An Evening with Martin Short

Martin-Short 75I come out, jump and dance around, and then I start bringing out the characters. Jackie Rogers Jr. shows up, Ed Grimley, all those guys.


Martin-Short 500

“This is Marty!”

So went my introduction to the inimitable Martin Short, an artist that many of us spent our formative years enjoying from his early appearances on SCTV and Saturday Night Live, to his delightful work in such films as Three Amigos! and Innerspace.

In conversation, he’s exactly how you would think; affable, pleasantly open and still very passionate about his always evolving career. There were so many anecdotes, I would have liked to had a full afternoon talking to him, reminiscing Irving Cohen-style about the grand old days in SCTV’s fictional town of Melonville. But back to the present tense; why was I talking to him in the first place?  

As it turns out, Short has a one-man show that he brings to stages all over the world, and this Saturday night, he’ll be dropping anchor at Lindenwood University’s J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts in St. Charles. What can we expect from the ever-unpredictable Marty Short?

“I call it a Party with Marty,” he says. “I do a lot of the music from the Broadway shows and characters from Saturday Night Live and SCTV. I come out, jump and dance around, and then I start bringing out the characters. Jackie Rogers Jr. shows up, Ed Grimley, all those guys. It’s sort of a journey of my professional life. I’ll even be doing a song about St. Charles.”

The 63-year-old performer certainly has a professional life worth celebrating, but how does he keep it fresh after all of these years?

“For me, it’s only once you get past worrying about food and rent, that you start to think, ‘Well, how do I keep myself interested?’ I’ve always really liked variety, so I find that that’s what keeps me going.”

Short acknowledges that he was inspired by older generations where “you had to do a little bit of everything. You had to do some singing, dancing, perform Shakespeare, write; whatever you needed to do.”

Anyone who has seen both SCTV and SNL knows that, though they’re both sketch-based late night comedies, the sensibilities of the shows were very different. I wondered if Short had a preference, since he had so much experience doing both as a cast member.

“I never really had a preference. When I was doing SCTV, I was in my hometown of Toronto where I had a home, and the main trick was making each other laugh. All of us had already known each other for ten years by the time I started doing the show. We would write for six weeks, shoot for the next six, take a couple of weeks off and do that again. So, if you didn’t have anything the first two weeks of writing, that was okay because you had four more weeks to write and come up with ideas. On Saturday Night Live, it all starts on a Monday, and there’s an enormous pressure to come up with something that works. You could be a star on Saturday night, but you’re starting from scratch on Monday morning and getting that pit in your stomach on Tuesday. The energy of that show, doing everything live, was so much fun though.”

Like any sketch-oriented show, it’s a rarity to have a character break out and stake a claim for itself in pop culture; but that’s exactly what mega-excited and ultra-nerdy Ed Grimley did. Not only was the character featured on SCTV and SNL, but he even had his own Saturday morning cartoon show – The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley. I relayed to him that the appearance of that show was like some kind of oddball gift from the heavens for my friends and I that worshipped that character. He laughed and responded, “Yes! People love Ed, and he’ll always be popping up somewhere.”

And what are the origins of Mr. Grimley?

“I was doing a sketch with Peter Aykroyd (Dan Aykryod’s brother) and Catherine O’Hara. It was about two people who are interviewing for the same job, and the guy doing the hiring couldn’t make up his mind,” he says. “I remembered a friend from school named Stan, who always had a really strange cadence to his speech, where he would extend the last syllable and end everything in a question mark. ‘I showed up and brought my shaaaaaades?  But I really didn’t need my shaaaades?’ So, when we started doing the sketch, I thought, ‘well, I’ll just do Stan.’ The thing is though, I started slicking my hair back and making a piece of it stick up a little. Peter started saying ‘Your hair’s getting higher each night, isn’t it?’ So one night, just to mess with him, I greased it up really good to where it looked absolutely ridiculous. He thought it was pretty funny, but the audience thought it was hilarious. I thought to myself, ‘well they laughed pretty hard at that, and that’s the idea, isn’t it?’ so I just kept doing it.”

Jackie Rogers Jr. was another favorite of mine from the SCTV days, and I asked how the lover of silver lame’ jumpsuits and single ladies came to be. After launching into a few choice smarmy seconds of Jackie, Short explains “Like all characters,  they usually come from an amalgamation of a lot of people. I wanted to do a lounge singer guy, but Bill Murray already had a really successful lounge singer character.”

Since Nick the Lounge Singer was already slayin’ ‘em in the States, Martin says that he had “this other idea of a performer named Jackie Rogers, who was filming a musical special with wild animals and was ultimately killed by one of them. So, he has a son named Jackie Rogers Jr. who follows in his footsteps, carrying on the great showbiz tradition.”

And where did the albino look come from?

“I made him that way,” he explains matter-of-factly, “because I was watching this show and saw Mickey Rooney Jr. and he looked albino to me. I thought “that’s what Jackie Jr. should look like.”

Jackie Jr., like his Tin Pan Alley influenced Irving Cohen character (“Give me a ‘C’, a bouncy, ‘C’!”), Short has always proven a master at having a bit of fun at the expense of old-fashioned showbiz caricatures. The genius of Short’s fame-hungry characters though, is that he does them so well and fleshes out their most basic human qualities to such a degree, that you forget that the guy you’re watching is one of the most famous comedians in the world. Speaking of old-school showbiz, I tell him that I had recently read the Jerry Lewis biography, “The King of Comedy,” and asked if he had ever met the iconic comedian, famously imitated by Short on SCTV sketches like Scenes from an Idiot’s Marriage.

“Oh, I’ve met him many times; in fact, we’re friends now. When I first met him, it was around ’81, and he could still do the ‘Kid’ voice, so he was like “HEY MARTY!” He’s a lovely man.” 

What did he think of his exuberant portrayal of his 70’s nightclub persona? 

“He liked it! I think to imitate someone like that successfully, you have to really celebrate them and why you love them, along with all the warts. After all, I wouldn’t be able to imitate him if I didn’t spend time watching his work over and over again. Otherwise, it’s just an attack.”

Even though he’s worked on projects with everyone from Steven Spielberg to Steve Martin, is there anyone he would want to work with that he hasn’t had the opportunity to yet? 

“Oh wow, there are so many, it would be difficult to choose. I’d love to work with Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro. Even though Bill Murray did an episode of SCTV, I’d really like to work with him.”

As our time winds up, I had one more question I wanted to ask: what was it like working with the late John Candy?

“I met John for the first time in 1973, and I adored him, we all did. He was everything you would want him to be, charming, sweet. I can still see him walk through the door as if it was yesterday.” | Jim Ousley

Lindenwood University’s J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts will feature An Evening with Martin Short on the stage of The Bezemes Family Theater at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14.

Reserved seat tickets are available for $48.50-$68.50 at the Lindenwood Box Office (636-949-4433) or online at The Box Office and The Bezemes Family Theater are located in Lindenwood’s J. Scheidegger Center for the Arts, at 2300 West Clay St., just west of First Capitol Drive in St. Charles.

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