Steve Martin and Martin Short are both comedic greats, but more important, they're close friends. They met in 1986 on the set of Three Amigos, though each was aware of the other's work: Martin with his groundbreaking, surrealist stand-up and Short as a cast member of SCTV and Saturday Night Live.
A few years ago, they decided to take their three-decade friendship on the road with their variety show "An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life." Combining conversations, sketches, and music — Martin playing bluegrass with the Grammy-winning Steep Canyon Rangers, Short singing with jazz pianist Jeff Babko — the show, taped for Netflix, was recently nominated for an Emmy.
Martin and Short called from L.A. to talk about the show, a much-revised version of which they'll bring to the Mann Center on Thursday.
Short: It's totally a blast. It's great fun, it's creative fun, and I think the audiences really are having a great time. That's why we keep doing it, because we've stumbled on this successful formula that we love doing.
Martin: Marty has always worked with people, because he's likable, but I've always had to work alone. The first taste that I had of it was when I first did Saturday Night Live and started doing sketches with people, and then when I hosted the Oscars with Alec Baldwin. I thought, 'Gee, I'm not even nervous. I love having a partner.' Working with Marty was even more natural than anything that had happened before. It doesn't feel like work; it feels like fun.
Short: I could tell pretty early. When you make a movie, you can be in the trenches in Yugoslavia with someone for three months and then never, ever see them again unless you make a conscientious note in your brain that you don't want to lose that person. That's what I felt about Steve making Three Amigos. I said, 'Someday, this guy's going to make me a lot of money.'
Martin: I knew I wanted to be friends with Marty because he had just had a baby, and I was jealous because this infant spent more time with Marty than I did.
Short: We were asked to interview each other at the end of the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in 2011. We left the stage afterwards and thought, 'Wow, that was fun.' It went well because we have this natural chemistry and ease with each other. So we had our agents book something like that again, and again, and then we were still having as much fun, but we creatively wanted to evolve it into something more important.
Short: I think you are seeing it, a lot. When we did our first interview, our intention was, after all the dinners and all the laughs and all the vacations, let's see if we can make this 90-minute interview feel like people are having dinner with us.
Martin: By the way, there's no faster way to destroy personal chemistry than talking about it.
Short: It's fascinating, because I didn't have a history with bluegrass. But you don't really need to have a history with bluegrass to hear the musicality with the Rangers and Steve. Even if it's for the first time, you can be blown away by it. It's an original sound, and Steve's brilliant at it.
Martin: Marty is an incredible musician. I once toured with Karen Carpenter. I opened the show, and I grew to love [the Carpenters'] music so much because Karen was flawless. She had the most beautiful, pure, clear, accurate voice you've ever heard. And I feel that way about Marty. He's never flat, he's never sharp, he's got beautiful tone, and he knows exactly how to use his voice for comedic and emotional effect.
Short: Thank you, Steven.
Martin: Aw, I didn't mean it. I'm reading from the script.
Short: I knew the words sounded familiar.
Martin: It's not quite true that we avoid politics. That sort of got out there, but we do a whole section with Jiminy Glick that is all about celebrities and politicians. But we try to stay fair and hit left and right because we're not trying to divide the audience. Also, we feel like this is the domain of late-night television. We couldn't really do better than what they do every night.
Short: I do think that the audience, particularly now, needs a break from it. There's 24 hours of this every day: Someone's done something and Trump's tweeted something. Audiences want to just go to the opera because they won't mention Washington.
Short: I've found the best way to handle Steve is never, ever tell him the truth. Somehow, that helps.
Martin: Our relationship thrives on kidding around. Other people might take offense to kidding around, but we don't. I think humor is a great way to have a friendship.