a week. When I did “Waiting for Godot” [in 1988], there was always this thing hanging over my head because it was one of the greatest plays ever, and you’ve got this incredible obligation. Here I have no obligation to him whatsoever. [Laughter]
SHORT I never say never. But eight shows a week is a lot.
MARTIN I used to say, “What if we did only seven shows a week?” and the producers would say, “Unfortunately, it’s the eighth show that puts you into profit.”
Would you ever make another movie together?
MARTIN I lost interest in movies at exactly the same time movies lost interest in me. [Laughter] It’s another situation where the work is all-consuming, because the minimum day is 12 hours. And you have to go away. We used to make movies in Los Angeles!
SHORT If someone offers me a great role like Paul Thomas Anderson did in “Inherent Vice,” I’d do it. But as far as “I just want to be in a movie, I don’t care what it is,” no.
In your show, Marty does an Ed Grimley dance and Steve does a few “Happy Feet” and “King Tut” moves. How do you decide when to give the people what they want? Would you ever put the arrow through your head again, Steve?
MARTIN No. People say they want to see it, but I know they really don’t.
SHORT See, Steve has these specific opinions about things. They’re not necessarily correct, but he does strongly believe them.
MARTIN One thing we love about our show is that it’s not a nostalgia tour.
SHORT I don’t think you’d want to see Charlie Chaplin at 68 come out with his cane.
But you never seem to think you’re too big to do silly stuff. Are you ever asked to do anything where you feel like, “This is beneath me at this point”?
MARTIN I do think about that.
SHORT If I were on a show and they wanted to crack eggs on my head, I’d probably say, “No, I don’t think so.”
MARTIN By the way, that would be so funny. [Laughter]
SHORT Of course it would. All right, I’ll do it! But this time, I insist they’re soft-boiled.
You’ve been friends for a long time. Have you seen each other change?
MARTIN Well, when you got your work done.
SHORT Yeah, but I’ve told you: Next time, it’ll be from a doctor. No, I’m not aware of it. Steve’s always been Steve.
But you’ve been through ups and downs. Did those moments change you? For example, did becoming a father change your attitude toward work, Steve?
MARTIN It changed my attitude in so many things, basically in relationship to time. I’m not going to go away for two weeks.
SHORT You never talked that way before your daughter was born.
MARTIN No, it was like, “Send me to Atlanta for three months? That’d be great!”
What do you like best about your friendship?
MARTIN It’s easygoing and relaxed. Humor is a great artificial way to communicate.
SHORT What I like about our relationship is there’s no complexity. Sometimes even with good friends, they’ll take something the wrong way. We’ve never had that moment.
MARTIN However, I am looking for a new friend.
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