Martin Short's comedy longevity defies genre -- and age - Reverb

Why So Serious, Martin Short?

Canadian comedian and actor Martin Short has refused to stand still during his three decade-plus career. Except for this photograph. (Note the lack of motion blur.)

Canadian comedian and actor Martin Short has refused to stand still during his three decade-plus career. Except for this photograph. (Note the lack of motion blur.)

Martin Short has developed a reputation as one of the nicest, hardest-working guys in Hollywood — even if the 62-year-old actor-comedian rarely stays in Los Angeles for long, opting to travel most of the time for various stage and screen gigs.

But he didn’t ask for it.

“It’s not like my goal is to be perceived as personable and pleasant,” said Short, who headlines a fundraiser for the InnovAge Foundation at the Seawell Ballroom on Saturday, Feb. 23 — an event that last year welcomed comedy legend Bob Newhart. “It’s a nice thing, but there’s no real agenda behind it.”

That may be, but Short’s restless career and boundless energy exists purely by design.

From his early days on sketch shows such as “SCTV” and “Saturday Night Live” to goofy ’80s films like “Three Amigos!” and “Innerspace,” Short has consciously sought out projects that intrigue him — as opposed to simply paying the bills or keeping him in the limelight. That’s why he’s recently done everything from Broadway shows (grabbing multiple Tony nominations and a 1999 win for his role in Neil Simon’s “Little Me”) to sitcom and voiceover work.

We caught up with Short this week over the phone from Los Angeles to chat about his current stage show and projects — and why he doesn’t feel anywhere close to 62.

Is the show you’re doing in Denver similar to the comedy stage show you’ve been touring for a few years? I know last time you were here you did lots of characters and even interviewed Mayor (and now governor) John Hickenlooper.

It is, but it always changes. There are a lot of improvised elements, and this is a different structure since it’s in a ballroom and it’s 60 minutes, not 100 minutes. But I’ll do audience interviews, and (Short character) Jiminy Glick will show up and interview some people. What you end up doing is you add songs, you add the jokes that are different, and you kind of change the structure. But this idea of doing characters and using film clips to get you on and off stage is a constant. I like to keep it moving very, very fast.

You’ve had some high-profile voice roles lately in Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie” and PBS’s “Cat in the Hat.” Do you find, as a lot of other comedians do, that those are pretty loose, fun jobs to get?

Voice roles are always easy but, they have to be interesting. In the last year I worked with Jeffrey Katzenberg (for “Madagascar 3″) and Tim Burton (for “Frankenweenie”) because of the company you’re keeping. Jeff’s always got so much talent and money to put into his projects, and Tim because he’s Tim Burton! But it’s fun to do unusual stuff that people wouldn’t think of you doing, like “Damages,” or in the last few years I did arcs on “How I Met Your Mother” and “Weeds.”

And you’re OK with doing those extended cameos instead of starring in things?

I’d rather do a four-episode arc of something like that than a whole series. Keeping it eclectic and varied is important. I was just looking at my schedule for March, and I go to Toronto next week to host the Canadian Screen Awards, which is their combination of the Emmys and Oscars, and then to New York to do “The View” and probably some (Jimmy) Fallon or something like that to promote my concert dates there. Then I have a three-day workshop with Edward Albee on a new play.

You also do a lot of impressively physical comedy work, especially on your late-night spots. At 62 years old, do you have a limbering-up routine or anything else you do to remain flexible?

I do Pilates. I do the elliptical. But I haven’t felt or been aware of the aging process yet. It’d odd. I don’t go, “Oh, my knee!” You know what I mean? I remember six years ago I was doing a one-man show on Broadway called “Fame Becomes Me,” and my late manager Bernie Brillstein read the script before committing and said, “Can I ask you, dear boy: can you do this?” because there’s a lot of leaving the stage in a fat suit and costumes changes and running and singing. And it had never even occurred to me, that question. And in fact, yes, I did do it. So I think some of that is never really stopping doing it. If you’re always in front of audiences, you realize they’re your friends.

And people who haven’t been on stage in years are usually at a disadvantage when trying to return, like if Steve Martin went back to stand-up.

I find a lot of my peers who haven’t been on stage for a few years, they suddenly say, “I don’t want to do that!” And I think if you don’t let too much grass grow under your feet, or whatever that expression is, then you’re OK. Someone said to me during an interview yesterday, “When you hosted ‘SNL’ in December you seemed so loose and at home, and I thought about it afterwards and thought, “Well, I guess if I hadn’t been always in front of audiences doing concerts and things like that, maybe I’d feel a bit stiff.” But as far as Steve Martin, he’s got his banjo tours, and now the shows are a perfect combination of music and being funny. And then he and I do some shows together every once in awhile. But obviously if you do eight shows a week on Broadway or a tour, you’re as limber as can be.

It seems the press is reevaluating you lately, with Vanity Fair calling you “Hollywood’s most beloved” in a lengthy profile last month. Where is this coming from all of a sudden?

I don’t have answer. I have no wary relationship with the press. They’ve always been kind to me. Everyone thought that Jiminy Glick was my way of getting back at them, but it had nothing to do with that at all. He just happened to be a member of the press. He could have easily or perfectly been a Congressman in Washington or the head of a school. Anywhere a moron can have power! I don’t have a publicist, so when I do interviews I do it because it helps get people into this charity or that show, so you kind of deal with that part of it. I’m not sitting back and saying, “Oh, I wish they’d ask me more about my politics!”

And finally, a standard “Why So Serious?” question: can you remember the last time you laughed so hard you cried?

Oh, I was in London seeing this play called “One Man, Two Guvnors” and laughing really hard. There was this segment of it that was just non-stop of this guy falling down the stairs. But generally that kind of laughing is during a great evening with friends.

MARTIN SHORT. Fundraiser for the InnovAge Foundation. 4:30-9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23. Seawell Grand Ballroom at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, 1101 13th St.$100-$500. Contact Lindsey Dorneman, via 720-974-2457 or earlybirdspecial@myinnovage.org, for information and tickets.

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John Wenzel is an A&E reporter and comedy critic for The Denver Post. Follow him @johntwenzel and @beardsandgum.