‘MARTY, I have a question for you,’ says Steve Martin, one of the world’s most famous comedians, to Martin Short, his old friend, co-star in five movies and his sidekick on a major new tour coming to the UK. ‘Are you thinking of leaving the royal family?’ ‘I don’t know,’ shoots back Martin. ‘It depends on what the missus says.’
We might be on the most complicated of conference calls: Metro in London, Steve in New York, Martin in Los Angeles and a couple of publicity people sprinkled in between for good measure — but the rapport is still there, as well it might be given they’ve been working their current two-man routine for five years.
In that time, there have been many highlights, according to the pair: a Netflix special, which they more or less rewrote their material for, a stint at the legendary Greek Theatre in Los Angeles and the Santa Barbara Bowl for 12,000 people, ‘most of whom actually paid,’ says Steve, because as one of the world’s most recognisable movie stars, he needs that money.
When the show comes to the UK next month, the material will be tweaked again to suit British audiences. ‘Mind you,’ says Steve, ‘when we played Canada, the American politics jokes went over better than they do in America.’
‘But we might have a Boris Johnson joke along the way, you never know,’ adds Martin, a big Father Ted fan. In fact, both of them love their British comedy, from Harry Enfield to Ricky Gervais. ‘And Benny Hill,’ says Steve. ‘I didn’t want to like it, it’s kind of low, but he just made me laugh.’
But as well as sharp-edged topical comedy (and quite a lot of general nuttiness), we can also expect musical interludes in The Funniest Show In Town At The Moment. ‘I’ve been making music with the Steep Canyon Rangers for at least ten years,’ says Steve, an accomplished bluegrass banjo player, ‘and have had three or four music albums — we’ve actually won two Grammys from that — but the music in the show is limited. We do a couple of show-off numbers, let’s put it that way’.
There is also, thanks to Martin, full-frontal nudity. ‘Yes, there is, absolutely. It’s in my contract.’ Actually, don’t worry, it’s not quite as graphic as it sounds.
‘There is a lot of teasing in the show,’ says Steve, who claims that they get on like a house on fire, mainly because they don’t have to share a hotel room, ‘but it’s not a put-on thing. This is how we actually talk to each other. It started when I first met Marty and it so surprised me and I sooooo didn’t take offence.’
You wonder if heading off on tour with your best mate on a regular basis might be a bit like a boys’ holiday that a wife or a family member might have an issue with. ‘They have issues with it until the cheques roll in,’ laughs Steve, ‘but the truth is we aren’t ever gone for that long. The most is four days and sometimes my family comes with. I just wouldn’t leave for that long. I just don’t have that ambition anymore.’
As far as ambition goes, it seems that Steve’s time as one of the world’s biggest movie stars is over, since he just can’t be bothered anymore.
‘We’re in talks for a TV show,’ he says, ‘though we can’t talk about it yet, because if you discuss it, it doesn’t happen.
‘But I have no interest in movies because of the time commitment. They don’t shoot them in your hometown anymore, like they used to.’ ‘You never say you’re done with anything forever,’ says Martin, ‘but we have come a long way from Midnight Cowboy,’ by which he means quality standards have dropped. ‘To quote Scorsese, they are often about superheroes and slashers.’
‘The movies we used to make,’ says Steve, ‘are now on television, with the exception of Knives Out, which I would have liked to have made about 12 years ago. I never thought it would happen that TV would be as respectable as movies but it’s 100 per cent happened.
‘But I don’t do anything for my career any more,’ he continues, ‘I only do things if I think they are fun, which is a fantastic place to be. I wish I’d done it 25 years ago. I hope you’re writing this down because I’m being brilliant.’
So, does that mean retirement for two of the world’s funniest movie stars, one 74 (that would be the man who introduced himself as Steeevie), the other 69 — or is the tour a form of retirement?
‘I’ll speak for Steve and say I don’t think he’ll ever retire,’ says Martin. ‘I think we would instinctively know when it’s time to go but especially with Steve, who’s non-stop creative, that time is not now.’ ‘Besides,’ says Steve, ‘This is not work.’
■ Martin and Steve’s tour starts at SSE Hydro, Glasgow, on March 9, before landing at the Royal Albert Hall, London on March 14-15, stevemartin.com