Steve Martin: “We’re coming up on 80.”
Martin Short: “Steve, he didn’t ask how old you were. He asked how many shows we’ve done.”
Short and Martin explained during a recent phone interview how their joint concert show, “An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life,” has grown since they first started doing it a few years ago.
“An Evening You Will Forget” will be at The Bushnell on Feb. 17. The 2-½ hour show, which includes film clips as well as live routines and interview segments, has played large theaters and concert halls around the country, will be in New York in May, and is being taped for a TV special.
Martin, of course, was doing his solo stand-up act in stadiums back in the 1970s and ‘80s while he was also establishing himself as a major movie star and bestselling author. Short’s career began with the Canadian production of the musical “Godspell,” which led to him working with the Toronto company of the legendary sketch comedy Second City, which led to TV sitcoms and movies.
The pair’s biggest collaboration before this stage show was when they played two of the title roles in the 1986 satire of the early days of Hollywood, “Three Amigos.” Chevy Chase was the third amigo, Jon Landis directed the film, and the screenplay was by Steve Martin, “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels and songwriter Randy Newman.
Martin and Short first met backstage at “The New Show,” a short-lived 1984 prime-time variety show involving a lot of “Saturday Night Live” veterans.
“That was when Lorne Michaels thought, ‘I guess I should do something else instead of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ Short recalls. “Then he decided that ‘No, I should be doing ‘Saturday Night Live.’”
“An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life” finds Martin doing stand-up again, Short singing onstage again, and more, in both solo and duo configurations.
“I don’t know where the rumors started,” Martin says, “that we do sketches.” Definitions may vary, but the show does contain a lot of prepared comedy bits, musical routines and apparently even some props and costumes.
“It started out as a Q&A,” Martin says. “Then we added music and comedy, and now the Q&A is a very short part of it.”
“We were originally asked to interview each other,” Short says. “What keeps it interesting is that that we do all these different things. It’s evolved into this ‘SNL’-type show.”
“We always love to add things,” Martin says. “We just had a brainstorming session. It’s an interesting thing. When we come up with a bit or a joke, it’s very clear which of us it suits best. We don’t have to analyze it. We have a clarity.”
“The first thing that happens as we’re walking offstage after a show,” Short says, “is we’re saying we should cut that part, or make that one longer.”
Besides Martin and Short, there are several musicians onstage. When Martin plays banjo, he’s backed by the Steep Canyon Rangers, with whom he’s toured and done several recordings. When Short sings (including songs from his parody of one-man-shows “Fame Becomes Me”), he’s accompanied by Jeff Babko, the keyboardist from “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
Does Short, a compulsive crooner who’s appeared in several Broadway shows, like bluegrass?
“I became a bluegrass fan doing this show,” he gushes, then changes his tone. “Strangely, Steve has become less of a fan.”
Now that their show’s played so many different parts of the country, have they noticed different sorts of reactions from different cities or regions? “The audiences are very consistent,” Martin says, “but what changes them is the nature of the venue. A big outdoor stage works very differently from an indoor one.”
The nature of Hartford’s Bushnell is historic, imposing, grandiose. Martin knows that situation well.
“Whenever we walk into a very ornate theater, Marty will look around, then faint. He’ll scream ‘How did this happen to me?! How did I get here?!”
Both Martin and Short have played in Connecticut before.
“I love it there,” Martin says. “I’ve been there many times, in all sorts of circumstances.”
One recent extended visit was when his play “Meteor Shower” was premiering at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven. With a different director and cast, “Meteor Shower” went on to have a successful Broadway run, which concluded last month. Other than bringing this concert act to the Beacon Theatre for two shows May 4 and 5, neither Martin nor Short have any current plans to do other Broadway shows.
What they’re enjoying right now is how “An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life” has turned into a long-running, continually inspiring, very comfortable side project.
“The other day,” Martin muses, “I woke up and put on my blue sweatshirt, and I thought ‘This is exactly what I wore in high school.’ It’s the same with this show. What I’m doing now is what I’ve wanted to do since I was 16 years old.”
STEVE MARTIN AND MARTIN SHORT: AN EVENING YOU WILL FORGET FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, happens at 8 p.m. Feb. 17 at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Tickets are $89 to $275. 860-987-5900 andbushnell.org.