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In concert, comedian Martin Short revels in his characters

You know those actors who downplay their old tricks? The flashy, overplayed flick that rocketed them to the top. The humiliating early role they can't pay people to forget.

That's not Martin Short.

He embraces greasy Saturday Night Live geek Ed Grimley. Celebrates chunky chatterbox Jiminy Glick. Appreciates Father of the Bride's flamboyant wedding planner Franck Eggelhoffer.

You see, he has tried the leading man thing. The serious thing. The tender, take-me-seriously thing. But again and again, he returns to the weird, grotesque and zany. The Francks and the Glicks and the Grimleys.

They're home.

"The reality is, I'm a character actor," Short said, calling from Los Angeles recently.

Many of Short's old characters show up in his one-man live performance, which he brings to Ruth Eckerd Hall this weekend. He even hauls audience members on stage to learn the Three Amigos salute.

"It's a very loose evening. A party with Marty. If you were having a party at your house and you had a piano player and suddenly you asked me to get up. We have a band, and there's singing and dancing."

His go-to characters were also featured in Fame Becomes Me, a musical comedy show Short wrote, which wrapped a stint on Broadway last year. And he's still slipping into new characters, like Thimbletack, the tiny mythical creature he voices in his latest film, The Spiderwick Chronicles.

"Children's movies gravitate toward three-dimensional, crazy characters, and that's what I like to play," Short said. "I enjoy the surreal a little more than the real."

Short, 57, came up on television in the 1980s, a glory decade for character actors. He appeared on the Canadian skit show SCTV, where he gave birth to Grimley, the high-waisted mega-nerd. In 1984, he transitioned to Saturday Night Live, where he performed and wrote for one season.

He's still a fan of SNL, and tuned in when the show returned after the writers strike ended in February.

"I Tivoed it and I watched about half of it. I thought it was hilarious," he said. "That show is particularly tricky because there's nothing written on Monday. It's written over Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and it's live. When you're doing a movie or even a taped show you can look at something and say, 'that's funny,' or 'let's cut that minute.' When you're live, whatever happens happens."

Short, born in Canada, decompresses at his Ontario lake house, where friends Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg have been known to pay visits. The house is a nice escape from the Hollywood pace, he said.

"I'm Canadian, so this is about three hours north of where I grew up. It's an On Golden Pond sort of thing. It's pretty fabulous."

But look elsewhere for tips on domestic bliss. Though he has been happily married to former actor Nancy Dolman for 28 years, he insists it's only serendipity.

"I think it's just luck. I'd be happily married and divorced five times if it happened. I think sometimes the timing is right on the first time, sometimes the third, sometimes the second. I think the secret is just be sincere in acknowledging that this is working out or not."

She's got a good sense of humor, he said. And she appreciates his repertoire of characters. But what does she think of Jiminy Glick's pillowy fat suit?

"She finds it quite sexy."

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

If you go

Martin Short

8 p.m. Saturday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. $40-$75. (727) 791-7400.

Our favorite Martin Short moments

1. "Synchronized Swimmers" from Saturday Night Live, 1984

Short and Harry Shearer take on the fine art of synchronized swimming in this video bit. But a terrified and slightly daft-looking Short wears a floatie vest in the water and utters, "I'm not that strong a swimmer."

2. "The Snake" with Ed Grimley
on SCTV, 1982

Ed teaches viewers all about snakes. "The average person thinks that the snake is real slimy and slippery like a grease ball, but no way. The snake is as dry as toast. Unless it's been in the water, and then it's slippery and slimy, I suppose. So maybe the average person is right."

3. Late Show with David Letterman video, 2008

In a TMZ-style spoof on Hollywood paparazzi mania, Short dons a red kilt and sits spread-eagle in a limousine, screaming, "Leaves us famous types alone! We're different than you! We're built differently!"

4. The Three Amigos sing My Little Buttercup, 1986

Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and Short drink tequila and break into song and dance. "My little buttercup has the sweetest smile. Dear little buttercup, won't you stay awhile. Come with me where moonbeams paint the sky, and you and I might linger in the sweet by and by."

5. Baby workout, Father of the Bride
Part II, 1995

Short, as flashy wedding planner Franck Eggelhoffer, helps Diane Keaton and Kimberly Williams' pregnant characters work up a sweat. "Do the baby vorkout! Make those babies gleeful! Oh, that's good. Little tin soldiers. Happy tin soldiers. Right. And now with an attitude!"

Stephanie Hayes

In concert, comedian Martin Short revels in his characters 03/12/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 13, 2008 1:26pm]
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