Martin Short on Nixon, Canadian comedy and the beautiful weirdness of Steve Martin
At that time, was there a conscious decision in comedy and theater to depart from the traditions that had come before you? Even if you respected and emulated your predecessors, now that you had hold of the reins to do something new.
I think that the reins had been held for such a long time -- right up until Saturday Night Live -- by the group of comedians that became satirized, the slick, Vegasy kind of comedians. And then SNL created this vehicle for people like John Belushi and Chevy [Chase] that could, in fact, do something that didn't have any punchline at all. Or was character-driven. [Steve] Martin, when he was doing his standup, worked for a couple of years without getting a laugh, because he didn't have jokes. But he'd go up there and do a silly dance, blow up balloons and wear an arrow through his head. That kind of anti-comedy that is so silly that it is its own new comedy.
It seems like the appeal of it was that you were in on the joke, that three-fourths of the population -- especially your parents -- didn't get the joke. But you did, and that made it twice as funny.
Absolutely. When you're thirteen or fourteen, you're very, very open to comedy. It's a time of big influence. Conan O'Brien told me that when he was that age and he was watching SCTV, he thought, "No one else gets this show. It's designed just for my brother and myself." He said it meant so much to him, and that when you met someone else who liked SCTV, it was like, "Oh my god, we must be kindred spirits."
When you came to the states to do SNL, was there a transition between the kind of comedy environment you were used to in Canada?
No, because first of all I grew up only watching American television. Secondly, I had done two failed sitcoms by the time I even did SCTV, that was '79 and '80. And then in '82 and '83 I did SCTV, which was an NBC show that happened to be filmed in Toronto. And then by '84 I moved on to Saturday Night Live. But like I said, I never felt a border between us, like, "I'm a Canadian, and they're American." Funny is funny.
There are a number of films you're in -- I'm thinking of Pure Luck or Innerspace -- that are memorable for your performances, but as a film don't really standup over time. Do you feel that you put a lot of focus on a character, but there's so much surrounding that character in a film that are out of your control?
Well, first of all, comedy is subjective. A film like Innerspace received across-the-board rave reviews, and won an Oscar. Pure Luck, not so much. But the reality is in both cases, you're an actor for hire. You have nothing to do with your own performance, ultimately, because what you do is you give the editor and the director ten options, and that's your job. And then later they go off alone and paint their painting. If you were editing yourself you may do it differently.
Martin Short will perform for the InnovAge Fundraiser at 4:30 p.m. on February 23 at the Seawell Ballroom in the Denver Center of the Performing Arts, located at 1050 13th Street. Tickets are $100-500. Click here for more information.