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Martin Short On Playing Lovable Klutzes.

Former Saturday Night Live cast member Martin Short. Though he only spent one season with the show (1984), he left a lasting impression with his characters such as Ed Grimley, Jr., the cowlicked dork, and his impersonations of Katherine Hepburn and Jerry Lewis. Since then he's appeared in a number of films: "Father of the Bride," and "Father of the Bride 2" (as a flamboyant party planner) and "Mars Attacks." In 1993 he made his Broadway debut in the musical version of Neil Simon's "The Goodbye Girl," and recently was in "Promises, Promises" on Broadway. He also had a short-lived prime time TV show, "The Martin Short Show." He's currently appearing in the film "A Simple Wish."


Other segments from the episode on July 7, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 7, 1997: Interview with Martin Short; Review of Iggy Pop's album "Raw Power."


Date: JULY 07, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 070701NP.217
Head: Martin Short
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Martin Short is starring in the new comedy "A Simple Wish." We invited him to talk about his new film and the other roles he's created in sketches and movies. Short is Canadian. Americans were introduced to him in the early '80s, when he was a regular on the Canadian sketch comedy series "SCTV."

In '84, he joined the cast of "Saturday Night Live," where he was best known for his characters like the nerd, Ed Grimley and the show-biz vet Jackie Rogers, Jr. and for his impressions of Katherine Hepburn and Jerry Lewis.

Short's movie credits include "Three Amigos," "Inner Space," and "Three Fugitives," "Clifford," "Father of the Bride," and "Mars Attacks." In his new movie, A Simple Wish, he plays an inept, klutzy fairy godmother who tries to help a little girl with her important wish, but all of his spells mis-fire and end in mayhem. I asked Short how playing lovable klutzes became one of his specialties.

MARTIN SHORT, ACTOR AND COMEDIAN: I guess you draw on your own life on that one. It's me and Willem Dafoe kind of have that market...


GROSS: Oh, yeah.

SHORT: ... covered. I don't know. I think that, you know, there's a clownish quality to what I do sometimes when it's in a kid's world of films, and usually those are the most enjoyable characters to play.

GROSS: Did you see yourself as klutzy when you were a kid?

SHORT: No. I wasn't klutzy. I mean, I would know how to fall, don't get me wrong. And I knew that, you know, when I fell, even as a kid, I should wait for my laughs, not just get up. But I wouldn't say that I was particularly klutzy.

GROSS: A Simple Wish is basically a contemporary fairy tale, and did you care much about fairy tales when you were young?

SHORT: I wasn't terribly drawn to fairy tales. I liked things like "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad," you know -- the Cyclops and rrrrrrrrgh -- those noises (unintelligible)...

GROSS: Yeah, monsters.

SHORT: ... that guided me. Ray Harryhausen (ph) -- when Ray got sketching I was there for him.

GROSS: Now, most of your scenes in A Simple Wish are played with an actress who's -- I don't know? How old is she? Twelve?

SHORT: No, no, no -- she's eight when we made that film.

GROSS: Oh, wow. Younger than I thought.

SHORT: Yeah.

GROSS: Are there any particular difficulties that you face as an actor playing scenes with a child of eight?

SHORT: Well I think that you have to -- you can't assume that there'll be many, many takes, because they just get bored. I mean the thing about a child actor, I've found, is that they like doing it. It's fun for them to do it, but they don't want to do it all the time. After a few takes, they kind of -- you can see them getting restless.

Myra's (ph) a bit of an exception 'cause she's so smart. She really -- I mean, she knows her lines; she knows that -- how to hit a mark. These things seem kind of basic. They're not soulful, but they're monumentally important when you're making a movie, because no matter how brilliant an actor is, if they walk out of the camera frame, no one sees it.

And she takes direction. She's just very wise in showbiz already, but again, she's also an eight-year-old, so she doesn't want to do nine and 12 and 15 takes.

GROSS: I saw you just a few months ago in a production off-Broadway of the musical comedy "Promises, Promises," with a book by Neil Simon and songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. And the most famous songs to come out of that musical were "Promises, Promises" and "I'll Never Fall In Love Again."

It was really such a joy to see you in the show, and I think usually when I've seen you sing, it's been you doing a parody -- you know, you doing a comedy sketch.

SHORT: Right.

GROSS: So here you were, like, singing for real and I thought particularly in the last song, you just like threw back your head and sang with such joy -- doing for real the kind of musical that you often only get to do in parody form. And I'm just wondering if it was, in fact, a lot of fun for you to do this?

