At some point during his firecrackerlike comedy routine with Steve Martin on Saturday night, Martin Short expects to recall the time he performed in the 1972 tribal-rock musical titled “The Second-Greatest Story Ever Told: Stepbrother to Jesus,” a role that demanded singing, dancing and full-frontal nudity.
He’s sure audiences will realize this musical is fake, as some, X-rated, tie-dyed hybrid of “Hair” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” But that won’t stop him from illustrating the premise of this musical, anyway, as Short, now 64 but still a physical dynamo, will proceed to strip onstage. Steve Martin, meanwhile, will sit on a wooden stool nearby, playing the stone-faced straight man. He’ll appear to be on the verge of a face-palm.
“I strip down into my nude suit. It’s only a nude suit. I swear,” Short says by phone from a café in Los Angeles, where he lives. “It’s not my proudest moment.”
If doffing his clothes doesn’t make the highlight reel of career accomplishments, Short can hardly complain. His tour with Martin, which will stop by Hard Rock Live on Saturday night, represents Short’s latest reunion with a close friend who remains every bit his comedic antithesis, the mild-tempered thinker to his combustible humor engine.
Subtitled “A Very Stupid Conversation,” the two Martins will reflect on their careers with a blend of banter, musical numbers and standup sketches, with stories that will no doubt touch on their numerous “Saturday Night Live” pairings, appearances in the “Father of the Bride” movies, and the moment they befriended each other on the set of the John Landis-directed “Three Amigos!”
“Movies are odd, because you get intimately involved with many people, but then the movie ends two months later, and you never see them again,” Short says. “But in Steve’s case, I made a mental note of thinking, ‘No, no, we shouldn’t lose this guy.’ So we’ve been close friends ever since. Gone on vacations together. Scotland, Ireland, St. Barts. He and his wife and baby just stayed at my cottage in Canada for a week.
“One time, we found out that we were due for colonoscopies at the same time, so Steve had the idea of throwing a colonoscopy sleepover at his house,” Short recalls with a laugh. “You arrive at 5 p.m., start taking the barium stuff, eat Jell-O and play poker all night. Then, you go into the clinic the next morning and get it done.”
“A Very Stupid Conversation” was spun off from Chicago’s Just for Laughs Festival a few years ago, when Short suggested he and Martin interview each other about their careers on a spartan stage. The program has since “evolved,” he says, and now weaves in individual standup routines and the principal characters from Short’s stints on “SNL” and “Second City Television,” the Canadian sketch-comedy show that also featured John Candy, Rick Moranis, Eugene Levy and, on occasion, the late Robin Williams. His Comedy Central character Jiminy Glick, the portly celebrity hound who fake-interviews A-listers, makes an appearance, as does Ed Grimley, the greasy-haired, cowlicked manchild he invented on “SCTV.”
“It’s loosely structured. It showcases the best of what we can do individually and together,” Short says. “Steve and his Steep Canyon Rangers perform, and I have to quote [“Late Show With David Letterman” bandleader] Paul Shaffer here, when he says, ‘So many people from comedy will take themselves real seriously as a musician, but Steve is a true musician.’ So that’s what I think of his banjo playing. It all comes together as the Steve-Marty show. Actually, it’s the Marty-Steve show. I get top billing.”
But found in every “Stupid Conversation” is a moment of harmony that the longtime actor appreciates, when Martin’s minimalist stage presence — again, he’s on a stool, with a banjo — is counterbalanced by Short’s ebullient energy. He is hardly bothered by the amount of physical comedy this show can demand.
“I’m well aware that people my age, you know, have blown-out knees and bad backs and stiff necks,” Short says. “I remember when I was 56, I did this one-man Broadway show called ‘Fame Becomes Me,’ and I give it to my late manager, Bernie Brillstein, to read and he said, ‘Before I read the script, can you still do this?’ It never dawned on me that I couldn’t. A lot of that stuff is just pure DNA. I do Pilates. I do aerobics. I’m always stretching, even subconsciously, so I’m always flexible.”
The limbering-up routine is working, because Short is hardly on a trajectory to slow down. In October, he’ll appear in the CBS comedy “Mulaney,” opposite former “SNL” head writer John Mulaney, as the host of a celebrity game show. In November, he will release his memoir “I Must Say: My Life As a Humble Comedy Legend,” in which he’ll recall the most absurd moments of his career.
One of those moments happened in 1980 at a Golden Globes party. Short, then “a very young-looking” 30 and dressed in a sharp tux, approached actor Al Pacino and proceeded to pile on the praise.
“I looked like a waiter. I said, ‘Mr. Pacino, it’s such an honor, you have no idea what an influence you are,’ blah blah blah, and he goes” — Short adopts his best gravelly Pacino accent — ” ‘Oh, yeah? That’s very nice. I ordered a vodka 20 minutes ago. Could you fetch that?’ ”
A Very Stupid Conversation with Steve Martin and Martin Short
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 6
Where: Hard Rock Live, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood