The 1986 movie “Three Amigos” brought Steve Martin, Martin Short and Chevy Chase together in an unlikely comic adventure. Now those first two amigos are together again, and sharing some laughs with our Tony Dokoupil:
It’s just two hours before their show in Grand Rapids, Mich., gets underway, and even though Steve Martin and Martin Short are used to getting laughs, they’re busy working and re-working their material.
“The thing about comedy is that you’re always this close to failure,” said Martin. “So, the moment you become arrogant, you just, all you have to do is wait.”
“So, the fear of failing or the fear of bombing is as intense today as it was your very first time?” asked Dokoupil.
“I don’t think it’s fear,” said Short. “I think it’s, like, saying to the pilot, ‘Why do you always check those buttons every time you fly? You’ve been flying for 20 years!’ That’s just what you do.”
Their show, “An Evening You Will Forget For the Rest of Your Life,” now touring nationally, and streaming on Netflix, is a mix of self-mockery and clever nods to their most classic skits.
Martin said, “We can walk offstage, literally, just edge into the curtain and we’ll turn to each other and say, ‘That one joke, it should come actually before the other thing. We’ll do that. And I think I’m gonna just blah, blah, blah….'”
“That’s revising immediately right in the wings?”
“Well, that’s when you can remember it!” he laughed.
No one would blame Martin Short, at 68, or Steve Martin, who’s 72, if they did coast a little bit. With a slew of awards, plenty of memorable sketches, and nearly 90 movies between them, they’re not out to prove anything.
This is about two friends having fun.
“We have great fun,” said Martin. “The other day I said to Marty, ‘Thank God we’re not exploiting our friendship!’ But the truth is, we’re friends but, you know, we don’t talk every day. I don’t call him at 8:00 a.m., ‘Hey, what happened?'”
Short added, “Steve, I think, feels very close to me. And I view him as a cash cow.”
They both admitted they work on their insults of each other as a team. “Sometimes we’ll swap ’em,” Martin said. “We’ll think, ‘No, no, that’s a better insult to you.”
Theirs is a story that dates back some 30 years, when they first met while making the movie “Three Amigos.”
Martin said of Short, “I just remember thinking, ‘I like this guy.’ And I’m walking to the set. And I hear behind me Katharine Hepburn saying, ‘Where’s my bicycle?’ And that made me laugh!”
From there, they built largely separate careers, aside from the memorable “Father of the Bride” movies.
But in 2010, after Short’s wife of 30 years, Nancy Dolman, died of cancer, Steve Martin was one of the friends who understood that, in his mourning, Short might benefit from keeping busy.
The next summer they appeared together on stage for the first time.
“I took the time off,” Short recalled. “And then I realized that being busy was normalcy. So, you know, if I was home, it seemed like, Where’s Nan? But if I was in a hotel room in Boston getting ready, that was the norm.”
“How important was he to you in that time?” asked Dokoupil.
“You rely on your friends and your family and time and your intellect. But certainly, all my friends were valuable. And Steve was one of them.”
Now, you might call them a regular twosome.
Of course, it’s a funny time, to be funny in America. In this politically-correct era, some of those early “SNL” sketches can be seen as bad form.
“Yeah, it’s very tricky,” said Martin. “And, you know, I kind of fall in line with a lot of the corrections in language. I think it’s good.”
Dokoupil said, “There are bits from your past, and your past, that I don’t think you could do today. And many of your colleagues have done bits that I don’t think would fly today.”
“I think, you know, Steve and I slightly share a difference on this,” said Short. “I don’t care. I think it’s way so ridiculously over-reactive now. And so I think you have to be your own barometer, know what is correct or not.”
Fortunately for these two old pros, what’s funny is funny. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.
Martin said, “Oh, I’m not motivated, at least right now, to write a play or this or that. I’m motivated by this. I really like this.”
Short added, “I don’t think because you’re 68, you have to [sings] ‘Goodbye!’“
“That’s good! We should put that in the show.”
“I don’t think you do that. I might win an Oscar at 78. I don’t know. I can’t predict. But unless I was either physically unable or I actually dreaded going to work, I can’t ever imagine stopping. And I’d like to think that I was the best version of myself on the last day of my life as a performer.”
Dokoupil said, “It’s clear you still love it.”
They both affirmed: “Yes.”
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Story produced by Sara Kugel.