Steve Martin and Martin Short don’t look at their joint tour as a “final” anything.
“These are our waning years,” Martin says by phone.
“'Tour’ is not an accurate description,” Short, on the same line, adds. “We do three or four a month, then take a month or two off and see if we want to do it again. It’s our ‘Love Letters.’”
In truth, “An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life” isn’t just a meeting of the Martins, it’s an outgrowth of an interview the two did at a “Just For Laughs” comedy event in 2011. “We had so much fun doing it, we decided to do a few more,” Short says.
What started as one comedian asking the other questions expanded into a show with music, skits, film clips and plenty of laughs. The two reminisce about the films they made together (“Three Amigos” and “Father of the Bride” among them) and get a chance to rib each other about extracurricular activities.
When Martin brings out the Steep Canyon Rangers and offers up a few of his Grammy-winning hits, “I leave the stage,” Short says, pauses, then adds: “I don’t leave the city. I have a glass of water.” He’s envious of his friend’s banjo skill (“I’d love to play the banjo,” he says without irony), but hasn’t made it a priority.
Martin, meanwhile, envies his partner’s singing ability. “He’s a great, great singer. I would love to be able to sing like Marty…and I wouldn’t even say it as a joke.”
What binds them is a common sense of humor, Martin says. “The audience decides what stays in and what goes out. One of the great joys is discovering the audience likes something you didn’t think was funny.”
“You have to be open to new ideas but (know) your instincts could be wrong,” Short says.
Ad libs happen but, hopefully, there’s no reason to ad lib, Martin says.
During the 1970s – at the peak of his “wild and crazy guy” phase – Martin’s fans would say the punchlines with him. “It wasn’t a problem then,” he says. “When I stopped standup, I just wanted to move on to something else. If you’re a singer, (fans) want to hear the song again. But if you’re a comedian, they don’t want to hear the jokes over and over. They want you to replenish.”
Because his work wasn’t composed of a lot of one-liners (“there was nothing to write down. If I looked at my own jokes, I couldn’t even remember what it was about”), Martin didn’t amass a war chest of material he could dip back into.
Indeed, he moved from standup to films, from films to music and, most recently, to writing Broadway shows. He was Tony-nominated for his work on the musical “Bright Star.” This year, Amy Schumer got a nod for her role in Martin’s “Meteor Shower.”
“I’d love to win a Tony,” he says.
Short, he’s reminded, already has one. “I should break into his house and put tape over his name,” Martin says.
While “An Evening You Will Forget” has been taped for a Netflix special, both say the show they’re touring constantly has new material. It’s a variety show, of sorts, but it’s not like the kind both grew up on.
“Variety has never really left,” says Short, who had a variety series with Maya Rudolph last year. “What is ‘American Idol’? Aren’t talk shows really just variety shows? There’s a lot of variety on television. It’s just not in prime time.”
The shows most people remember – ones helmed by Dean Martin, Danny Kaye, Andy Williams and others – “died out as (Johnny) Carson was becoming big and maybe that usurped them,” Martin says. “You can’t say it never will come back, but there aren’t as many as when I was a kid.”
Carol Burnett, both agree, “should have had a variety show. Donny and Marie, not so much.”
Because Martin and Short live on opposite sides of the country, they don’t get to see each other as often as they’d like. The tour is a way for them to check in, catch up and laugh – just as they do during a phone call.
Why isn’t the tour called the “Steve Martin Short Show”? They’re asked. “Too obvious!” Martin responds without hesitating.
“Actually,” he says. “I used to do a show with Martin Mull in the early ‘70s and that had a similar name. I’d feel like we were infringing on that.”
Besides, “An Evening You Will Forget” has a host of “supporting” characters, like Short’s celebrity interviewer Jiminy Glick. “He was an interviewer, not a reviewer,” Short points out. And, yes, he has interviewed Martin before.
How did it go? “I have no idea,” Martin says quickly. “I refused to see it.”