Steve Martin and Martin Short review – a delightfully daft double act


It started life as a cosy Q&A at a comedy festival. Then Steve Martin and Martin Short – comedians, movie legends and best friends – expanded the banter into a stage show. Recorded for Netflix, it was Emmy-nominated for outstanding writing for a variety special. And now this late-career double act arrives in the UK for a week-long tour.

Any concerns that the duo, 74 and 69 respectively, might be yesterday’s news are allayed by instant engagement with today’s. “If you do find something funny,” Martin begins by advising the crowd, “please pull your surgical mask away from your face” – the better to let the laughter be heard. Coronavirus is tonight’s ice-breaker: no sooner have Martin and Short greeted one another on stage than they’re cracking open the hand sanitiser. These Audience With … celebrity vehicles often feel complacent; this one is immediately more mischievous and lighter on its feet.

A variety show weaving together standup and conversation, music and song, it’s at its best when the Two Amigos are exchanging affectionate insults. They have a fine line in mutual mickey-taking, whether that’s Short mocking Martin’s pale complexion (“In the 80s, I think I tried to snort you”) or Martin feigning concern for Short’s career slump, which lasted “from 1972 until last week”. The raillery is just as pointed when turned on themselves and their show: Martin has a running gag about the mechanism for audience complaints (“That email again – ToughShitNoRefunds@gmail.com”), and he deploys it, after this or that creaky gag from Short, with comic timing to die for.



Mutual mickey-taking … Steve Martin and Martin Short in the Three Amigos, 1986. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

His introverted deadpan finds a perfect foil in extrovert, attention-seeking Short. When they operate as a double act (“We’re like Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un without the sexual tension”), you want more.

But the show as often keeps them separate, or creates less fruitful formats for their partnership – like the odd sequence in which they recite other comedians’ well-loved one-liners, or the faux chatshow where they tell rehearsed anecdotes about their life and work.

The latter is a rare brush with celebrity slickness and self-congratulation. The closing paean to Glasgow’s “best audience in the world” rings hollow too, given that the duo were visibly disconcerted earlier when references to their career achievements (engineered to elicit whoops from a US audience) met with indifferent silence. Later, Short’s solo sequence, culminating in the spoof musical number (from his 2006 Broadway show Fame Becomes Me, Stepbrother to Jesus) threatens – without his partner’s restraining influence – to become too much of a showy thing. I prefer Martin’s section with bluegrass outfit the Steep Canyon Rangers, featuring terrific banjo work from Martin and sumptuous harmony-singing from the band.

Seriously though Martin takes his music, even that isn’t immune to mockery, and Short’s interruption in the improbable role of a set of bagpipes (tartan-clad, carried aloft by a burly Scotsman, and caterwauling the tune of Amazing Grace) makes for one of the show’s most indelible WTF moments.

This cheerful silliness, and the blunt incongruity of their rudeness to one another, is the making of the show – because it all reveals how much fun they’re having in one another’s company. As they clamber atop a piano in a tangle of limbs, then deliver a Send in the Clowns that tiptoes between send-up and celebration of this late-career live-comedy fling, it’s a pleasure to share that fun with them.

At SSE Arena Belfast on 12 March; Royal Albert Hall, London, on 14-15 March.

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