Martin Short is opening up in a lengthy interview with Vulture, covering his vast career in comedy and how a “nice” Canadian from Hamilton, Ont. made it to Hollywood without becoming a cynic.
“You have to understand that I grew up in Hamilton, Ont., Canada. If I had been a kid in New York, my parents might have said, ‘Have Marty audition for whatever is playing downtown.’ That’s not happening when you grow up in Hamilton,” he says of his early interest in performing. “Show business was something that happened on another planet. But once I realized I could make a living by playing around with hilarious people and get cash handed to me — I never got over that.”
The 67-year-old Short calls Los Angeles home now, but the veteran of Global‘s “Saturday Night Live” and “SCTV” owes much of his personality, on-screen and off, to growing up as a nice Canadian boy – a reputation that has followed him throughout his career.
“‘Nice’ is not a common label for comedians but it is for Canadians,” he explains. “I like it. My father would say, ‘Marty, do the decent thing.’ So if you go backstage and say hello to an actor you’ve just seen in a play, do you say, ‘That was fantastic’ even if you didn’t think it was? Yeah, I think you do.”
Short says his career was shaped by working within Canada which didn’t offer the same level of opportunities as some of his contemporaries in the U.S. had.
“In Canada, where I primarily worked from ’72 to ’79, there was no star system. Being an actor was like being at university,” he says, revealing he was “too afraid” to audition for Second City in 1973 at the same time as his friends Eugene Levy, Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd. But, he did get plenty of work within the Canadian entertainment industry and it’s this chameleon-like nature that has kept him jumping from one varied project to the next.
“Instead of doing ‘Cheers’ or whatever for a decade, you’d do 15 different jobs in a year. You’d do Shakespeare for CBC radio during the day, Second City at night, commercials, maybe a CBC television drama,” he says. “That’s how I’ve continued.”
Short says his short stint on “SNL” was because of the pressures that came with doing a weekly show – something he wasn’t used to after his years of jumping from project to project at home.
“The pressure of the ‘SNL’ weekly format was a lot for me, which is why I only did the show for a year,” he says. “Everyone at ‘SNL’ worshipped ‘SCTV’. I went to ‘SNL’ with a one-year contract, as did Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer — Harry and Chris were red-hot because ‘Spinal Tap‘ had opened earlier that year. The four of us were treated fantastically. If we wrote something, it almost always got on the show, and always in the first half-hour. I’d be in about two scenes a week — always want ’em leaving more was my philosophy — and I’d be done by 12:05.”
Despite some of the more high-profile opportunities his friends like Steve Martin or Chevy Chase enjoyed, Short is proud of his career as a “jack-of-all-trades.”
“If I’m looking back at a year and I can say, Short never won the blockbuster accolades of his ‘SNL’ peers, but he’s carved out a singular career as a show business jack-of-all-trades. In addition to his comedy work, Short has had major successes on Broadway and turned in stellar dramatic work — his role as the paranoid Dr. Rudy in Paul Thomas Anderson’s film adaptation of Pynchon’s ‘Inherent Vice’ is a beauty. ‘Gee, I was in a movie, I did a Broadway show, I did something on television, I did a great Letterman,’ then I’m happy.”