Every once in awhile a concert comes along you just can’t pass up. When I saw the Steve Martin Martin Short concert was headed for Nashville, I jumped at the chance to see these two funny legends. To top it off, the show was at the historic Grand Ole Opry. Done!
In full disclosure I should tell you that I am 48 years old. When Steve Martin performed “King Tut” and “Wild & Crazy Guy” on Saturday Night Live I instantly became a comedy fan. It was probably the first time I saw a grown man act like a child and it was infectious. It was pre-VCR days in the Roberts household, so I would place my cassette recorder (the rectangular, black, five button kind) next to the TV and magically capture the insanity. I listened back so much I wore that tape out.
Steve Martin got his start doing magic at Disneyland, then moved on to review shows and eventually got a break as a writer/performer on the Smother’s Brothers show in 1969. His dedication to the craft earned him spots on the Sonny & Cher show and Carol Burnett Show in the early 70’s. Next was a small part in the “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” film in 1978. All of that set the stage for his mega breakthrough movie “The Jerk” in 1979.
Martin Short first appeared on my radar in 1988 when his “Ed Grimley” character aired on TV. Again, I found this foolish, excitable grown man acting like a child to be hilarious. Short continued to be a favorite of mine. His appearances and movies were a little more sporadic than Martin’s. However, they were pretty great every time I came across one. Like finding the toy surprise at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box, I delighted in each discovery.
Like two protons colliding, these comedy giants to meet up in the “Three Amigo’s” in 1986 and the energy was exponential. Steve Martin had already established himself as a big screen hit, but this was Martin Short’s true first big break in film. The friendship started there and carries over to the live concert.
So, what did I think of the live show? It was great. Non-stop laughs for two hours does a body good. They delivered and it was worth my $91 upper balcony ticket. Yes, ninety-one dollars. I have missed out on too many great shows by being frugal. No more. Just like they mention in their show, this was the “See ‘em Before They Die” tour
I love the experience of being in the audience. I think it’s important for every performer to sit, watch and enjoy other performances. No matter how hard I try, though, I can’t just sit and enjoy a show. Being a stand-up comedian for going on twenty-seven years just gets in the way sometimes. The good news, as I was enjoying the show I was making mental notes of what I could learn from the experience. Hopefully you will find some value in the specifics I list below.
Here are “9 Showbiz Lessons From Steve Martin & Martin Short in Concert”
#1) KEEP WORKING
These two guys continue to work and those gigs lead to more gigs. They stay on the radar. They stay relevant. As tempting as it is to fold up the circus tent and quit comedy, you can always get better if you keep working.
But you have to work smart. Your comedy bits can be as dumb as they come. But you have to be smart about the business side of things. Working for the sake of working is insane. We comedians are creative soles. We should create. In fact, if creating isn’t driving your decisions you are no longer and artist.
Are you working because you have something to say and need to say it? Or are you working because you don’t think you have any other skills you can monetize/ Be smart, keep working if it is the creative need that drives you.
#2) A COMEDY BUDDY KEEPS YOU HUMBLE
A comedy buddy can help keep you from getting too arrogant. In the show the two comedians trade affectionate barbs and reminders of their failures and miscues. They also keep each other rooted in reality. A comedian who stays isolated can begin to think they are bigger or better than they actually are
Also, pursuing a comedy career alone can be rough. The short sets and long treks home afterward can drive you insane if you let them. A comedy buddy who is also going through that journey can help reduce your stress and ease your burden. No doubt these two performers enjoy the gigs successes and survive the grind because they are doing it with each other.
And, of course, a comedy buddy can be a collaborative force.
#3) YOU ARE NEVER TOO OLD, OR TOO BIG
Martin short just turned 67 and Steve Martin is 72. Just like the characters in the Three Amigos these two guys could have cashed out many years ago and rode off into the sunset. Instead, they continue to explore their age and experiences for new bits, characters and laughs.
Many stars worry about not being able to sell a ticket, draw a crowd, or perform at a high level. This fear has kept us from seeing greats in their later years. In fact, Steve Martin accredits his huge success as a stand-up as a road block to performing solely as a stand-up comedian ever again. Lucky for us, he has found a way to weave his razor sharp wit and quick one-liners throughout the concert. It gives us a glimpse into that aspect of his career.
Do you worry that you have lost a step? Maybe you are flying so low below the radar that you are colliding with crickets (both literally and figuratively). Get back in comedy shape. Produce your own show. You can always get better, which leads to bigger things.
#4) USE YOUR WHOLE LIFE AS MATERIAL
Many jokes and stories during the concert were about experiences these fellows had before making it big. A quick slideshow full of childhood photos allowed them both to use their razor sharp wit to comment on the “pre-Hollywood” versions of themselves. Giving an audience a glimpse into their early days is both fun and endearing.
When you are onstage are you only exploring the present? While you should definitely analyze your current situation, digging into your past can allow the audience to understand you in an even deeper way. Big moments in your childhood shaped the decisions you made as a teen. Pivotal teen decisions changed the trajectory of your early adult years. Your audience will relate to and connect with material about the early years. Explore them!
