Steve Martin and Martin Short on Friendship, Live Shows, and Music

photo by Anna Webber

Steve Martin and Martin Short have been friends for over 35 years and now they've taken their relationship to the stage, both as a Netflix special and as a touring act. It's entertaining, funny as hell, and full of warmth. The fellows were kind enough to share their time with KEXP's Owen Murphy and he may have passed out amidst the interview with these two superstars but is REALLY excited to see their show, called An Evening You'll Forget For The Rest of Your Life at Seattle's Paramount Theatre on Sat July 7th.

Hear the on-air edited piece and read more of the interview below.

So, the special is both hilarious and extraordinarily entertaining but what struck me the most is how warm it is. It feels like your friendship is spilling out of the —  well, computer since I watched it on Netflix. So, let's start there: Steve, what does Martin's friendship mean to you? 

Steve Martin: I think the friendship is very important, but Marty and I don't, you know, wake up in the morning and instantly call each other. We work together, we see each other now and then. And Marty certainly has another life that I'm desperately trying to find out what it is. (Laughs.) We got very lucky in having a smooth, professional working relationship. That was the luckiest thing that happened in the last 15 years, except for getting married, of course. 

Martin, what does Steve's friendship mean to you? 

Martin: It's exactly what he just said — we're great friends and we found through the years that we also worked in the same way, that we found similar things funny. And I think the "working habits" are one of the great reasons why this partnership has worked professionally. But certainly, we're great friends beyond this. 

Steve, is there something about Martin "the entertainer" that truly tickles you? Something that maybe a regular person like myself wouldn't recognize? 

Steve: I am always impressed when he goes to extremes. There's a photo in our show — you probably saw it in the Netflix special — of Marty dressed in completely gold make-up and he's standing at the fence. What is that? Is that something from The Wizard of Oz

Martin: It was from a special I did in 1989. Martin Short Goes Hollywood. Yeah. It's supposed to be a bad version of The Wizard of Oz called The Man in the Moon

Steve: Bizarre looking. And if you look at some of his characters through the years, they've really been bizarre like Ed Grimley. But also the synchronized swimming bit you did with Harry Shearer. That's just weird. 

Martin, what is it about Steve's wit that you think makes him stand out? 

Martin: Well, I think it's exactly that. It's the word "wit." Steve is a great writer. You know, Steve started off as a writer for The Smothers Brothers. I started off as an actor who at times had to write. And that's a big creative difference between us which I have enormous admiration for— that his mind works as a very structured "writer's mind" but not clinging to anything he's written, and very open that if it doesn't get a response either from me or the audience, off it goes. Some of the biggest writers — like Neil Simon — that I've worked with have that instinct, too. 

Steve: Right now I'm dabbing the tears in my eyes with a Kleenex. (Martin laughs.) Well, they're fake so don't worry. 

You guys clearly love music, and our motto for the station is "where the music matters." Steve, I'll start with you why does music matter to you? 

Steve: Well, I'm sure it's the same reason it matters to everybody else. Music is a mystery, even its initial creation. The instinct to create music by banging on things and making stringed instruments, it's universal. As a player, it's a whole other thing as opposed to a listener. As a player, you're crafting, you're trying to find the right tone, you're trying to hit the right — I don't want to say "hit the right notes" because we hit the right notes. It took me a while when I was playing music live on stage to think, "I've got to remember that I'm making music and not just moving my fingers around the fretboard." And once I started thinking about that, you're thinking about the outcome of what you're playing rather than the mechanics of what you're playing. So, you know it's a great joy to get with the band and play and jam and listen to other players. If I listen to string band music or even string quartet music I understand it because I've been there. I don't know what to say about why music matters. It just happens. It turns out it's big. 

You mentioned making music versus the mechanics. Would you describe the difference to someone doesn't understand what that means exactly? 

One is mechanical and one is aesthetic. So you're saying, "yeah, I can play this. I can play fast. I can play it slow." But what can I do to give it soul? To give it meaning? To give it a musicality, so it's not dead? 

Well, how do you give it soul? 

I think through the touch. Listening to what you're playing. Understanding like, "oh, if I barely press down on the fret here, it comes out differently than if I'm pressing down hard on the fret." You get a different tone, you get a feeling. What I'm looking for when I play is dynamics. So, there will be passages that have a hard touch, a light touch, softer, louder, faster, slower. You can play not quite on the beat, you can play behind the beat, you can play in front of the beat, and the outcomes are different. 

Martin, in the Netflix special, you describe in your childhood, listening to crooners like Frank Sinatra. And now, you're a singer and entertainer. Music must have some meaning to you? 

Martin: You know, it was always part of my life. My mother was the first female concertmaster in a symphony in North America from 1950 to 1962. So, I grew up with four hours of violin playing in the house. Especially during the season. It was just a constant in my life. And I want to be a singer when I was 14. I wanted to be a crooner — you know, like Frank. He seemed "pretty cool." I wanted to command the stage. I thought that would be great. But once you get into comedy and become successful in that, you kind of make this agreement with the audience. That's what they want from you. So, the singing, you have to incorporate through a character. 

Are there artists you think the world may not know about that they should? 

Steve: I wish I more time to think about it... I would say, although she's now known but still is a little underground, Eva Cassidy. I didn't think it would be possible to sing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" and make it new again. 

Martin, you do amazing imitations, and as you say on the show, imitation is the highest form of flattery. Do you do a Steve Martin imitation? 

Martin: (laughing) No, I actually don't, I don't. 

Steve: People don't often imitate me. I'm so bland. There's not much there. 

Well, gentlemen, I'm looking forward to seeing your show here in July in Seattle. 

Steve: I've come to Seattle under three circumstances -- one with me and the Steep Canyon Rangers, one with me and Edie Brickell, and now with Marty and me. I really like coming there. The theaters are good and audiences are great. 

Martin: I second that. I've played Seattle many times and it has spectacular audiences. Maybe it's because it's on the border with Canada. I don't know. I'm not here to judge. But it is a phenomenal place for any entertainer. 

Steve Martin and Martin Short perform An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life on Saturday, July 7th at the Paramount Theatre with special guests Steep Canyon Rangers and Jeff Babko. (Two shows: early and late.) You can also watch their special of the same name via Netflix. Last year, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers released the album The Long-Awaited Album, out now via Rounder.

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