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Interview: Steve Martin, Martin Short bringing ‘best version’ of their show back to St. Petersburg

By Jay Cridlin
Steve Martin, left, and Martin Short perform together onstage during the 45th AFI Life Achievement Award Tribute to Diane Keaton at the Dolby Theatre on Thursday, June 8, 2017, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Hot celebrity-spotting tip: Stop by the Salvador Dalí Museum on Jan. 19. You might catch a glimpse of Steve Martin.

"Oh, I’ll have to take a look at that," Martin said of the Dalí during a phone interview Monday from New York. "There’s one in Spain, I forgot exactly the name of the town, and they’re crazy. I did go to his residence, I think in Catalonia, and that was pretty interesting. I do think he’s a great artist."

Martin will have a prime opportunity to get surreal when he and fellow comedy legend Martin Short bring their two-man show back to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Jan. 19. The longtime friends will tell stories, do bits and even play a little music — in Martin’s case, with his frequent bluegrass collaborators Steep Canyon Rangers — in a show both will be quick to tell you they’d be happy to do just for fun.

"I was just telling someone today: ‘I want my life to be just touring around with Marty,’?" Martin said. "I would be very happy for the rest of my life to do that."

"I think it’s the best version of the show we’ve done," said Short, on the line from Los Angeles. "What people tell us about the show, which is I think something worth repeating because it’s nice to hear, is that it’s wall-to-wall laughs. And that’s an unusual evening for two hours. So we’re both awfully proud of this."

This will be the duo’s third joint appearance in Tampa Bay since 2014; before that, Martin came with the Steep Canyon Rangers and Short performed here solo. In that time, their onstage repartee has evolved from "A Very Stupid Conversation" — the title of their 2014 tour — to "An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life."

For Martin, who famously quit doing stand-up near the pinnacle of his fame as a touring comic, these shows are the best he’s felt doing comedy on stage in years.

"I don’t know if it was a latent itch, but I really do enjoy it," Martin said. "This is the first time I’ve really enjoyed performing live before I went on. I’ve always enjoyed it afterward, but I actually enjoy it now before I go on because we have such a good time and we have solid material that we really love working on and developing."

Both constantly tweak their jokes and try to surprise one another. As a result, their show evolves quickly — as Martin pointed out, the show coming up in January should feel pretty different than their last local gig, at Ruth Eckerd Hall this past February.

"It’s always fascinating to tweak and improve to where you can say, a version of the show a month before is not as good as the present-day version," Short said.

It feels a bit like putting a play through previews, said Martin, whose Broadway works include the Tony-nominated Bright Star and upcoming Meteor Shower, starring Amy Schumer, which begins previews Nov. 1.

But at this point neither Short nor Martin is eyeing the Great White Way.

"We have no interest in taking it to Broadway," Martin said. "We really like doing it — seriously — in places like Florida, Texas, Arizona and Oregon. I feel like we’re taking something to people, rather than making them come to us."

Tickets will go on sale to the public at 10 a.m. on Nov. 10, with pre-sales available to Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts members at 9 a.m. today and WUSF Public Media members at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Tickets range from $95 to $215, with an optional $300 add-on that includes a pre-show VIP reception and post-show dinner with a short appearance from Martin and Short. That package will benefit arts education in Pinellas County.

For details, call (727) 893-7832 or see themahaffey.com.

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.