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‘We’re like the Stones’: Steve Martin and Martin Short talk about life on the road

Over the years, every time Steve Martin and Martin Short have got together it has been nothing but fun times.

So when the comedy greats were asked to interview one another onstage at the 2011 Just for Laughs fest in Chicago, it was an automatic yes.

And as it turns out, it was the beginning of a stage show that has morphed over the years into a touring act — dubbed An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life — that finds the duo riffing on showbiz, singing songs, performing stand-up and roasting one another. Their routine, which stops at Toronto’s Sony Centre this Friday and Saturday, was turned into a Netflix special in 2018.

“It went really well,” Short, 63, recalls during a joint interview with Martin. “But more importantly, we had great fun doing it. We went out for dinner the night before and then we had a great dinner afterwards. Then we were asked to do it again and we agreed.”

The SCTV veteran and Saturday Night Live alum liked structure, but wanted to do something more. “So the show has evolved,” the Hamilton-born comic adds.

The friendship goes back nearly 33 years to when they first starred together alongside Chevy Chase in the 1986 comedy ¡Three Amigos! Their cinematic partnership continued in two Father of the Bride films and the 1998 animated feature The Prince of Egypt.

“I find whenever I become friends with someone it’s because they’re really funny or really smart. Marty was… funny,” Martin, 73, jokes.

Calling from New York and Los Angeles respectively, Martin and Short bantered about stardom and life on the road.

The tour, Now You See Them, Soon You Won’t — it’s music, it’s stand-up, it’s you two onstage having conversations — what can people expect when you bring it to Toronto next week?

Martin: Exactly what you said. Marty and I love doing our show and after the Netflix special, which was last March, we really started working on new material in earnest. There’s a lot of growing pains when you’re working out new material, but now we’re just in the swing of things and we love it.

What is life like for you guys on the road?

Martin: It’s pretty easy. We travel first class and stay at nice hotels. We have a little room service before the show, then we laugh for the rest of night. Sometimes we spend the night and sometimes we fly out right afterwards. It’s really, really nice.

Short: And there’s always a nice dinner.

Do you have any guilty pleasures on the road?

Martin: Poached eggs on toast.

Short: You can’t really call them guilty pleasures, but when we get on the plane, sometimes I have a big bag of M&M’s.

Martin: We’re like the [Rolling] Stones except if you take away all the drugs and the women and the youth. Take out the drugs and the women and add Advil.

Short: And a game of cribbage… we play cribbage after the show.

What’s your favourite thing to do in Toronto?

Short: Well, as you know, that’s one of my hometowns and I have a son and daughter-in-law that live there so I hang out with them. Usually before I make my way to Muskoka.

Martin: I’ve always loved Toronto. I went there early on in my life at like age 22 and I always loved walking along Bloor St. or walking up and down Yonge St. By the way, when I went there a lot it was during the hippie days, so Toronto was really alive with a lot of energy and pop.

You first worked together over 30 years ago on ¡Three Amigos! What was your first impression of one another?

Short: I really liked Steve. We immediately hit it off and made each other laugh. I think the thing that you hone in on sooner than you even think is: does this person have a basic decency to them and are they kind? Those things were apparent right away. From there, we kept building as friends.

Martin: It was a fast friendship. I think banter in a marriage might not be a good thing. If you were always cracking jokes or playfully teasing or putting each other down, that might not work. But in friendship, that’s a good thing. We know how to kid and it just seems to work.

What did you think about each other’s comedic chops way back when, before you ever met?

Short: I didn’t meet Steve until 1985 and by that time he was a legend of the stage and stand-up and he was movie star. I was well aware of who he was. I had bought his (comedy) albums and I had read his books, so I knew who he was and it was thrilling to meet Steve.

Martin: I always viewed SCTV, where Marty got his start, as the home of some really incredibly talented people. These were comics who could do a million impressions and voices and they were really, really funny. I viewed myself as a kind of one-note Johnny. I was actually worried that he might not have respect for me and might not like me. Luckily, that was short-lived.

Steve, what’s your favourite thing from Marty, and Marty what’s your favourite thing Steve has done?

Martin: You know, there’s a couple of specials Marty did, one is from the ’90s on HBO and it’s called I, Martin Short, Goes Hollywood. There were some fun, far-out sketches. But I really get a kick of watching him onstage at our show. When he’s onstage and I’m watching from the wings, I just sit and enjoy what he’s doing.

Short: With Steve, I could say The Jerk or Roxanne, but the reality is I kind of agree with what Steve just said. There are very few things that allow a performer to do everything under one umbrella. That’s a lot of what happens in our show. You can’t talk about Steve without the musicianship or the comedy or broadness of Steve. So I’m going to say, the Steve in this show is my favourite Steve.

Marty, do you break out any of your old SCTV characters for this show?

Short: There’s a new variation on a character I’ve done, but not Ed Grimley or Jackie Rogers Jr. or any of those guys.

What do you like best about one another?

Martin: We just have fun together. But our friendship onstage is kind of fake. Our friendship offstage is real, but onstage we kid around and say things we might not in real life.

Short: It’s like any friendship, except we’re more public. Anybody who has a close friend will understand.

Steve, you haven’t been in a movie since 2011’s The Big Year. Are we going to see you on the big screen anytime soon?

Martin: I’m retired from movies. …. I’m not actively pursuing movies and they don’t actively pursue me.

So you’re saying people aren’t coming to you with scripts anymore?

Martin: Well, I do have a life. Things are going on (laughs). I actually kind of shut down conversations about it pretty early on … I still get requests every once in awhile, but I’m not pursing it and I tell my agents not to pursue it.

So just to be clear, we’re not getting a Father of the Bride 3 then?

Martin: Alright fine, we’ll do it.

Short: Wow, that was a short retirement (laughs).

You’ve both been in show business for over four decades. Do you have a motto?

Short: My father always used to say, ‘At the end of the day, Martin, you do the decent thing.’ I think that’s a nice sentiment.

Martin: I’m curious Marty, with that motto, why you don’t?

Short: Because I never really trusted my father.

What’s the best advice you ever got?

Martin: You’ll think I’m joking, but I’m not. When I first started in show business and I was doing my act onstage, I didn’t know how to dress. I didn’t know what to wear. So I asked this guy, his name was Fats Johnson, and he did have a pretty funny folk music act. He always wore a puffy white shirt, a nice jacket and had diamond rings on his fingers. I said, ‘Fats, what’s your advice for how I should look onstage?’ And he told me: ‘Always look better than they do.’

Short: I guess, just from watching other people on television, the best advice I ever got was: More is more.

What is an ideal Sunday for both of you?

Martin: Marty, do you go to the earliest mass or the later one? I wake up and I go to the gym. Then I have a nice lunch out and then my wife, my child and I go to a really nice restaurant and we have dinner. Just the three of us. I love Sundays.

Short: I wake up and I … you know, we’re in show business. We don’t really work. Every day is like Sunday to me.