Best known for his comedy work on “Saturday Night Live” and Canada’s “SCTV Comedy Network,” comedian Martin Short will appear at the Palladium in Carmel on Saturday, Aug. 27.
Short is also well known for his work in such Hollywood films as “Three Amigos,” “Inner Space,” “Mars Attack,” “Father of the Bride” and “Father of the Bride II.”
A Tony-winning veteran of Broadway and the theater in Canada, the 61 year-old, popular performer also has written, produced and starred in highly acclaimed television specials.
Speaking by phone from his home near Los Angeles, Short was more than happy to talk to joltleft.com about his upcoming Palladium show, as well as answer questions about his career and future projects.
Have you ever been to Carmel?
I have never been to Carmel. My first Carmel.
What do you know about the Palladium?
I know that it was just built and it cost $150 million.
What will your show consist of?
It’s a one-man variety show. It’s as if I’m hosting Saturday Night Live and playing the entire cast as well. I have my piano player. I’ll be singing and dancing and stand-up. There’s a lot of improv. All the characters I’ve ever done show up. Jimmy Glick, Ed Grimley, Jackie Rogers. Irving Cohen, Nathan Thurm, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn.
It’s a party with Marty. I liken it to if you were having a party and I jumped on your piano with a pianist and just performed for 90 minutes. It’s really kind of joyful and fun and loose. At one point I’ll bring three people up on stage and turn them into the Three Amigos. Jimmy Glick will interview a surprise guest. There are funny satirical songs. Everything from me singing a mock ode to Osama bin Laden, “Goodbye Al-Qaeda Rose.”
You may get death threats like David Letterman.
Well, I’m sure, but what a way to go.
I understand you’re doing a TV comedy special this summer in Toronto. Is this along the same lines?
I’ve got an insane schedule that I’m going to do. I do the show there Saturday night. Sunday I fly to Sydney, Australia, and I do three concerts there. One with John Cleese. And then I get on a plane and return to Toronto, where I land at midnight on September 4th, and then on the 6th I start shooting my special.
What will the special consist of? Similar to what you’ll be doing here or something different?
It’s completely different, really. It’s an elaborate kind of fake story about me coming home to do a concert. Going to my hometown to do a concert for this fictitious mentor of mine, who will be played by Christopher Guest. And then I raise the idea – a hometown – how does it influence an artist? Is an artist influenced most by DNA or the influences that you meet through the years, or his hometown? And we analyze all those elements in my life and determine who influences what. It’s for the CBC, and then we’ll hopefully sell it to HBO.
Where is your hometown in Canada?
I have four passports. I was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. I have an American one because I became American 15 years ago. Then my father was born in Northern Ireland, so that allows me a United Kingdom passport. But my grandfather was born in the Republic of Ireland, so that allows me a Republic of Ireland passport. But anyway, my home is in Pacific Palisades, Calif., near L.A., and I have a summer home about three hours north of Toronto on the lakes.
Do all the famous Canadians who live in California know each other?
We don’t all know each other, but it is that weird thing – it’s like if you run into a Saturday Night Live alumni you have a kindred spirit. And there’s a little bit of, “Oh, William Shatner – you’re a Canadian – hello!” The original cast of SCTV is very, very close, and I regularly see Catherine O’Hara, Gene Levy, Dave Thomas, Andrea Martin, Joe Flaherty and all those people.
What universal magic occurred that allowed that magic SCTV troupe to form?
It’s an interesting question – why is it that certain cities go through certain periods, whether it’s Paris in the ’20s or … when I met all those people in the ’70s in Toronto, and I’m talking about Danny Akroyd, Gilda Radner, John Candy, Gene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, Paul Shaffer. We were all just unemployed actors hoping to be in show business. Why is it that group all became famous? I don’t know, except that maybe there were shows that gave them platforms, like SCTV and Saturday Night Live. In show business you need talent, but you also need a showcase. Ethel Merman was a great belter, but if no one had every hired her for a Broadway show, who would know?
The same thing happened with Second City in Chicago, did it not?
Absolutely. This group formed, and then you had Elaine May and Mike Nichols and John Belushi, etc., etc., etc.
What was the reason for the demise of SCTV?
