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Actress Catherine O'Hara

She got her start at SCTV with characters like Lola Heatherton and Dusty Towne, and went on to star in films including the Home Alone series, A Mighty Wind Best in Show, and Waiting for Guffman. She's also in the new film Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. This interview originally aired on Nov. 12, 1992.

07:17

Other segments from the episode on November 26, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 26, 2004: Interview with Dave Thomas; Interview with Catherine O'Hare; Interview with Eugene Levy; Interview with Martin Short.

Transcript

DATE November 26, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Interview: Actor Martin Short speaks on his career
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Martin Short joined "Second City" in 1977. He was one of many "Saturday Night
Live" cast members who got their start in improvised sketch comedy with
"Second City" but was one of the few to appear on both "SCTV" and "Saturday
Night Live." In fact, some of the characters Short made famous on "SNL," like
Ed Grimley, he first tried out on "SCTV." One of Short's "Second City"
characters was a rabbi who posed the question: Why are Jews funny? This was
recorded at a "Second City" stage performance in Toronto.

(Soundbite of performance)

Mr. MARTIN SHORT (Comedian): Why are Jews so funny? I believe that there
are two major reasons that we will list, one and B. A, comedians are generous
people, and the generosity of Jews is forever whitening and dritening the
messengers of love. I am reminded of the bum that walked up to the Jew on the
street corner and asked him if he could have 5 bucks until payday, at which
the Jew asked, `But, Bum, when is payday?' At which the bum replied, `I don't
know, you're the one who's working.' I am now you're-the-one-who's-working.

And, B, comedians are courageous people, and the Jewish have always stressed
survival and true courage. I am reminded of the blind prostitute. You really
had to hand it to her. You really had to hand it to her.

BIANCULLI: Martin Short, recorded in the late '70s at a "Second City"
performance in Toronto.

On "Saturday Night Live," in addition to doing Ed Grimley and Jackie Rogers
Jr., Martin Short was also known for his impressions of Katharine Hepburn and
Jerry Lewis. More recently, in his own show, Martin embodied the rotund
celebrity talk show host Jiminy Glick for Comedy Central.

In 1989, Martin Short told Terry that when he was growing up, there was a lot
of comedy at home.

Mr. SHORT: Comedy was very normal in our family. Do jokes was to be normal.
Insult each other, it was normal. It was an Irish family that could have
bursts of anger and then be gone in one second. It was very interesting, I
was just--I had this, like, opening of Christmas gifts from 1966--a tape that
I put on when I was a kid. And I heard it this year, you know, and I was
amazed. It was like a mental family. It was like (yells) screaming and
shouting, and then, `Ha, ha, ha, ha,' laughing in the next second, no
particular rhyme or reason to it. And so comedy was very normal.

TERRY GROSS (Host): Let's talk about Jackie Rogers Jr., a great character.
This is just a...

Mr. SHORT: Now let me say something...

GROSS: OK.

Mr. SHORT: ...about you, that you like Jackie is very revealing because, you
know, there are two camps on Jackie. People either find him totally--I mean,
just hate him...

GROSS: Oh, really?

Mr. SHORT: ...or they love him.

GROSS: Oh, I love him.

Mr. SHORT: The cast at SCTV, most of them didn't like Jackie.

GROSS: Really?

Mr. SHORT: Yeah, they thought he was just kind of grotesque. And we'd write
these pieces, we'd take them in the read-through and they'd just kind of die,
you know. But because the cast trusted me, they let me do it.

GROSS: Well, I like Jackie because he's so extravagant and so show-bizzy.

Mr. SHORT: Yes. He's also the most self-absorbed...

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. SHORT: ...character that I've ever done.

GROSS: He's a lounge singer, for any of our listeners who don't know.

Mr. SHORT: Who's also albino...

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. SHORT: ...and cross-eyed.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SHORT: Has long white hair.

GROSS: I think it's fair to say that one of his anthems is "She Loves Me."

Mr. SHORT: Yes, it was his dad's song. You know, (singing) `She loves me and
to my amazement, I love her. What the heck does that mean?'

GROSS: That's a Sheldon Harnick song.

Mr. SHORT: Yeah.

GROSS: He also wrote the lyrics for "Fiddler on the Roof"...

Mr. SHORT: Right.

GROSS: ...and this is from the show "She Loves Me." How did you--I think
Jack Jones had a hit of it. How did you choose that song as the perfect
showpiece for Jackie Rogers Sr. and Jr.?

