Showbiz force of nature Martin Short is the star attraction for the 2009 Count Basie Theatre Spring Benefit event, going on this Saturday, May 2.
By TOM CHESEK (First published on Red Bank oRBit April 27, 2009)
It’s that time of the season again, when the directors of the Count Basie Theatrepitch a tent in the middle of Monmouth Street and throw an event the likes of which is seen but once a year in Red Bank. An event that regularly mixes the most ardent patrons of that grand old performing arts facility with some of the biggest figures in the music business — Tony Bennett, James Brown and Brian Wilson, to name a few.
The 2009 edition of the Count Basie Theatre Annual Spring Benefit and Gala is the first major fundraiser to be presented at the Count’s crib since the spectacular run of renovations that were unveiled to the public last October. It’s an evening dedicated to Basie board member Russell Lucas, whose stewardship of the theatre’s Capital Campaign brought the complex project to fruition on schedule and budget — and it’s also noteworthy as the first of the annual events to feature as its star attraction a performer from the comic side of the ledger.
An Emmy winner and a Tony winner and a fast-moving presence on screens big and small — from SCTV, SNL, Three Amigos! and Merlin to Father of the Bride, Santa Clause 3, countless cartoon voicings and his own afternoon talk show — Martin Short remains instantly recognizable yet not so easy to pin down. A character guy rather than a stand-up, he’s been known to disappear completely into his nutty alter egos, like hors-d’oeuvre crumbs into the doughy arroyos of Jiminy Glick’s freebie-fed flesh.
The completely clueless celebrity interviewer is just one of the lovable rogues who are scheduled to make the trip into town with Short for the “solo” show entitled If I’d Saved, I Wouldn’t Be Here. Presented on Saturday, May 2 as the centerpiece of the benefit event, the program is scheduled to further feature the peculiar talents of such Short discoveries as the ever-disturbing Jackie Rogers Jr., and the cheerfully alien being that is Ed Grimley.
“You’re gold, babe, don’t change,” said Red Bank oRBit to Short when he called in from the Hollywood offices of the Bernie Brillstein agency. Continue reading for the details of the conversation, as well as all the pertinent data on this Saturday’s fab function.
RED BANK ORBIT: Well, we’re all very excited to see you coming to Red Bank to play the Count Basie, which I understand they’ve spiffed up expressly for your visit. Have you ever made an appearance anywhere in the area before?
MARTIN SHORT: No! This is actually my first time performing on the Jersey Shore.
I’m a little concerned about that title, you know, “If I’d Saved I Wouldn’t Be Here” — I guess what I’m asking is, do you need like twenty bucks til next Thursday or something?
That’d be nice! Actually, it’s just a title, because I had to call the show something —Sunny von Bulow Unplugged, perhaps.
So this show is a stop on a larger tour that you’re doing?
It’s actually not a tour. I’ve never actually done a tour. I do concerts, I guess you could say — occasionally. I’m at a comfortable point in my career, when I’m not worried about the rent, so I do something like this a couple of times a month. It keeps you in there, going out there and doing it.
What sort of things could we expect to see in your live show?
Well, it’s not really stand-up — it’s like I take the audience through a fake retrospective. I sing, dance and do some stand-up sort of things. A lot of it is improvised.
You’ve always been as much a writer as a performer — do you enjoy going off script like that and letting the show take its shape from the kind of audience you’re facing that night?
What’s great about doing a stage show is that you have this uphill task — you’ve got to prove your keep, make people think that it was worth the 90 to 100 minutes of their time. For me, it’s wildly energizing, not at all tiring. I feel up for anything after a show.
Now, it can’t be very cost-effective to be traveling around with Glick and Grimley and all those other guys in tow — I can’t imagine that Jiminy Glick would stand for being put up at a Motel 6 overnight…
Oh, he doesn’t care, as long as he gets food. Give him a hearty lunch, he’ll sleep in the street if he has to.
I should mention here that Glick has been a real inspiration to me, as a hack entertainment writer.
What I like about Glick is that he can say something that I can’t — like when he asked Mel Brooks, ‘What’s your big beef with the Nazis?’ And Glick, somehow — somehow this moron got his own show; someone gave him power, and someone else is running around getting him his tuna sandwiches.
People think Glick is me striking back at all the interviewers I’ve ever dealt with, and it’s not! I’ve actually been treated very fairly by the media.
That’s probably because you’ve never really put yourself out there; you maintain your private life and you’re not seen lurking outside Mr. Chow every night trying to get some face time on TMZ.
I have talked to a lot of interviewers who tried just to get me to say something personal, something confessional, so they can get a headline. Then they can get their lunch, and I understand that. Now Andy Dick, he’s putting himself out there every night — so he’s fair game. He’s set the rules. And I think you’d agree that it is a hilarious character he’s doing.
Well, there’s obviously the private you and the version of yourself that’s intended for public consumption, and that’s refreshing to me. It seemed for a while there that every other comedian was basing his or her act on their own personal pain , their recovered memories of being locked inside a closet when they were kids…
If you didn’t have “pain,” you were in trouble. But when I think about people I’ve loved — I didn’t know anything about the Marx Brothers, Dick Van Dyke, Jonathan Winters, and that was fine!
I’ve never let myself be defined by the admiration of strangers. I have a story, once I was at the airport, in a hurry, carrying my kids and bags and everything, and a woman comes up to me with eight pieces of paper. I told her I couldn’t sign anything right now, so she said to me, ‘And I heard you were nice!’ So her story was that I’m an asshole — which doesn’t matter, because I don’t know her. But I wouldn’t do that to a friend.
Do you find yourself compartmentalizing aspects of yourself, like boxes in the attic, sorting your thoughts and your traits into an Ed Grimley thing or a Jackie Rogers thing?
You can filter weirdness through characters — and if I don’t have anything new to say with a character, then that character might not make it into the show that night. And there are thoughts that don’t wind up becoming part of the show. I’m not a political comic at all, really; I’m an actor, a clown. I was talking to some people a while back about how I thought that Obama could beat Hillary in the primaries purely because of his sense of style, the whole showbiz character. But it’s not something I would ever do on stage — it’s more like what Bill Maher would do. And I think that what Bill Maher does is great — for him.
So then what musty corner of the attic does a creature like Jackie Rogers Jr. come from?
When I was a kid, fourteen years old, I had an imaginary TV show — with an imaginary contract in my head, for every other Tuesday on NBC! And I felt that Martin Short was not a credible stage name! So, Jackie Rogers. Years later on SCTV, I killed him off in a sketch, so it was impossible to do any more Jackie Rogers — so I got the idea of giving him a son, Jackie Junior, who’s carrying on the traditions — and I made him an albino when I saw a picture of Mickey Rooney Jr. He looked pale.
In a way, do you still have that imaginary TV show?
I don’t analyze this sort of thing too much. If you get too analytical, you lose that thing you had when you were in your twenties — not being reckless, but adventurous; a little daring. You get a little frozen.
And how did having your own talk show stack up against the imaginary show?
That show was geared toward sketches, soap operas — and what KingWorld did was, they sold it all across the map — it would be on at 11:30am in one market, 8:30am in another, two in the afternoon. So what you end up doing in a situation like that is for your own sensibility.
It was an interesting year! A fascinating experience — I’m probably wiser for it. And when you do it ‘your way’ in your career, then when people like it — even if it’s just a few people — it was worth it.