Between the two of them, Steve Martin and Martin Short have amassed a staggering body of work: thousands of film and TV credits, hundreds of standup specials, screenplays, novels, memoirs, children's books, Broadway musicals, Tonys, Oscars, Grammys, Emmys and everything in between. But it's their latest venture that both men find most fulfilling: a joint performance titled An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life that's equal parts variety show, bluegrass revue and love letter to their first on-screen ballet in the 1986 movie ¡Three Amigos! Folio Weekly laughed our butt off while chatting with the two Martins.
Folio Weekly: You guys were just in Florida in January. What made you come back so quickly?
Steve Martin: When our agent things say Florida, I say, "We love it there!" The audiences have been very responsive, and we feed off a good audience.
Martin Short: The weather's very nice-I don't know if you've noticed that. But also, Florida has some of the greatest audiences ever. And I have no idea why.
S.M.: In the early '70s, I used to play the Club Down Under and the Beef & Bottle in Tallahassee. I remember going on there as an up-and-coming comedian, and I heard a couple of frat guys in the front row whisper to each other, "Let's get this guy." All I did was stare at 'em through the whole show. And they relented.
You two have set a tall bar for yourselves with An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life title.
S.M.: We actually hope that the audience leaves saying, "That was the funniest show I ever saw." That's our aim. One of the secrets is to have a lot of fun. I think the audience enjoys it when they know we're actually enjoying ourselves.
Is the performance an update of the variety show, which originated in the mid-20th century when
you two were growing up?
M.S.: I don't think it's that thought-out. I never really thought that variety ever left television-it just changed its name. America's Got Talent has puppeteers, singers and jugglers. American Idol is a variety show. The Tonight Show is a variety show. The reality is, Steve and I have a lot of varied interests as storytellers, musicians, monologists. When you put it under one umbrella and add the brilliance of [our musical accompaniment] Steep Canyon Rangers and Jeff Babko, you've got a variety of talent.
S.M.: I have no interest in doing a variety show. It just turned out that way when we started mixing and matching what Marty does best-or did best-and what I do best.
M.S.: What Steve does OK.
Your rapport is famous-some people say this show is almost like a joint roast, though your brand of humor seems far more high-minded than the roast format.
S.M.: I find them too harsh. We don't really roast each other-we kid each other, which is exactly what we do in real life.
M.S.: And, by the way, what most close friends do in real life. But I agree with you-those roasts can be brutal.
S.M.: They can actually hurt people.
Steve, you said when you started touring with the Steep Canyon Rangers, you were hesitant to include comedy in the show. What brought you around?
S.M.: Before I started touring with the band, a friend of mine said, "Look, Steve, if you go out there and you don't do comedy, the audience is going to be very disappointed." From the start, I put comedy in. The people weren't there to hear my banjo skills. When I think about it, we did pretty well. A comedian fronting a bluegrass band-who's interested in that?
M.S.: Oh, I love it. Whenever I hear Steve playing banjo, I think the police are chasing me.
S.M.: Marty loves my banjo so much that when I start playing, he sits in a chair, rolls his head back and starts snoring.
Do you all dabble in the older material you're so famous for?
S.M.: We don't revisit old characters. We have a little montage at the beginning that takes care of all of that. Everything else, with the exception of one or two moments, is new.
Has the process of writing new material changed much as you've gotten older?
M.S.: We're fortunate because we have similar comedy tastes. It's rare to find a joke that Steve would find hysterical and I wouldn't. That's beneficial.
The current state of American politics is ripe for satirical comedy. Do you all go there?
S.M.: We steer clear of politics and social commentary, except for one 10-minute section of our show, which is actually one of the highlights. We don't take sides, though-we just pick on vulnerable people.
Last week, you all announced a joint Netflix special from the An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life tour. Perhaps next we'll see one of those "day in the life" series that have become all the rage on Netflix and HBO?
S.M.: That's too much of a time commitment for us. Right now, we just work three or four days a month.
M.S.: And that's plenty!
Steve Martin & Martin Short, Steep Canyon Rangers, Jeff Babko, 8 p.m., March 9, Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts' Moran Theater, Downtown, 633-6110, $71-$196, timesunioncenter.com.