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Steve Martin and Martin Short talk touring together and ‘newfangled old-fashioned’ variety show

Itís barely been a year since Steve Martin and Martin Short last brought their roadshow to town. But there was never a doubt in their minds theyíd be back.

"We thought ó and I seriously mean this†ó†weíve got to play Florida more." Martin said in a phone interview. "We really love doing this. And I will add that we have loved playing in Florida."

Over the past decade, the longtime friends and comedy collaborators have played Tampa Bay a combined five times ó thrice together and once apiece on their own. Not a bad rate, since itís not like either actor needs the work, and Martin famously quit stand-up in 1981.

On Friday, Short and Martin will return to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg to joke, swap stories and play a little music, with Martin, a Grammy-winning banjo player, backed by his buddies the Steep Canyon Rangers.

What started as a way for Martin and Short to recreate their silver-screen chemistry from Three Amigos and Father of the Bride has evolved into a pretty finessed and fine-tuned routine, one Martin said heíd like to keep doing for years.

"It was really audience-based: What are they responding to? What are they interested in?" Martin said. "I think they want to see comedy, and thatís what we completely focus on. We do a little music, as a relief. Martyís a great singer, and I do one or two serious musical numbers because they seem to enjoy that. But basically, itís a funny show in kind of a newfangled old-fashioned way. Itís a real variety show, and weíve just had great response to it."

Before their show in St. Petersburg, Martin (calling from New York) and Short (in Los Angeles) hopped on the line to talk about the joy of their joint performances, with a little light ribbing along the way.

You guys do a lot of joint interviews. Thatís kind of rare for two performers of your stature. Why do you do so much joint press?

Martin: Iíll tell you why. I can be very funny because Marty sets me up ó heís kind of bland, so I take what he says and I turn it into humor, and I think the interviewers really like that. Because when itís on its own, itís just not as funny.

Short: Thatís an interesting answer. But as you can see, itís not that funny. So the reason we can do this together is so that the interview can be funny, and thatís why Iím here.

Martin: Which is exactly what I said.

Short: I know. But I said it with an attitude that was more interesting.

Why do you guys go on the road together? Itís not like your careers hinge on it.

Martin: Martyís career actually does hinge on it. Iím just joking. No, we really enjoy it. I was just telling someone today, "You know what? I want my life to be just touring around with Marty." I would be very happy for the rest of my life to do that.

Short: Steve and I have done so many years of concerts on our own, and itís so much more fun to do it with someone. Particularly for me, whoís from a history of Second City and improv groups where even if youíre dying, youíve got company, and itís fun, and you laugh about it afterward. If you do it by yourself, itís just kind of sad.

You used to call this show "A Very Stupid Conversation." Now itís "An Evening You Will Forget For the Rest of Your Life." How has the show evolved?

Martin: It started as a conversation; we just told funny stores and thoughts and things. And then we thought, We want it to be more of a show. Marty was doing his numbers, and I realized, Hey, Iím falling down here. Thatís when I wanted to bring the band in, so I could really contribute to my half of the show. We just started developing bits, and it turned into this comedy show.

Do you surprise each other on stage?

Martin: All the time.

Short: Often, our immediate conversation when weíre leaving the stage ó we donít even have our mics off, the audience is still applauding ó and weíre going, "Oh, that one line you said, we should try that! Weíve got to remember to put that in!" Itís always a work in progress.

Martin: One of the surprises is that Marty actually shows up. Because when you have that much alcohol and drugs in your system, you never really know. Heís a diva. And, you know, every night at 8 oíclock, man, there he is. Itís amazing.

Short: Iím wobbly, but at least Iím finding a straight line. Iím a pro.

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or
(727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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