SHORT: Well, it -- listen, I think it's ultimately what I do. I think I'm faking the rest a little bit. And it's what I did when I was living in Canada, as a Canadian actor, from let's say 1972 to '79. You know, here, when you become known as a comedian and as a satirist, you can never then sing, because they're waiting for the joke and understandably.

I think that you make a pact, as a comic actor, with the audience and your agreement is: I'm going to make you laugh. And, you know, I might want to stretch and do Ibsen someday and the audience's reaction to that usually is: terrific, let me know how it goes and I'll see you when you do the comedy.

On Broadway, it's different, though. You're playing a character, so it's not me singing up there, it's the character who's singing. And you can -- you're totally liberated. I mean, for me to walk on Letterman and sing, you know, "The Impossible Dream," people would be waiting for the joke, and if the joke never came, I'd probably be sued.

But the -- but on Broadway, it's a totally, totally different thing. So that's the one place that you can legitimately commit to the song.

GROSS: Did you get to meet Burt Bacharach when you were doing Promises, Promises?

SHORT: Yeah, he -- it was very interesting. There's a -- you know, Promises, Promises is based on the film "The Apartment," with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, and there is a scene in the play, and of course in the movie, when Shirley MacLaine finds out that Fred MacMurray, her boss, has -- who she's having an affair with -- in fact has had affairs with many, many secretaries through the years, and she finds that out through Fred MacMurray's secretary, who in fact is a former girlfriend.

And it's a very dramatic scene in the movie, and it was very effective in the play, but there was no music attached. There was never a song for that moment, and I think Hal David and Burt Bacharach always felt that was an unrequited creative moment. So they wrote a new song for this revival.

So I met him when he was working in -- the actresses into that song.

GROSS: And did he give you any tips on singing his songs?

SHORT: No, I just kept looking at him and saying: "how does he look that good?" I mean, he -- you know, and those are good genes, literally, that's he's wearing and inside him...

GROSS: Right.

SHORT: ... 'cause he's, you know, he looks like 52 and he has unbelievable energy and I know he's a tad older than that.

GROSS: Do you have a lot of your inner life tied up with songs? In other words, like when you're thinking a thought; when you're experiencing an emotion -- is there often, like, a song that goes along with it that you'd be singing in your mind?

SHORT: Well, yeah. I've been known to, in a happy mood, say: "Things are great; things are -- you know, I think that -- I sing a lot. There was a character in "Body Heat" that Ted Danson played. He was a character -- I loved this writing that Larry Kasdan did for this scene because the character was a lawyer, but he also, in his private life, was a dancer.

So that if William Hurt's character had to meet him on a street corner, and William Hurt's character was a little bit late, you'd see Ted Danson dancing -- doing a little shuffle, a little turn. And then Bill Hurt would come up to him and then they'd start talking.

And that's kind of how I am with songs. Whenever I can sing a song in the car or in the shower, while making a baloney sandwich -- well, anything. I could go on, but I don't have my list with me, but I will always start singing.

GROSS: Were you encouraged or discouraged from singing?

SHORT: Well, again, I remember in 1985, I did a special called "Martin Short's Concert for the North Americas" on Showtime. And, you know, I'd done, you know, 18 characters and 47 film parodies and been in the same format all over the place. And in the last couple of -- 10 minutes -- it was taking place in the theater, but all things were going around while I was on stage with my characters.

And -- but on the stage, in the last 10 minutes, Paul Schaefer was playing. He was a guest on it, and I sang the song "If Love Were All." And I did it. Then I sang it -- I thought: well, you know, why not? It's my show and it's something I also do, and I'll just sing this song.

And it was a mistake. It was a mistake because people just were waiting for the joke that never came, and it seemed upon, you know, objectively looking at it later, arrogant. It seemed a little presumptuous. So I just thought no, I can't do that.

GROSS: There's a Noel Coward song with the line "All I ever had was a talent to amuse."

SHORT: Right. It seemed appropriate in a kind of a whimsical way, at the time. I was young.

GROSS: Do you remember the first time you sang in public?

SHORT: The first time I sang in public would probably have been professionally, because I didn't -- you know, I didn't -- no, no, no, it would have been in university 'cause I never did plays or anything in school.

I always thought -- in public school -- I thought it was kind of dorky to do that. You know, the kind of bad talcum powder on the hair and playing "the father." You know, I'd see these 16-year-olds doing "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and it frightened me.


