The Art (and Science) of Comedy
Martin Short makes them laugh
To Martin Short, comedy is more of an art than a science. But comedy’s proper execution sometime carries with it all the rigors of scientific enterprise, at least for the performer engaged in the pratfall.
To do comedy well, you have to have a natural talent and ability,” says the Canadian-born Short, 58, in a recent interview. “But the execution has to be precise, which means it probably has elements of both art and science.”
will test his thesis for
“It’s like a party with Marty,” Short says. “I sing, I dance, I do characters. I’ll probably bring three guys up on stage and teach them the Three Amigos salute. It’s like a comedy workout, only I don’t have to pay a trainer for it.”
who have followed the Emmy and Tony-winning Short’s career from Canada’s “SCTV”
through “Saturday Night Live” and on to films like Three Amigos and variety specials already know that characters rank
high in the comedic chameleon’s repertoire. Favorites like Ed Grimley, Jiminy
Glick and Jackie Rogers Jr. are likely to show up when Short brings his act to
Fantasy Variety Show
Of all the characters he’s created, Short admits that talk-show host Rogers is his favorite and probably the most like him.
“I had a fantasy variety show that I performed in my attic into my tape recorder when I was growing up, with Jackie Rogers Jr. as host,” Short says. “In my mind, I would see this show airing on NBC-TV at 8:30 on Thursday nights. But it was only every other week because I was far too hip for weekly TV.”
wasn’t the performer’s first career choice, however. Short graduated from
draws inspiration from his comedic heroes, a list that includes Charlie
Chaplin, Stan Laurel, Harpo Marx, Jerry Lewis, Dick Van Dyke, Jonathan Winters
“Characters come from either a single person or an amalgam of characteristics of several people that seem to work together,” Short says. “Maybe it’s a guy who’s a chronic liar. Or someone who’s a goof and he doesn’t know it.
“I knew a guy in high school who wanted to be a photographer, so he’d take a lot of slides,” Short continues. “But he never got them developed, he said, because he’d experienced the moment and knew he didn’t have to. He became the seedling that grew into Ed Grimley.”
Short, as the iconic Grimley, his hair lacquered to a spiky horn, his pants hiked up to chest-level, remains one of the comedian’s favorite characters. He is able to judge the impact of characters like Grimley or the bits those characters perform by a simple universal measure available to all.
“The laughter is a good indication,” Short says. “If you think something is funny, then the audience usually does as well. If no one responds, then you may be performing in the wrong venue, or it’s simply not funny.”
Short rarely runs into that problem, however, because his familiar characters and infectious style tend to draw audiences in. However, the context for comedy depends as much on the audience’s background as on the performer’s talent, which gives the art form both individual and universal context.
“It’s a natural human state to try and find the joy in things, and very few people don’t want to laugh,” Short says. “Comedy can reach into people’s souls if it’s funny, but it’s still very subjective.
“In comedy, there’s no wrong or right,” he adds. “The main agenda is simply to make people laugh.”
Martin Short performs at the Pabst Theater at 8 p.m. on May 30. For tickets, call (800) 511-1552.
What’s your take?