#5) DEVELOP A “SECOND SKILL”
I love artists who are multi-dimensional. Steve Martin’s ability to play banjo, tell jokes, act, write, perform and interject off the cuff remarks make his performances satisfying. Martin Short can sing, dance, embody a character, perform and captivate with the best of them. Had this just been two hours of story telling or joke slinging, it wouldn’t have had nearly the impact.
Now, some comedy purists will argue that if you can’t captivate with only words then you aren’t a true comedian. To be honest with you, every person I have heard make this argument had an act that was one-dimensional and boring. They had yet to delve into the nuances of crafting material and delivering in a mesmerizing way. So, avoid that criticism.
Do you have a secondary skill you can nurture and cultivate to the point where it can be an asset to your show? Don’t worry about what other comedians might think. Focus on your audience. Over deliver and surprise them with your talent.
#6) SHINE YOUR SPOTLIGHT ON SOMEONE ELSE
Not only did the two headliners take turn highlighting each others successes, they shared that spotlight as well. Martin Short brought along his musical director Jeff Babko (Jimmy Kimmel Live). Steve Martin brought along his band the Steep Canyon Rangers and allowed them to experience his audience.
The loudest, longest standing ovation during the show wasn’t for Steve or Marty. No, the incredible show of appreciation was for fiddle player Nicky Sanders. And it was well deserved. With Short and Martin offstage the band kicked into high gear and Sanders took over like Charlie Daniels on triple mocha latte. He even wove in a few notes of “Johnnie B. Goode” to pay homage to Chuck Berry who passed away just days earlier.
They also brought a few members of the audience on stage to demonstrate the patented Three Amigos hip flex. All of these instances highlighted the people around the headliners, which rounded out the show by providing an extra dimension to the concert.
Do you have the ability to shine the spotlight on those around you? Are you able to “set up” someone else for success? Or do you hog the spotlight and fear someone else being noticed? Try it. All of my favorite moments through out the year come from helping others get better, get noticed and get booked. It hasn’t caused me to lose one booking. Shine that spotlight often and see what you can discover.
#7) KNOW WHO AND WHAT YOU ARE
As an entertainer evolves, so does his or her stage persona. At least, if you are truly an artist it will. Knowing who and what you are means being in touch with where you are NOW.
Would I have started screaming like a 14-yr old girl at a Justin Beiber concert if Steve Martin had broken into a fully costumed “King Tut”? Absolutely! But that would have been a bad choice on his part. That version of Steve Martin disappeared thirty years ago. Who he is now is a refined, pensive, sharp-witted and thoughtful comedian. And that is who I came to see.
Martin Short could have come onstage as Ed Grimley and I would have loved it – I must say. But, that version of Martin Short has passed. I enjoyed a quick video clip of the character, and that was enough. What Martin Short has become is a gifted story teller and raconteur. And that is who I came to see as well.
Are you strutting onstage in a leather jacket when your face and body suggest Spanxx and elastic slacks are in order? Similarly, are you telling jokes that are dated and worn out? Know who and what you are. And if you can’t figure it out, ask your comedy buddy.
#8) CONTINUE TO GROW ARTISTICALLY
These two artists continue to grow and explore their gifts. Although Steve Martin has been playing banjo for most of his life, it wasn’t until 10 years ago he played onstage with other musicians. It’s not as easy as it sounds. It was a risk, one that paid off.
When was the last time you took a real risk onstage? When did you last try out a new character, routine or impression? What is holding you back? Growth only occurs with friction and heat. Turn up the temperature and see where you can push yourself.
#9) UPDATE YOUR PROMO PHOTO
In one of the funnier early moments Steve Martin congratulates Martin Short on his promo photo. He said he had asked for a digital copy of it but it was taken before the digital age. Indeed, the headshot was at least fifteen years old. Short told Steve he had advantage because he has looked the same sine he was thirty years old.
But it was indeed a jab that landed because it was 100% true.
Are you overdue for a new headshot? It can be a little unsettling when someone hires twenty-five-year-old you and forty-five-year-old you shows up. You will look like your own parent. Take a moment and see if you look like your picture. If not, upgrade, update and upload.
(If you live near Nashville, TN I highly recommend Nora Canfield (http://msdigphoto.com/about/) for any photography needs.
Overall, the concert was a truly satisfying experience. I would definitely recommend it to any current or aspiring entertainer (comedy or otherwise). It definitely motivated me to write more, take more chances and develop more bits. Luckily for me, my head shot is good to go (I must say).
LINKS AND PARTING NOTES
Steve Martin is offering a master class in comedy. If you are interested, here is a link: STEVE MARTIN MASTER CLASS
If you would like to read more about Martin Short check out his book,
In this engagingly witty, wise, and heartfelt memoir, Martin Short tells the tale of how a showbiz- obsessed kid from Canada transformed himself into one of Hollywood’s favorite funnymen, known to his famous peers as the “comedian’s comedian.”
I highly recommend Steve Martin’s biography, “Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life (Unabridged)”
Martin illuminates the sacrifice, discipline, and originality that made him an icon and informs his work to this day. To be this good, to perform so frequently, was isolating and lonely.
Today’s episode Steve Martin Martin Short is brought to you by Patreon Supporter Amy Lynch.
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