Well it was on for many years, but like anything – its sensibility – it was never pandering to popular fad. So it was always creatively – love letters from the press. Two years in a row we were nominated for every category of best writing in a variety show. But the ratings were never high because we were at 12:30 to 2 in the morning on NBC, so we eventually got canceled.
But what’s interesting is that the sketches and the DVDs and the fondness for it stays as strong as it ever was, and I think one of the reasons is that audience knew we were playing to them and not playing to the mass market. When you play to the mass market you don’t get as big as ratings. It’s yen or yang. It’s typical to have them both. “Seinfeld” did, Larry David in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” does. When you have the critics, the hipsters and the popular audience.
Is it still in reruns?
It is. All over the place. Particularly in Canada where it’s like “I Love Lucy.”
So it still holds up quite well, I’m sure.
It really does. I’m always amazed. I always think, “Oh my God, that still kind of works.”
Do ever see your stuff while you’re watching television and it comes on?
You know, it’s like anything, whether it’s that or, you know, I’ve made over 20 movies. A lot of things turn up. I don’t really seek myself out tremendously, because what you do is you sit back and say, “Ah I didn’t like that part”. You just see the flaws.
Do you ever recall something that happened when you were shooting a certain scene and something that went wrong or something funny that happened?
You can’t help but be swept back. Especially when you see people who are no longer here. Like John Candy. I can go back and see John on the screen, and it’s just seeing an old friend and then I remember, oh my God, I remember making that and shooting that. Oh John I miss you and all that.
What do you feel was the most creative period in your career?
When you’re doing shows like Saturday Night Live or SCTV, that’s almost like doing a newspaper. There’s so much creativity because there is such a speed. I don’t know if I can pinpoint it. I’ve just written this 70-page special where I play nine characters that I’ll shoot. I’ve spent the last two months writing it. That was a very creative stage. I just did a Broadway show three years ago, “Fame Becomes Me”, which I wrote. That was a creative stage. So, I tend to, a lot of what I do comes from my head, and when you create, you’re being creative. As long as I work, I kind of feel like I’m being creative.
So you haven’t peaked yet?
Yeah, I would think that on my gravestone would be one word. It says “Almost.”
You’re not dead yet, in other words?
I’m 61. If I haven’t peaked yet, then I might have, you know. … No rush. It’s like that time when Ruth Gordon won that Oscar when she was 75, and she said, “I find this very encouraging.”
You have a degree in social work but never pursued a formal career in it. Does any of the education you’ve received in that field inform your work as a performer or a human being?
I think everything you experience puts you into that. I was the kid who used to have my own imaginary talk show and variety show in my attic. I had an applause record when I was 15. But for some reason I was determined that I wanted to be a doctor. And then I did pre-med, so I didn’t pursue acting. I went to pre-med, and then I realized I didn’t really care about science. I was just a fan of the TV show “Quincy.”
So I thought, “Well, that doesn’t work”, and I then switched from there to social work because I wanted more free time to be able to do plays and theater at university. So I think that each step along the way in your journey teaches you something, helps you with something, guides you towards something, and that you end up using it all.
Having studied social work, you probably have some favorite causes. What are some that are special to you?
I do a huge benefit for children’s charities: The Toys R Us benefit each year in Los Angeles. I’m a big supporter of the West Side Children’s Center. I’m a big supporter of cancer research. I have lots of charities.
It has been reported that you may be playing Marshall’s boss on “How I Met Your Mother.” Is that true?
That is completely true.
When is that going to happen?
I’ve already shot one episode, and I’ll shoot two more after I return from shooting my special.
Are you going to be a regular?
No it’s what they call in the new term an “arch.” It’s part of the Canadian in me, you know. The Canadians are like the British. They just like to do a wide variety of things. When you get to that point in your career when you’re no longer concerned about paying your rent, you have a greater concern about “How do I keep myself busy?”
Speaking of Canadians, isn’t there a Canadian character on the show, and even a fictional Canadian bar in it as well?
The character is, in fact, Canadian and plays a Canadian.
Are there Canadians writers on the show?
I think because the actress was in fact Canadian, they just decided to make her a Canadian in the show as well.
Do you think all the Canadian jokes go over the audience’s heads?
Listen, I remember as a kid watching the Olympics, and the NBC reporter said, “And this skier is from the town of Ottawa (Ah toe Way)”. And he was trying to say “Ottawa.” You think, “Oh my God, they know nothing.”
Were you involved in any of the Vancouver Olympic entertainment activities?
I was working, and I just watched it on television. I thought it was done so well.
I also read that you are writing your memoirs. How’s that going?
That’s one of those Internet things that are not true. I’d love to write a memoir, but all the best stories – I couldn’t tell. They’re all too mean to people, so I’ll have to wait. Maybe when I’m 100, if I’m still alive.
When I knew I’d be talking to you, I went online to look for your website to do some research but discovered that you don’t have one. Why?
I don’t think we need any more people hearing about me. I was always fascinated by people’s concern about losing their privacy because of the Patriot Act. So I sit back and say, “Hold on one second, would you?” And you kind of go, you know, “What do you mean?” Everyone wants every bit of their privacy. The idea that I could tweet right now and talk – you know, who cares?
I’d like to have a little bit of privacy, but you know I’m a celebrity, so I’m used to going to the airport and people taking a lot of pictures. The feeling that I must spend more time letting people know what I’m thinking or feeling or touching or eating – it’s never been my issue, so hence no website, no tweeting, no Facebook.
Well, I eventually found information about you on your Wikipedia page, and I understand that performing in “Godspell” after college was what made you decide to pursue a career in show business. Is that true?
What happened was that I had this idea to finish school at the university. Because I was in Canada, I never thought the choice to be an actor was a realistic one. It was like saying I’m going to be an astronaut or something. Even though I was drawn to all of this, I just didn’t pursue it.
So after four years at a university, and I did English plays and I was president of the Master Shakespearean Society at my university and this and that. The other thing, at a certain point, I said, “I guess I should try this for a year.”
And I took a year off, and so the first audition I went to was an audition for this show “Godspell,” which had just opened in New York, and now they were going to open a new company. You know, that kind of first trial company. And I went on a trial run; this would be March of ’72, and I was really in love with it.
Then they did callbacks, and they narrowed it down to about 300 people, and that was a big day. And they narrowed it down to 10 people. And in that 10 people were Gilda Radner, who had never worked before. And Victor Garber and Andrea Martin and Gene Levy and Dave Thomas. Paul Shaffer was a law student at the University of Toronto, but he played for a girlfriend. And Stephen Schwartz, who was only but 26 or 27 himself, said, “I’m not in love with the girl singing, but who is that guy playing the piano?” – and he hired him.
And all this group got together and all became friends, and I dated Gilda for two years, and that’s how we started. Got our first show, a big hit, which was great. The first kind of show to be that popular, it was amazing.
Dud you know that “Godspell” is being revived on Broadway?
I know. I might even go opening night.
Where did you get the accent for Franck, the wedding planner in “Father of the Bride” and “Father of the Bride II?”
I don’t know. I think we just made it up and went along with the idea in the first one. The idea in the first one is that Franck symbolized the alienation of the father in the process. In other words, the mother and the daughter could understand this wedding coordinator, but Steve Martin couldn’t.
So we then did a lot of takes that first day. We shot the first apple scene in the first movie. And it was like mixing a formula for take, you know? If you made him too hard to understand, then the audience couldn’t understand him. But then we did some takes, you could really understand him, and Steve Martin said, “Now I can understand him completely,” and I’m supposed to be going, “Excuse me, what, what were you saying?” – and so it was just a fine alchemy, and we drew a line down the middle. It was a lot of improvising. And I remember the time we were a little nervous about it because he had a very realistic view of the character, but then you find out in life, life is filled with bizarre characters. The secret is don’t try to be funny, just be sincere while doing it, and it will somehow be funny.
So did you and Steve Martin do a lot of improv in those scenes together?
Well there was certainly a script, but what I was saying was gibberish, so we had a lot of improv around. Steve and I have made many films and did many things together.
Did Katharine Hepburn ever see your impression of her, and what did she think about it?
I don’t know if she ever did. I never heard, anyway. Someone who is really that famous has a much larger sense of no matter what you’re saying, as long as you’re talking about them, they’re happy.
For tickets and information regarding Martin Short at the Palladium, call (317) 843-3800 or visit www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org.