Mr. SHORT: I don't know. I used to go into the writers' office at SCTV and
I'd always be like (singing), `She loves me and to my amazement,' and they'd
say, `You should do a piece on that.' And this was in 1982. And I kind of
said, `Well, I don't know if--this is an old subject matter, you know, lounge
singers.' But then I thought that I would do a short piece, a two-minute
piece on this character Jackie Rogers. And if I had him die at the end of the
piece, then it would be no problem repeating turf.

So we wrote a piece called Jackie Rogers' "Old Mother Nature, She Loves Me,"
which was supposedly something that had been done in '71 and Jackie Rogers had
been killed while doing it--whilst doing it, as Ed would say. And they were
finally releasing it 11 years later.

GROSS: We talked about some of the characters that you created for sketch
comedy. Let me ask you about one of the impressions that you did, and that's
of Jerry Lewis. I think you're really good at it because you know physical
comedy and you can capture the kind of goofy aspects of Jerry Lewis. But you
also get the kind of dark side, the bitter side and the ego of the man. How
do you rehearse to do him? Do you study him before doing him?

Mr. SHORT: I would start singing, (singing) `Got to get my old tuxedo
pressed, got to smile, hold notes and shake' (stops singing)--can I tell you
what a joy and a thrill and all good stuff--you know, you just kind of--often
I would suck a lozenge, imaginary lozenge. I don't know why, it's not like
he does a Lozenge, but it's just an idea of, you know, an attitude. And
sometimes you just hear people. It's like music. You know, you hear it and
you just kind of...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. SHORT: ...get the placement...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. SHORT: ...in the voice or the throat and (imitates Lewis singing) nasal
or (imitating Robin Williams) Robin Williams kind of like that, you know.
(Imitating Katharine Hepburn) Katharine Hepburn is more back there (stops
imitations), you know, so you just kind of play.

GROSS: Now I've read about you that when you were young, you used to do an
imaginary TV show in your room that would run on alternate weeks, in your
imagination, with "The Andy Williams Show."

Mr. SHORT: Yes, that is very true. And we were canceled, too, finally which
is a tragedy. "Hullabaloo" I think replaced us.

Yes, I used to--it was 8:30 Mondays in my mind.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. SHORT: And we'd tape ahead. You know, we'd have shows in the can, and
I'd type things up for TV Guide, you know, highlights Marty will sing. And I
would come out and I had a Frank Sinatra--the "Sands" album so I used that as
a pause record. And then, you know, I'd use intros from albums. You know,
when I'd have a guest--you know, my guest would be Tony Bennett, and Tony
would come out and do (singing), `Forget your troubles, come on, get happy,
the Lord is waiting to take your hand. I'd sing another song, I just don't
remember the words.' You know, and he'd be my guest, and then I would, you
know, sing with him, you know, with the record. And then I'd go to the
applause and I'd, you know, piece it together reel to reel.

And then I would take, you know, the Playboy of that month and do the
interview with Eldridge Cleaver or something, and then I'd sit and--`You say
that we're not moving fast'--you know, and then I'd read his part. And then
I'd end with a medley, and then someone would call, `Dinner,' and we'd tape
later.

GROSS: Did you sit on a stool and sing like Perry and Andy used to?

Mr. SHORT: Oh, sure, yeah. But sometimes I'd just throw that stool aside and
belt out a big final...

GROSS: 'Cause that's the kind of informal guy you are.

Mr. SHORT: Yeah, there's no one restraining me.

GROSS: So who were your sponsors?

Mr. SHORT: Bulova watch was a biggie and the Kraft people.

GROSS: They...

Mr. SHORT: No cigarettes even then.

GROSS: They did Perry Como.

Mr. SHORT: Yeah.

GROSS: OK.

Mr. SHORT: Well, I know they were very generous to help me out as well.

GROSS: Why, if you were doing an imaginary show, would you have it alternate
every other week with "Andy Williams"? Why not be on every week?

Mr. SHORT: How could I do my films?

GROSS: What?

Mr. SHORT: How could I do my films?

GROSS: Oh, OK. I see the problem.

Mr. SHORT: Remember, I was directing as well.

GROSS: Now when you were doing these shows, were they serious in your mind or
were they parodies of a show? I mean, were you doing them for real or were...

