Entertainment

Friends Steve Martin and Martin Short pull no punchlines

Two men are seated

Steve Martin and Martin Kurz

(Mark Seliger)

Martin Short relaxes in an Adirondack armchair at his summer home in Rosseau, Ontario, a few hours north of his Canadian birthplace and three time zones from his longtime friend and “Only Murders in the Building” co-star Steve Martin, who is dating his home in Santa Barbara to us.

As for Martin… well, he’s not that laid back.

“I hear chewing!” he says, turning his attention from the screen to find his family’s 12-week-old puppy, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever named Sonny. It’s not the first time Martin has emerged from his chair to see what Sonny is doing in this class, and it won’t be the last.

“Obviously, for the first time ever, he’s been put in charge,” Short says during one of Martin’s worried checks on Sonny’s whereabouts. However, we are confused. Martin is in a small, immaculate room with a treadmill and gym equipment — “Have you ever considered using that?” Short asks him at the beginning — and his concern for the pup doing what puppies sometimes do seems a bit exaggerated.

“What’s going on here? Your whole house is cement! What does it matter if he pees?” Kurz asks.

Talking to Martin and Short, who met on the set of Three Amigos 36 years ago and have remained close, goes exactly as you would imagine. It’s adorable. Their comical antennae are keen on the small gaps in conversation that present an opportunity to poke fun at one another’s weaknesses. Part of that is performance. But it’s also clear that they take great delight in landing a perfectly timed putdown that might elicit a smile of approval or, who knows, maybe a laugh. It’s not exactly a superiority. More of a playful tag game.

Three men dressed as mariachi performers ride a single horse in a scene from the film ¡Three Amigos! (1986).

From left: Steve Martin, Martin Short and Chevy Chase in a scene from the 1986 film ¡Three Amigos!

(Getty Images)

For example, we’re talking about the duo’s recent three-day performance at the Hollywood Bowl. I’m asking if the success of Only Murders in the Building — the most-watched comedy in Hulu history and a 17-time Emmy nominee, including major nods for its two stars — has brought new audiences to your stage show. Her co-star and executive producer, Selena Gomez, has marveled that she is now known by more older people. Was the opposite the case?

“I think more young people know who we are, but that doesn’t make them fans,” says Martin, 76. “It just makes them aware of us.”

“What if you like my character work on the show?” asks Short, 72, straightening his partner. Martin pauses to take the time. “Yaaaah.” Break. “They’re still not fans. They’re more like, “Uh-huh. Have you seen his character work? Uh-huh.’

“And Marty’s performance,” Martin continues, “at the Hollywood Bowl generally doesn’t get booed because it’s a fun night and it’s outside.”

“I heard Triumph,” counters Short. Martin goes back to check on the dog. I tell Short that there was nothing but love where I sat at the bowl.

“That’s because people are now writing their boos,” says Martin, returning to his seat. Short had found how gratifying it felt when the Bowl audience roared their approval when an image from “Only Murders in the Building” popped up during a preshow montage of her comic book career.

“You know what really helped us understand ours [stage] Show is better if we treat the theater like it’s a wedding,” says Martin. “And Marty’s people sat on one side and my people on the other side. And Marty’s site always had a few vacancies. Let’s put it that way.”

Sure Steve. But their balance is perfect in Murders, as Martin and Short play lonely showbiz castaways who find a new life when they meet Gomez’s mysterious Mabel after a resident of her Upper West Side apartment building is found dead. The trio don’t know each other at first, but a shared love of true crime podcasts leads them to team up to investigate the murder and share their findings on their own true crime audio show.

Two men and a younger woman peek in through a door "Only murders in the building."

Steve Martin (above left), Martin Short and Selena Gomez star in the Hulu comedy series Only Murders in the Building.

(hulu)

They dig into yet another murder in the show’s second season, which is currently airing. Presumably, the third season will produce another case.

It is a large building with many residents. “Murders” could go on indefinitely.

“I don’t think we can bat more than 10 and still be considered legitimate,” says Martin, smiling.

If they run out of ideas, they could always take the show to the streets. What would Only Murders in the Building look like in Los Angeles?

“Somehow I don’t picture an underground car park as being like a condo in Wilshire,” says Martin. “The big difference is that these buildings are old. They were built before the 1930’s.” He surveys the LA landscape. “There’s this fabulous old building – a couple of them, I used to live in one – called La Fontaine in Crescent Heights and Fountain. And it looks like it came from 19th century France. Something could be done there.”

Maybe we’re forgetting “Melrose Place,” the Fox prime-time soap opera from the ’90s. There must have been a murder or two.

“Oh, absolutely,” Short says emphatically. “It’s kind of old news.”

“And as far as I can remember, you killed at Melrose Place, too,” says Martin.

A little-known cameo that Short did?

“It wasn’t a nomination,” Short says without hesitation. “But it should have been.”

“He kept saying, ‘What if it was Only Murders on Melrose Place? What happened if? What if?’” says Martin. “I couldn’t understand why you keep saying that.” Short laugh in appreciation. “Yes, now you know.”

A man exits a courthouse and encounters a bunch of reporters in one scene "Only murders in the building."

Martin Kurz as Oliver.

(Craig Blankenhorn / Hulu)

Gomez has vowed her co-stars’ willingness to listen and offer advice when asked. What was the best advice you received at your age?

Answers Short: “Bernie Brillstein was my manager for years and he was always like, ‘It’s just show business, kid. Do not take it serious.'”

“If someone told me that, I’d say, ‘You’re crazy,'” counters Martin. “I take it seriously.”

“Well, that’s why Steve’s worth a trillion dollars and I’m hanging by a thread,” Short says.

“Yes, there in your cottage in Rosseau,” Martin replies lovingly. He further recalls early aides showing him magic tricks while he was working at Merlin’s Magic Shop at Disneyland, and another mentor who taught him how to tuck his shirt in like a show business pro — reach through the fly of his pants and grab it pulling shirt down from the inside – during his performance days at Knott’s Berry Farm’s Bird Cage Theater.

“Let me understand that,” Short says, trying to process Martin’s anecdote. “If you had never met him, would you never have found out?”

“It’s not a common model,” Martin replies. “He actually showed me how to do it with his own hand.”

Kurze bursts out laughing. Sonny the pup notices this and jumps back into the frame.

“Steve, on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the highest, where would you say your love and affection for Sonny is?” Kurz asks. Martin doesn’t hesitate. “Four.” Short can’t believe the low valuation.

“Well, he’s only 12 weeks old,” says Martin, not the least bit defensive.

“That’s like saying, ‘Do you love a baby?'” Short allows a growl. “‘It’s only one infant.’ But I like your honesty.”

“I like the dog,” says Martin. “But we haven’t to need the dog. And the dog, by the way, turned out to be the best dog. He’s an amazing dog.”

“I mean, after a few weeks, they could have said, ‘We don’t need Old Yeller,'” says Short, making Martin laugh.

Martin and Short plan to talk about upcoming dates at Wolf Trap in Virginia soon. We say goodbye. Martin (and Sonny) leave. Briefly, uninvited, Showtunes begins to sing. I don’t want to end the conversation. Who would?

“Well, you know,” he says, adopting an overly theatrical voice, “I love talking in the dark. That’s what I do.”

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-08-09/steve-martin-martin-short-only-murders-in-the-building Friends Steve Martin and Martin Short pull no punchlines

Sarah Ridley

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