Interview: Martin Short

(Reprinted from The Boston Herald – September 13, 1999)

Tall Order
Comedic actor Martin Short hopes to revive the “talk” show

by Bob Sassone

You can describe comedian/actor Martin Short’s new daytime show (debuting today at 10 a.m. on WCVB, Ch. 5) in many ways. You can call ita variety show. You can call it a comedy hour. You can even compare it to the shows of Rosie, Merv, and Johnny.

But don’t, under any circumstances, compare it to Jerry Springer and his ilk.

“The word ‘talk’ has gotten really convoluted through the years,” Short said. “It’s strange. Springer’s like a game show, like a wrestling show. There are entertainment shows, like Letterman, Conan, Leno, Rosie. There are talk shows, like Charlie Rose. There are issue shows, like ‘Oprah.’ And then there are insane shows like Springer. You can’t call all those talk shows.”

But where Dave, Jay and Rosie follow the usual monologue-skit-guest-guest-song format, Short will be trying something different. Gone are the questions on blue cards – and the desk.

Sure, there will be chats with people pushing their latest movie, TV show, or album. But there will be even more sketches and taped segments and unexpected oddities, inculding a demonic Janeane Garofolo impersonation and a continuing takeoff on a typical teen soap, “Herbert Hoover High.” Also expect appearances by Short’s alter egos, such as Jerry Lewis, Katharine Hepburn, Ed Grimley, Irving Cohen, and Jackie Rogers. Think SCTV meets classic Carson.

Short will have help from a cast of sketch comedy pros. And expect many of those musical numbers to be performed by Short himself, a veteran of several critically-acclaimed Broadway shows, including Little Me. (He’s also a film veteran, with roles in Innerspace Father of the Bride, Three Amigos, and the upcoming Mumford among others.)

He’s really an old showbiz guy at heart. You can hear it in the tone of his voice, the way he talks about similar shows from years gone by, the way he describes the type of show he’d like to do.

His first talk show experience came when he was in his teens, sitting in his attic, interviewing imaginary celebs. Seems this will be the same, only with bigger production values.

“Well, you never saw my attic,” he said with a laugh. “It was huge! I didn’t have a cast, though. It was just me and my orchestra. I did an album when I was 14 called “Martin Short Sings Of Loves Ago.” It was Sinatra’s “September of My Years” and I just took his intros and then I’d sing.”

But, regardless of Short’s love of entertainment shows and his quick wit, singing ability and talk show savvy, why would he want to jump into a crowded field? Even Roseanne is being booted to overnight to make room for his show.

“In 1999,” Short said, “if you want to be on television, I only have two choices. I can be on a sitcom or I can do this show. There’s no option in between. Gone are the days of The Red Skelton Show. If someone said, ‘Would you like to do SCTV for an hour a week?’ I’d say sure. But no one says that. I see myself sitting in a chair and having a conversation.

“If I just wnated to do sketch, I would have done another sketch special or something. What I’ve liked myself doing since ’82 is talk shows! I like that energy, and I like improvising and being in the moment of live TV with an audience there. If you do a special once a year, it has to be pretty much perfect. If you’re on TV every day, it’s more work, but you don’t have the same pressure to be perfect.”

“What I’m striving for is a level of conversation. When I see myself on talk shows, and I’m just hitting material, I don’t like it. I like it when you go out there and hit 20 percent of what you planned to say. That’s what seems to make sense to me.”

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