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Martin Short talks legacy of 'SCTV, 'SNL' and the 'Three Amigos' before Clearwater show

Perhaps because he's spent great portions of his career buried in fat suits, "Franck" accents and comically disfiguring makeup, Martin Short's place in ha-ha history is easy to overlook. Or maybe it's because he often plays small, wee roles, like "Little Neddy" Nederlander in underrated cult classic Three Amigos. (That's right, we said classic.)

The Canadian cutup has been around more than you might realize. He starred in the casts of groundbreaking skit shows SCTV (alongside John Candy, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis) and Saturday Night Live (with Season 10 stars Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Julia Louis-Dreyfus). He's been in goofy flicks for boys (Mars Attacks!, Innerspace), sweet things for girls (Father of the Bride I & II).

He more than steals scenes: He devours them.

His cavalcade of borderline creepy creations — wormy nerd Ed Grimley, corpulent celebrity interviewer Jiminy Glick, chain-smoking lawyer Nathan Thurm — are YouTube evergreens. Short makes the absurd palatable.

Turning 62 today, he remains bouncy. He's a judge on his native land's Canada's Got Talent. He's guesting on How I Met Your Mother. He's doing a few stand-up dates with Steve Martin. And he's in Tim Burton's upcoming Frankenweenie.

"You reach a point in your career, where you're not really doing it to pay rent anymore," he says. "If it's not fun, you're insane to keep doing it."

As he brings his show to Ruth Eckerd Hall on Thursday — Glick will interview rocker Gary Puckett, by the way — Short chatted with Stuck in the '80s guys Sean Daly and Steve Spears about the real difference between SCTV and SNL, his late great friend John Candy and why "silly" is good.

You always have great titles for your tours. We like "If I'd Saved, I Wouldn't Be There."

[Laughs] Yes, we used "Stroke Me Lady Fame" for this one.

Do people scream out for characters at shows? Like someone barking for Hot for Teacher at a Van Halen gig? "We want Nathan Thurm!"

Not really, because I, of course, in my desperate need to please, give them all that they want. It's like a party with Marty. Nathan Thurm shows up, so does Grimley and Glick and Jackie (Rogers Jr., the albino singer). I got (the costume changes) down to about two minutes. There's a film package of Jiminy, then out comes Jiminy. The movie and the television show is two-and-a-half hours of makeup. For stage, it's a mask, it's a wig. Up close it looks like I've been in a slasher movie.

Sean once infuriated Huey Lewis with a question about what song he likes to play in concert. Have there ever been any ignorant questions that set you off?

It's possible that Huey was angry about something else, and you just got in the way. [Laughing] I never actually had a rough time with the press. Everyone thought that Glick was my way of getting back at the press. With Glick, it made me laugh that in show business there are morons with power who have assistants who are running out getting them sandwiches and afraid that they screwed the order up. And the guy is an idiot! Same in politics. It was more about that than anything to do with the press. I haven't had that many moronic questions. Some, of course.

True or false: You're the only comic to be in the cast of SCTV and Saturday Night Live.

No, Robin Dukes did it, too. Robin did the syndicated SCTV and then three seasons of SNL. She's fabulous. An old buddy of mine.

SCTV was more daring than SNL. You could unhinge your brain on SCTV, which at times was even more obtuse than Monty Python.

SCTV became more of a personal ride. That's what Conan O'Brien says: He and his brother felt they were the only people in the world that the show was for. It was filmed; we didn't have a live audience (like SNL). There are things, whether you like it or not, where the audience will guide you. But on SCTV, you would kind of go off on your own thing, and if no one got it, who cares? We got it. We were doing it for ourselves, that was the comedic sensibility. It was a very clever cast. You could end up doing a fictitious combination of Jerry Lewis working for Ingmar Bergman. If you did that on SNL and didn't get any reaction, it was just cut.

We're huge John Candy fans here. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is our guiding light. Can you tell us a little about working with John?

I adore John. John was exactly how you would love him to be. He was funny, and he was sweet, and he was a partier. And he would insist on paying every bill, even though he made the exact same money. "I'm taking that tab!" "Wait a second — John doesn't have any money, either!" He was a deeply, deeply fabulous guy. He's someone I can see walking in right now. He would always sing when he saw me. [Singing] "Marty Short, how are youuuuu?"

Hollywood is remaking tons of '80s movies: Footloose, Red Dawn. But we haven't heard the names we want to hear: Three Amigos, Innerspace. Which of your movies would make the best remake?

Oh, I think Three Amigos. Although Galaxy Quest was a similar storyline. But I would say Three Amigos, why not?

Three Amigos took some critical hits when it first came out. Now it's praised. Why?

It was the beginning of a style of film that continues: an absurdist film for just pure comedy. I remember Chevy (Chase), Steve (Martin) and I were promoting it on the Today show, and Bryant Gumbel said, "What would you say if someone said this is a 'silly' movie?" And he spit the word out. And Steve Martin said, "Well, that depends on how you say the word 'silly.'" Steve is an absurdist guy. ... The Three Amigos script, with the Invisible Horseman and all these strange things, was his sense of humor. It was a fun shoot, but it was daunting. They were big movie stars. I was the cheap amigo.

To hear the full interview, go to blogs.tampabay.com/80s.

if you go

Martin Short

8 p.m., Thursday. $43-$78. Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 N McMullen-Booth Road, Clearwater. (727) 791-7400. rutheckerdhall.com

Martin Short talks legacy of 'SCTV, 'SNL' and the 'Three Amigos' before Clearwater show 03/25/12 [Last modified: Monday, March 26, 2012 9:39am]
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