When Steve Martin and Martin Short take the stage for their Now You See Them, Soon You Won't show – the latest version of the two-man show they've been touring around the country for several years now – don't expect to see comedy sketches or either performer doing characters they've made famous over the past four decades.
Martin won't roll out King Tut or his Wild and Crazy Guy from Saturday Night Live, and Short won't get into full garb to become Ed Grimley.
When we spoke to Steve Martin last week via phone, he confirmed this. "We really wanted to make it new and not a nostalgia show," Martin. "The problem is, if you're doing a nostalgia [ show where] you do all of your old bits, you never really feel sincere. You feel like the applause is 'Oh yeah, I remember that' rather than actually laughing."
In fact, the show is so new that it has even evolved considerably since last May when Netflix debuted a show filmed in Greenville, South Carolina, earlier in the tour, which was billed as An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life. The Netflix special earned nominations for multiple 2018 Emmys, including Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded) and Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special, but Martin and Short have not rested on their laurels, putting in plenty of new content to go with the new name for this year's tour.
"At first, we changed out everything, and then we realized there were certain bits the audience wanted to see again," Martin says of the current show. "So we put them back in and now we're at about 70 percent new material and then 30 percent on demand."
The Martin and Short show is not stand-up or sketch comedy. Instead, it works as almost a free-wheeling conversation between the two comedy legends, mixing good-natured insults, some memorable stories from throughout their careers, and music. Short, accompanied by Jimmy Kimmel Live pianist Jeff Babko, showcases his considerable talents as a singer, and Martin, joined by a bluegrass band, plays his signature banjo and performs a song or two.
The chemistry and friendship that Martin and Short enjoy is obvious on stage, and it's a friendship that has endured for more than 30 years, since they met while making the 1986 film Three Amigos.
At the time of that film, Martin (now 73) was already a comedy superstar. He was the go-to guest host in the early seasons of Saturday Night Live, and had performed his stand-up comedy show at some of the largest venues in the country and released several hit comedy albums (including 1977's Let's Get Small and 1978's A Wild and Crazy Guy). Three Amigos was part of his fruitful late-1970s/early '80s career as a movie actor, including such films as The Jerk, Pennies From Heaven and All of Me.
Short, by the time of Three Amigos, had gained considerable popularity as a featured performer on the weekend late-night comedy sketch show SCTV and was coming off of his single season in the cast of Saturday Night Live, where his characters, including the aforementioned manic man-child Ed Grimley, the nervous chain-smoking corporate lawyer Nathan Thurm and the grotesque celebrity interviewer Jiminy Glick, provided some of the most memorable moments of the mid-'80s era of the show. Short, 69, has since acted on Broadway, had roles in numerous films and television shows, and starred in his own sitcom (The Martin Short Show), comedy sketch show and syndicated talk show.
The fast friendship between Martin and Short has only deepened in 30-plus years, because it was built on a simple foundation – they make each other laugh – along with other things they later found they liked about each other.
"If he just made me laugh and wasn't a kind or interesting person, then I would see him less," says Short, who joined Martin for this phone interview. "But the main first thing with people like us is we make each other laugh."
The current Now You See Them, Soon You Won't show grew out of an invitation the two received to interview each other at the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Chicago in 2011.
Martin and Short enjoyed the experience and realized they could build a bigger show using interviews as a component. Short had also been doing his own touring show before the Just for Laughs gig happened, and elements of that production were incorporated into an early version of the duo show. Then Martin got further into the act.
"He [Short] had a live show and I sort of forced my way into it," Martin says. "But the big thing, when the show started to gel – I didn't feel I was contributing enough – was when I brought my band [The Steep Canyon Rangers] in. Now we had music for the show. We had some comedy I did with the band. We had funny songs."
Giving a preview of the kind good-humored barbs he and Short bring to their shows, Martin concludes, "And it just overshadowed Martin so much!"