Faced with the prospect of a conference call with Steve Martin and Martin Short, two of the funniest men who have ever drawn breath and whose bodies of work, separately and together, I basically know by heart, the mandate was obvious: Do. Not. Try. To. Be. Funny.
It wasn't hard. I just stuck to the subject at hand: An Evening You'll Forget for the Rest of Your Life, the live show they're bringing to the Paramount, a version of which is currently available on Netflix. It's about 70/30 banter and music, with Martin and Short's trademark absurdist showbiz insincerity in the foreground, abetted by their obvious fondness for and fandom of each other.
Martin explained that they've added a solid half hour of new material since the Netflix special was taped, and a lot of improv besides. This led to a subject addressed in Born Standing Up, the indispensable memoir of Martin's unprecedented rise as a comic: What makes audiences want to see comedians telling jokes they've already heard?
"As long as I've been in comedy, I don't have the answer," Martin replied. "All I know is: Music, you wanna hear over and over. Comedy... sometimes you wanna hear over and over."
"It also depends on how much the comedy is just a pure line and how much performance is in it," Short added. "If Donald O'Connor had done 'Make 'Em Laugh' live, you wouldn't say, 'Eh, I saw it in the movies.'"
Speaking of Born Standing Up, what made Martin want to return to live performance after swearing off it nearly 40 years ago?
"I never really wanted to do it," Martin said. "But, you know, I was doing it all along. I was hosting the Oscars, I was doing award shows, I was appearing on talk shows, so, to me, that's live in a way. It's spontaneous performing. So I hadn't really gone away. But, as I told Marty, this is actually the first time I've ever really enjoyed performing, where I look forward to it and walk out with no nerves or no anxiety. Either I'm older and more experienced, or it's great to have a partner."
What's different about doing it now?
"This sounds contrary, but live performing is more private than being on television or being on the internet, for example, and I like the privacy of live performing," Martin said. "I like that it's done for this audience. It's not on the internet—that was one nervous thing about doing the Netflix special. After a performance, people go home and they talk about it, but it's not there for people to make troll-like comments on. What I like about live performing: It's analog. You gotta buy a ticket and you gotta go. This is a very specific, rewarding thing to do."
"It's a loose hang," added Short. "And it's a great way to make a living."
Check out Sean's extended Q&A with the duo here.