Martin Short is a Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor with dozens of films behind him and a small crowd of bizarre characters that follow him everywhere. The "completely mental" Ed Grimley — with slippery cowlick and pants pulled up to his chest — has been with him since 1977. And by the early '90s there was the obnoxious and oblivious Jiminy Glick, pear-shaped celebrity interviewer.
Short likes having them around, and will bring some of that comedy repertoire to the newly refurbished Alex Theatre in Glendale this Saturday, when he appears with the Glendale Pops Orchestra for a night of comedy, music and dance. Ticket proceeds will go to support Glendale Arts.
Aside from his occasional live performances around the country, Short is currently shooting a new TV series for Fox, "Mulaney," with comic John Mulaney and Elliott Gould. And in December, Short will appear alongside Joaquin Phoenix in "Inherent Vice," from acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson, in a role that mixes drama and comedy. Short plays "a dentist who's a pedophile — typical kind of casting that you'd expect," he joked in an interview with Marquee.
How often do you perform for live audiences like this?
I'll do maybe three a month, then for a month not do anything. I think it's just good to stay loose. If you're away from the audience too long, you grow stale quickly. When you finish an active show, where you're running around like a monkey for 100 minutes, you feel great afterwards.
It seems that music is something you've often used in your performances over the years.
I've always done a lot of different things. If you're known in comedy, then you know that you can never legitimately do much singing because they're waiting for the sandbag to drop on top of you, waiting for the joke. Which I understand. This show will have a lot of comedy too. Jiminy Glick will show up and [aging songwriter] Irving Cohen will show up.
What is your musical background?
My mother was the first female concert master of a symphony in North America — the Hamilton Philharmonic in the '50s. My father was the president of the orchestra, so I grew up with orchestras and rehearsals and string quartets in my living room. It's been real depressing for me to see over the years so many symphonies crash down for lack of interest. So anything that promotes that, I'm all for.
You must have had some musical training as a child.
I was the youngest of five kids. We all had to play piano. We had to do it until a certain grade. Then, if we rebelled, we didn't have to do it. At 14, I learned "The Polonaise in A-flat major." It took me a year to learn, and that was my last hurrah.
Were you thinking about comedy yet at that point?
No. I would do imaginary TV shows in my attic, but I never thought it was a realistic choice. I didn't see it as something that would really happen. It seemed like going to Venus or something.
In a lot of cases, a certain amount of any success in entertainment is like a miracle.
Completely, because there are so many talented people. It's also, was there a vehicle for you? John Belushi was a brilliant comedian, but if he hadn't been on "Saturday Night Live," he wouldn't have had the chance to show he was great.
Was there a moment where you began to think you should dive in?
I was a little more pragmatic than that. I had done four years of university and I had done a lot of theater there. It was my friend Eugene Levy who talked me into trying [comedy] for a year. So I took a year off school and made a year contract [with myself]. I wanted to be able to look in the mirror when I was 50 and say "I did it and I failed, and that's OK." But I kept renewing my contract.
When you were on "SCTV" and "Saturday Night Live" was in its early years, did it seem like a revolutionary time in comedy?
You don't really sit back and think, "I'm part of history." You're trying to get through the day. But I'm aware that ["SCTV"] was kind of a miracle. I was the interloper — I joined it late. So I was an objective fan going into it.
How is it different making a film and performing with an audience?
It's like the difference between hunting and archery or something. When you're making a movie, the actor is just the pawn. The film will be determined months later in an editing bay with the editor and the director. You might have done 12 brilliant takes and two bad ones, and if they pick the bad one, that's your movie performance forever and a day. Onstage it's up to you. That's why winning a Tony is an amazing thing — no one edited you.
How important is improvisation to what you do?
It's very important. When I do Jiminy Glick, it's all improvised. And the audience knows that it's happening just once, and I feel like they're going, "Wow, this is amazing. I'm seeing something that is only happening tonight."
You have a book coming soon?
On Nov. 4: "I Must Say — My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend." For years I've been asked if I was interested in writing a book. I didn't want it to just be funny anecdotes. It's about examining a whole life. It's about people who have a natural tendency to be happy, then things happen to them and they continue on. There's also a million stories. And a billion jokes.
Where: Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale.
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
More info: (818) 243-2611, glendalepops.org
Follow on Twitter: @SteveAppleford.