Comedy legends Steve Martin and Martin Short occupy that rarefied air reserved for a select few entertainers, with peers including names such as Bill Murray, Jerry Seinfeld, Richard Pryor, John Belushi and Robin Williams.
Their achievements are at once dizzying and astonishingly varied, spanning many genres in the entertainment world: Both are brilliant stand-up artists, beloved alums of “Saturday Night Live,” accomplished actors (comedic and dramatic roles), and award-winners elsewhere (Martin has won three Grammys for his banjo-playing, bluegrass prowess and even had Paul McCartney sing for him, while Short is a Tony-winning stage actor and won an Emmy for his work on “SCTV”).
Martin – who received an honorary Oscar last year – is famous for the catch-phrase “Excu-u-use me!,” being “The Jerk” and a Wild and Crazy Guy, and the pop hit “King Tut,” while Short’s characters Jiminy Glick, Ed Grimley, lawyer Nathan Thurmand and “legendary songwriter” Irving Cohen still crack his fans up. They also starred together in the film “The Three Amigos” along with Chevy Chase.
But as impressive as their individual resumes might be, when these old friends get together, something magical happens: They become positively goofy.
And their joyous silliness will be on full display Saturday night at the Hard Rock Live near Hollywood, where Martin and Short take the stage together for “A Very Stupid Conversation,” which promises to be anything but. The duo will interview each other, engage in witty banter, recount highlights from their respective careers and even sing and dance to some banjo-fueled numbers.
Martin and Short talked to Miami.com about the show, their first gigs, and, in a rare serious moment, their thoughts on the tragic passing of Robin Williams.
SM: This is the only way Marty and I speak to each other now, is over the phone, with a moderator.
MS: We can’t be in the same room.
Why are you calling this “A Very Stupid Conversation”?
MS: Well, first of all, you haven’t heard it yet [laughs]. We’re just going by our first early reviews – that’s all.
SM: The way it started was, we interviewed each other for a comedy festival, and we called it “A Very Stupid Conversation,” and remnants of that are still in the show, and that represents about 15 minutes of the show, where we tell anecdotes. And then we sing, dance and do routines together, things from Marty’s solo show and things from my show.
So there’s a little bit of everything, then?
MS: Absolutely. Jiminy Glick shows up, characters show up, stories …
SM: And I show up.
MS: Yeah, and Steve shows up. That’s the moment the audience checks for texts.
SM: That’s all I do is show up.
You know, you could have called this “The Two Amigos.”
MS: I know, but it would have hurt Chevy so to see that in print.
SM: When I perform alone, I call it “The One Amigo.”
What do you guys have planned after this tour?
SM: I have a musical opening in about a month in San Diego that I wrote with Edie Brickell. We’re not in it – I’m just the writer. And Marty has nothing.
MS: No, I have a TV series that starts Oct. 5 – “Mulaney” – and I’m in this Paul Thomas Anderson film, “Inherent Vice,” that’s out Dec. 12.
SM: Wow! I didn’t know that.
Steve, how did you first start liking bluegrass, and when did you first take up the banjo?
SM: Oh, I started playing when I was 16 years old. I lived down in Orange County, and there was a boat music revival, and I just loved the sound of the banjo. So I’ve been playing for over 50 years. And I just kept it up, and got seriously interested again about 15 years ago, and I’ve been writing songs, and it’s been a tremendous revival of energy for me in my life.
And winning Grammys and working with the Dixie Chicks and Paul McCartney. What was it like working with an ex-Beatle?
SM: Well, you always try to contain yourself. Because I know how it is when people fawn over you and you can’t get work done. So I was always just reminding myself that it’s a person we need to get work done. So you don’t wanna say, “You changed my life!” Because I know how it is with Marty – he’s always doing that with me.
MS: I’m just getting cosmetic work done.
Martin, I know you’re an accomplished singer – do you play any instruments?
MS: I don’t. As kids, we had to all play instruments, so I used to play trumpet in the high school band. But no, that’s it. Nothing – just me.
Steve, you’ve done pretty much everything in the entertainment world. Is there anything you haven’t done that you’d like to do?
SM: Well, the one thing we haven’t tried is a musical, and it opens in a month, so that’s looming out there. Actually, one thing I’d like to try is, after working with Marty, I’d like to try working with a partner who has comic timing. I hear it’s great.
This is for both of you: What was your first gig in the entertainment world, and how did it go?
MS: My first was a professional production of “Godspell” in Toronto, Ontario. And it was fascinating, because it was the first job also for Paul Shaffer and Gilda Radner and Andrea Martin and Eugene Levy and a lot of people. We all met in that show, it was a group of 10, and we did it for a year. It worked like a dream.
SM: Mine was, I was about 15 years old, and I had a magic act. And I was hired by one of those men’s clubs like the Elks Club or the Moose Lodge, and I think I was even paid five dollars. And later on at an adult age I thought, why would a club like that hire a 15-year-old to perform a magic show? And the only thing I could think was, out of the goodness of their hearts.
So Martin, I guess “Saturday Night Live” was not your big break – was it for you, Steve?
SM: Well, it was certainly a big break, but I had already had a record out at that point, that went to No. 2. I wish I could say that it went to No. 1, but …
MS: You can now, though, because no one’s alive that remembers when it came out.
SM: Well, I am. I’m alive, Martin.
MS: If you call that living, I guess.
Steve, a lot of stars collect things like fancy cars – what attracted you to fine art?
SM: I had a friend in college who was an artist, and it just made me very interested in art. And at the time I was in college, it would have been about ’63 or ’64, and if you look back at what was happening there, it was the explosion of Pop Art, and it was coming right after abstract expressionism. So there was this complete opposite thing happening – abstract expressionism, which was very exciting with Jackson Pollock. And then there was this Andy Warhol excitement and Roy Lichtenstein excitement – it was just magnetic. And I was a bit of a dreamer, too, so I was still trying to figure out what art was about – you know, Rodin and all the impressionists. It held a big romance for me, and it just stayed with me my whole life.
Martin, do you collect anything?
MS: I collect very little. I have a collection of old b
SM: [Laughs] I didn’t mean to laugh.
MS: Yeah, you did. You know, I’m a simple, simple man.
SM: I wasn’t laughing at you – there’s an old “Lucy” show on in my dressing room.
OK, to wrap things up on a serious note, do you have any thoughts on Robin Williams?
MS: Oh, endless thoughts.
SM: Actually, I’m still digesting that whole situation, so I don’t have something eloquent to say about it except that we were completely surprised and shocked, and very saddened by it. It will take a while to sort out something so complex.
MS: Yeah, and Robin in person, or in a room, or at a dinner table, was such a beaming light of not just energy, but he loved to laugh at other people. He had this big “Ha-HAH!” laugh, and he just loved humor and loved laughter. So he seemed always so happy and so vibrant, so it’s very sad to think that he was so sad at the end of his life. And I think that’s the hardest part. You know, everyone passes, and it’s terrible, but to think that that beam of sunshine was not as happy as we thought he was is the hardest thing to digest, at least for me.