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Variety is the spice of life: A conversation with Steve Martin and Martin Short

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BANGOR – A pair of comedy legends will be landing at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

Steve Martin and Martin Short are bringing their touring show – titled “Now You See Them, Soon You Won’t” – to town on Sept. 14; the show is presented by Waterfront Concerts and the CIC. The throwback variety team-up has been through a number of iterations – including a 2018 Netflix special titled “An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life” that was nominated for four Emmy Awards.

The show will feature comedic sketches and conversations with the duo, as well as plenty of music; Grammy-award winning bluegrass performers (and frequent Steve Martin collaborators) Steep Canyon Rangers will be in the house, as will pianist Jeff Babko, the longtime arranger and house band member for “Jimmy Kimmel Live” who got his start in TV on Martin Short’s talk show.

Anyone with any knowledge of comedy likely knows who these two are.

With Steve Martin, perhaps you’re familiar with his iconic, game-changing standup work in the 1970s. Or his iconic guest turns on “Saturday Night Live.” Maybe you’re a fan of his film work – everything from the lunatic absurdity of “The Jerk” or “The Man with Two Brains” to more mainstream fare like “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” or “Parenthood.” He’s also an accomplished musician, novelist and playwright, because of course he is.

With Martin Short, you might have first encountered him on the paradigm-shifting Canadian sketch show “SCTV.” He did a turn on “SNL” as well, which in turn led to films like “Innerspace” and “Three Fugitives” and “Mars Attacks!” He created the iconic character Jiminy Glick and brought him to a wide variety of stages and screens. He also hosted an eponymous syndicated talk show and, oh yeah, has a Tony.

As someone with a deep love of comedy that was formed in large part when these two were in their heyday, I have a heartfelt admiration for them both. Each of them helped shape my comedic sensibility in a very real way. While a decade-plus in this business has largely inured me to feeling starstruck, there are still occasional exceptions. This interview was one of those exceptions.

Seriously – I was talking to two of the “Three Amigos.” It’s a miracle that I was able to keep it together. But I did manage to avoid completely fanboying out. Well … mostly avoid. Judge for yourselves.

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The Maine Edge: How did the idea for doing a show like this one first come about for you two?

Martin Short: We were asked to interview each other a few years ago at the Just for Laughs comedy festival in Chicago, and that was kind of it. It was this two-chair interview and it worked really well. But more importantly, we LOVED doing it, we had so much fun. And so, we booked a few more of those and then it evolved into a real show. Steve had a show, I had a show and we kind of merged them and then kept adding to it. 

TME: What prompted you to want to really hit the road with the show? 

Steve Martin: Well, we had had such a good time and we just kind of put our toe of the water and booked a few dates, and then after those few initial dates, we basically realized how we wanted the show to be - what it could be. And it has been just this slow evolution of making it better and better. 

TME: You two have been good friends for a fairly long time. Has doing a tour together altered your relationship at all?

SM: Not at all. In fact, I think it has made it a lot greater, because we get to spend more time together.

MS: Absolutely.

TME: In the show, you do a great job of sort of balancing an affection for and a subversion of the world of show business in general. How did you find your way into that sweet spot? 

SM: Well I think Marty and I have both done that our whole careers. I started out as kind of a parody of a comedian and Marty started out doing exaggerated show business characters, especially on “SCTV.”

And you know, both of us came up at a time when show business was very … corny. Of course, there were also major highlights from that era, but yeah. But it was maudlin, or it could be, at its worst. And it was just ripe for making fun of – kind of Vegas-y. Cheesy. And at just the right kind of You go. Whoa hey they want to make it. Yeah if you want to make a name for yourself, one of the first things you can do is go up against what's happening. 

MS: But I would also say that when you satirize things, like people in show business or elements of show business, there’s also a love for it or you wouldn't have paid so much attention to it to understand how to satirize it.

TME: People generally think of both of you as comedians, but music is a huge part of this show and both of you have a very clear passion for music. You seem to approach it from sort of different stylistic angles how has that love of that passion for music sort of informed the shape that the show has taken over the years?

SM: It's true. I mean, Marty, you always did songs in your show, on your own, right?

MS: Yeah.

SM: And I toured with a banjo show, a comedy banjo show, for years. And it was just so natural to combine those two and it keeps it from just being all talk for an hour and a half. And our songs are funny; we don't really expect the audience to sit down and enjoy the depth of our musical talent. We’re always doing in context with something else. 

TME: Could you talk a little bit about the musicians accompanying you on this tour?

SM: Absolutely, but I will say - you know we work with different bands at different times. I’ve been doing a lot with the Steep Canyon Rangers, but I’m not sure – I haven’t checked the schedule, but it’s probably Steep Canyon Rangers (Editor’s note: It is.); I’ve worked with them for over 10 years, we’ve done three albums together. I really think we both enhance our careers for each other. And Marty you should talk about Jeff Babko.

MS: Jeff Babko, of course. I’ve toured with Jeff for almost 20 years as my music director and he’s a great pianist. He’s also on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” every night – he’s the keyboard guy there. And you know, I think we have the best musicians imaginable to work with. It’s really quite thrilling.