Mr. SHORT: No, it was real. I had a fantasy world that wouldn't quit, you
know. I mean, if I got on the back of a bus, I would go--I mean, if I got on
a bus, I would go to the back of the bus where the windows were kind of
oval-shaped, you know...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SHORT: ...so that I'd have more of a sense of riding in a limousine. Do
you know what I mean? It's like--and I'd look out the window--or I'd pretend
I was, you know, on an airplane taxiing off and fans would--you know, this is
at 10. I was just intrigued by it. It wasn't like Rupert Pumpkin or--What
was the name of that...

GROSS: Rupert Pupkin, yeah.

Mr. SHORT: Yeah. It wasn't that sick, you know. It was clearly a fun hobby,
you know. It was fun. And while other kids my age were protesting (singing)
`Going to head the revolution,' (stops singing) I was up in my room singing,
(sings) `Weather-wise, it's such a cuckoo day,' (stop singing) you know. But
certainly in no way did it become something that I, you know, would answer to
two different names or...

GROSS: Did your imaginary show have a theme? A song?

Mr. SHORT: No. There would be a production number, you know, kind of opening
which would be similar where dancers come out and go (singing), `Marty, it's
time for Marty (stops singing)' but I mean, that wasn't a real theme.

GROSS: What a nut.

Mr. SHORT: Yeah. Sad, huh?

BIANCULLI: Martin Short recorded in 1989. We'll hear a more recent
conversation with him in a minute after this break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Terry Gross first interviewed Martin Short in 1989. When they
spoke again 13 years later, they returned to the topic of his early show-biz
fantasies.

GROSS: So when you were young and you were watching all these TV shows and
doing your imaginary show, did you have any training? Did your mother say,
`Send this boy to acting school or give him singing lessons, develop that
talent'?

Mr. SHORT: No, no, no. My mother was the concert mistress of the symphony.
She was the first female concert master actually. So I grew up with, at times
during the season, five hours of practice heard within the house on a violin.
So the idea of rehearsal and opening night was not foreign, but no. I think
growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, you don't instinctively--you know,
Broadway isn't down the street so it all seems not terribly realistic. So it
wasn't until I was in university and having done theater throughout
university, realized that there was actually an acting school in Toronto,
Ontario, which was 40 miles away.

GROSS: Did your mother ever measure talent according to more classical
standards of, you know, rigorous studies and a more legit kind of singing
voice than you probably had? You had a more pop voice.

Mr. SHORT: No. You know what? It was very interesting. She was always very
encouraging. In fact, when I was 15, Frank Sinatra had released an album
called "September of my Years." And I re-recorded that. I taped all the
lyrics. And I had an attic bedroom, and the hallway to the bedroom had an
echo to it. So I set up my chair. I had a microphone, a reel-to-reel, and I
would play the introductions from the Sinatra album but it would be--of
course, Frank was, you know, 53 and I was 14. But the introductions would be
in his key so it would be (singing), `Do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do,
do, do, do, do, do, (stops singing)' and you hear `click,' (begins
singing) strangers in the night, you look (stops singing)--I was in Frank's
keys. But I would do the album. It would take me about a week, you know, and
I'd make up an album cover. And then my mother, I remember, listened to it
and critiqued it because she used to adjudicate at certain, you know, violin
contests and things in her life. And so she wrote a synopsis of--I mean, a
critique of each song and--`the pitch was very good, lovely old song, well
phrased at the end, hold the note too long here'--and rated it as four stars,
three stars, three and a half stars, you know. So I still have that.

GROSS: Was that helpful?

Mr. SHORT: It was helpful. I think it was mainly helpful because someone was
taking my fantasy world very seriously and treating it with credibility and
respect. You know, Frank Sinatra once said that his father was always around
to piss on his dreams. And I think it's very important for parents to
constantly nurture and support eclectic interests of their children 'cause you
never know which one is going to become the fuel that drives their live.

BIANCULLI: Martin Short speaking with Terry Gross in 2002. His work will be
on the next collection of SCTV DVDs which will be released next year. Dave
Thomas, Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy, along with John Candy, Rick Moranis,
Joe Flaherty and Andrea Martin, all appear on the two volumes of the classic
"SCTV" series now available on DVD from Shout! Factory.

(Soundbite from SCTV)

Unidentified Actor: I'm Yosh Schmenge.

Mr. EUGENE LEVY (Actor): And I'm Stan Schmenge, and tonight...

Unidentified Actor and Mr. LEVY: (In unison) ...we have to moderate
(unintelligible) John Williams.

(End of soundbite)

(Credits)

BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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