116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Steve Martin and Martin Short love Iowa.
Steve Martin has been here several times, including a performance with The Steep Canyon Rangers at the Des Moines Civic Center in 2012. An artist as well as an actor, musician, author, playwright and comedian, he also contributed erudite observations for a University of Iowa documentary about Jackson Pollock’s “Mural.”
Then he and Martin Short christened the new Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City in 2016, with their comedy conversation, “An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life.” As I said in my report on that gala event, they lied. It was an evening and performance everyone who witnessed it always will remember.
They’re coming back, heading to the Des Moines Civic Center on May 14 with a new conversation, “You Won’t Believe What They Look Like Today!” Now in their 70s, they look mahvelous.
What: Steve Martin and Martin Short: “You Won’t Believe What They Look Like Today!” Also performing: The Steep Canyon Rangers, Jeff Babko
Where: Des Moines Civic Center, 221 Walnut St., Des Moines
When: 8 p.m. May 14, 2022
Tickets: $79 to $230, Civic Center Box Office, (515) 246-2300 or desmoinesperformingarts.org/events/you-wont-believe/
Steve Martin is thrilled to be returning to Iowa. He especially loves Cedar Rapids, and was pleased to learn that Theatre Cedar Rapids has staged his plays “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” and “Bright Star.”
A recent interview connecting The Gazette with Steve Martin in New York and Martin Short in Los Angeles began like this:
STEVE: Marty, have you been to Cedar Rapids before?
MARTIN: Have I been there? I'm not sure.
STEVE: It’s the most amazing thing, because you go to Cedar Rapids and guess what is in the middle of town?
MARTIN: Um, rapids.
STEVE: That's right. And they’re very beautiful.
Neither heard about the 2020 derecho that hit the city, and were shocked by the description.
STEVE: Oh, my God. I didn’t know about that. … Well, then I shouldn't describe Marty as a hurricane coming to town.
MARTIN: No, no, no.
After reminiscing briefly about his time in the Hawkeye state, Steve Martin declared, “I love Iowa,” then he launched into singing a few bars from “Iowa Stubborn” from “The Music Man.”
“Oh, there’s nothing half way about the Iowa way we treat you, if we treat you, which we may not do at all.”
The duo’s new show is “probably 70 percent different” from the previous one. The conversational structure remains the same, but the interior content is different.
“We bring out two chairs, because we sit and chat with each other and actually use that for telling funny anecdotes and things that have happened,” Steve Martin said. “Sometimes the audience’s favorite part of the show is telling these stories.”
Both are “Saturday Night Live” alums, although their paths didn’t cross there. They first worked together on the 1986 comedy Western film, “The Three Amigos.” But they didn’t begin touring together until 2015.
“We were doing different things,” Martin Short said. “Steve was a massive star, doing his stand up in the ’70s, in the white suit era. And I was living in Toronto doing ‘Second City’ stage. I joined ‘SNL’ 10 years after it had been on.”
“That was when Lorne (Michaels) left,” Steve Martin said, referring to Michaels’ hiatus in the early 1980s. “I was loyal to Lorne, so I didn’t really appear on the show in that era.
“But actually our show, our work together was serendipitous. It just sort of was an accident,” Steve Martin said. “We were asked to host at a comedy festival and our job was to be interviewed and it went well.”
They decided they ought to do that kind of thing again.
“And so we just started booking some shows, and then the show kind of morphed into what it is today,” Steve Martin said.
But the script is no accident. Living on separate coasts, they merge their brain power online to come up their duo shows.
“We actually do this kind of echo show if we’re not in the same city, and we can see each other,” Martin Short said. “We have our laptops and we go over jokes, and it’s a discussion and trial and error, and you try things. We have some writers that help, as well, with jokes. We’ll go through that. We do it as two writers sharing an office.
“And every once in a while, we’ll just come up with a whole new bit that we have to work out,” Steve Martin added. “We consult with each other, working it out. It usually ends up with Marty in a dress.”
After another bit of laughter, I added: “Well, I’m sure he’s got the legs for it.”
“I certainly do,” Martin Short replied.
When the script is done, they stick to it, not ad-libbing unless the situation calls for it.
“We like to adhere to the script unless something definitely requires ad-libbing situations,” Steve Martin said. “The audience paid, and we want to do what gives them the best show. And when you start ad-libbing, you’re going way off. You don’t know if that’s the best show.
“We do ad-lib, but we're also pros at it,” he pointed out, “so we know when to terminate that and get back on script. We like doing our script. That’s why it’s our script. We like it.”
“If you improvise something and it works, then that line or that idea goes in the next night,” Martin Short added. “But you do want to have a bottom line of a professional show. That’s why they don’t improvise on Broadway, you know.”
These two pros have been making audiences laugh for decades. So what makes them laugh?
“Oh, you know what? We love gossip,” Steve Martin said. “Doesn’t the Bible say we’re not supposed to gossip or something? We like talking about people, and we find outrageous behavior kind of funny.”
“But I think we're both very generous laughers,” Martin Short said. “We both watch ‘SNL’ and laugh at funny things. Sometimes there’s this image of people in comedy, they don’t want to laugh at something funny because they’re either resentful or they’re jealous. But in our case, I think we’re both very easy laughers if something is funny.”
“One of the lucky things,” Steve Martin noted, “if you are a business person, you get to hang out with other business people. If you’re a comedian, you hang out with other funny people, which is just a delight. I mean, it doesn’t seem like a delight right now.”
“No, it seems depressing,” Martin Short added. “On paper, it’s a delight.”
Growing up, Steve Martin wasn’t the class clown, and didn’t have some grand epiphany that comedy would be his bright star.
“I never knew I was funny, but I just loved comedy,” he said. “I loved comedy, on television and in movies, so I would try to emulate what I saw the next day. If I saw a funny routine by Red Skelton I went to school and did it. So that’s my story. But you don’t ever know you’re funny, really.”
Martin Short, on the other hand, grew up in a funny family. His brother, Michael Short, is an accomplished writer with a long string of credits, including Emmy Awards as a writer for “SCTV” and a co-executive producer for “Schitt’s Creek.”
“And my father's very funny,” he said. “All my older siblings are funny. I was the youngest, so it was trickle down funny. It was the norm in our family — you didn’t really think in terms of anything else. So if you go to class, you’re kind of emulating your older siblings and now you’re the class clown a little bit.”
What keeps them on the road, developing new shows at a time when they could just sit around counting each other’s money?
“It is true that once you’ve figured out the rent, your career becomes even more interesting, because now, why do you want to keep doing it? Why do you want to keep being interested? And I think for us it’s an art form,” Martin Short said.
”We get the satisfaction of entertaining thousands of people, and if it goes well, you feel fabulous afterwards and you feel happy,” he said. “I think we just still both adore doing what we can do, and we can do it well. We’re not having compromised what we can or can’t do. I think it’s just an exercise in what actors do.”
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