TME: I was curious about how you’ve built the show as you as you've moved along. How have you decided like the structure of the show? Is it just a matter of repetition – finding what works and what doesn't – or did you have specific plans in mind?

MS: Well, we each had a show and we just sort of combined that around that original idea of the two of us sitting and chatting. But I will say that it in many ways it’s trial and error – you try things, they don’t work you let it go. We’ve had lots of things that we thought were going to be brilliant and then they didn’t quite work out and there they go … and that’s the fun of it, honing and refining.

TME: As sort of a follow-up to that, you both have distinguished show business careers; it makes one think there have to be a million stories that for whatever reason didn't quite make the cut to be shared as part of the show. How do you make that decision? How do you pick which tales to tell? 

SM: Trial and error. Really. Just trial and error. You think “Well, there’s that story” and then you try it and you start trying to feel if it's working. You have to concentrate a little more on it. And you know, there's only so many stories, which is part of the problem. 

And the audience wants to hear the really good stories. We find that from our Netflix show, the audience kind of wants to hear some of those same stories again, so we kept those in. But we do try to change it up – we’re always looking for new things, but honestly, the stories are actually the hardest things to come up with and to remember.

TME: Well, you both have a have a great gift for storytelling; we’re lucky that you're willing to share those with us.

Speaking of the Netflix show – did having a version of the performance sort of trapped in amber like that impact things? You mentioned that people saw it and they wanted to see some of those same stories; are there any other ways that it has sort of influenced how the tour has gone going forward? 

SM: Definitely. We worked really hard on getting new material. And we're really happy with our new material. That said, we probably wouldn’t be doing the same material even if we hadn't done that show. We feel like having that Netflix show that was us at a certain best. And now we have a new show that's we feel like is us at a certain best.

TME: When you're up there and you take the stage and you do your show, at the end of the night, what is what is your hope as far as what audiences take away from the time that they spent with you?

MS: I think we've we're hoping that it - and I think it is, to be quite honest – can be wall-to-wall laughs and entertainment. We're not doing anything to make people turn to each other and go “Exactly” and nod knowingly. We just want them to laugh and laugh and laugh. The criteria is just that, and what's great about it is you hear the response. It tells you if something isn't working or if something is and it's greatly gratifying to do a great show, always.

How have you adapted to the touring lifestyle? Obviously, it's very different from working in movies or television. How is it different touring in 2019 than it was in the earlier parts of your careers? 

SM: Oh yes, it’s very different. In the old days, I’d do what, 60 shows in 55 days? And now, we do three shows a month. So yes – not too stressful. And we really enjoy doing it. Those three days or four days a month that we do work, we're happy to see each other and happy to go back on stage. 

TME: Is there is there much of a rehearsal process for you at this point or are things pretty much locked down and you just sort of do a quick run through and you're ready to go? 

SM: We rehearse before every show. And some things, we don't need to rehearse, because we’ve done it a million times, but we always rehearse. We'll go over material that might be relevant to the town, and if there's a new bit that we're working on, we’ll definitely rehearse it. So we're not shy about rehearsal, we like it. 

MS: And again, we don't do it every day. We do need to remind ourselves every once in a while. 

TME: You mentioned site-specific; is there is there are a lot of that sort of material where you sort of adapt it to the town you happen to be playing at the time? 

SM: Not much. A little bit, a few lines here and there. Like, you don't want to say “Hello, Chicago” when you’re in Seattle.

MS: Although we’d get a laugh, I bet.

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The interview concluded with a conversation about whether Mr. Short and Mr. Martin would be enjoying the sights and sounds of Maine before heading home; this Bangor date marks the beginning of a gap in the touring schedule. I was curious as to whether either or both planned on sticking around.

Turns out that while Steve Martin was heading out, Martin Short would be staying in Maine for a few days. His plan was to visit some friends living on the coast. That’s all I’ll be sharing with you, but that was not all that Mr. Short shared with me. He was delighted to tell me where he would be staying and with whom. He was so enthusiastic that he elicited a simple – and very funny – remark from Mr. Martin.

“Just tell him the address.”

(He didn’t, by the way.)

I went back and forth about how to include it – it didn’t really fit into the flow of the rest of the interview and again, naming names seemed irresponsible – because it was just such a charming and sincere way for our time together to come to a close.

Steve Martin and Martin Short are legends of the comedy world, but they’re still going strong. This show presents the opportunity to see two icons doing what they do best.

They said it themselves: they’re aiming for wall-to-wall laughs … and Bangor is poised to help them achieve that goal.

(“Now You See Them, Soon You Won’t,” starring Steve Martin and Martin Short and featuring the music of Steep Canyon Rangers and Jeff Babko, will be coming to the Cross Insurance Center on Sept. 14. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.; show starts at 8 p.m. For tickets or more information, visit the CIC website at www.crossinsurancecenter.com or call the box office at (207-561-8333). Tickets are also available at www.waterfrontconcerts.com.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 September 2019 11:20

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