But by the time I got to university, I know that I had started off -- I was in pre-meds. And I quickly became aware that I wasn't -- it wasn't because I was interested in science. I was just a fan of Richard Chamberlain's work, and that wasn't enough to get me there, throughout the whole nine years.

So then I switched to social work, and now I had more time, and I started to do theater nonstop. So all my friends were involved in it. And I would do "How To Succeed in Business" and I would do original musicals and...

GROSS: Were you any good at social work? Did you think you'd have a gift for that?

SHORT: Yeah, I think I did. I think I understood. It was ultimately, I think, every step along the way, I was trying to be involved with people, and you know, from medicine to social work to acting was all an attempt to get across to people. It was just different variations.

GROSS: My guest is Martin Short. His new movie A Simple Wish opens Friday. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


If you're just joining us, my guest is Martin Short and he's starring in the new movie A Simple Wish, which is a contemporary fairy tale comedy.

Now, I think when you were first starting your career, I'm not sure how old you were, you, in Canada, hosted a TV show -- an after-school music show called "Right On."

SHORT: Right On, yes. It was at five o'clock Wednesdays on CBC live. I had long hair, but no funk at all. And I would introduce -- I would come out and sing one of the top songs of the week, but kind of in a -- I don't know, I looked the part, but I, you know, it sounded like Sinatra or something: "I shot the sheriff, however I did not shoot the deputy -- ding, dong, ding, dong."

You know, it never played. And then I'd introduce, you know, some Canadian talent -- Althea de Gregorio (ph) singing "You're So Vain." And that was half an hour. And then I -- I had no cue cards and I'd screw up all the lyrics and just make them up, and that was the first of my many defeats.

GROSS: So you were supposed to be singing your versions of the big hits on the charts...

SHORT: Yeah, yeah.

GROSS: ... the big rock and roll hits.

SHORT: It was like The Hit Parade, but five p.m.

GROSS: Now, why did they choose you, since your aspiration was more along the Sinatra lines than the Top 40 of what the late 1960s?

SHORT: Well, I was hot, you see, because it was 1972 and I was in "Godspell," and that was the hot show in Toronto. And I was one of the Godspell kids.

GROSS: So was your show popular -- the TV show?

SHORT: No, it was taken off. They couldn't really take it off quick enough. No, we lasted one half season -- a half a season.

GROSS: Did you have to dance, too?

SHORT: Well, if you call that dancing. I, you know, I moved and I grooved and I had three singers behind me -- the Marty Short Singers -- there were...

GROSS: Oh, no. You really did?

SHORT: Yeah, no, it was really -- I think they put the -- they did it on flammable nitrate tape, so they deliberately set fire to them. You can't see these anymore. I have some audio copies, but that's it.

GROSS: Oh, God, I'd love to hear that.

SHORT: Yeah.

GROSS: You know, we did an interview several years ago in which you talked a little bit about all the imaginary TV shows you used to do when you were a kid.

SHORT: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You know, and you'd have your own variety show with your own theme song and so this was like the first real-life version of all the imaginary shows that you did.

SHORT: No, it wasn -- it was very odd -- yeah, it was odd to have your own kind of variety music show. I've often found that -- that it's -- that to think that when I was a kid, like, 14 and have this fantasy world of being in show business and then you get to live out your fantasies. It's very odd. Then you have to come up with a new fantasy.

GROSS: Did you?

SHORT: Yes. My fantasy is I'm a banker.


GROSS: Yeah. Now, when that show failed, did that hurt you? I don't mean personally hurt you, I mean was it a setback professionally?

SHORT: No, not in Canada. Canada, there is no -- you don't really -- what's great about being a young actor in Canada is that you work all the time, but there's no real star system. There are no setbacks because there's no real star system.

You -- but you do everything. You do voiceovers; you do Shakespeare on the radio; you do cabaret at night; and -- or Second City or whatever the show was.

And that's your life. You don't sit back and say: now, should I do this for my career or not? You just do it. And so, you don't become terribly rich and you don't become famous, but you are constantly learning how to do it.

I think one of the problems with some American actors is that they'll go to Los Angeles; they'll rent an apartment at the Oakwood; and they'll, if they're lucky, they'll get one or two "Matlock's" that year. That's it. So they'll get their, you know, maybe their benefits covered and maybe make enough money to live, but they haven't really learned about acting.

GROSS: How is it for you to do Shakespeare on the radio in Canada? Did you have a taste for that?

SMART: Yeah, I liked it. I would, you know, play Trinculo (ph). You know, I wasn't exactly Macbeth -- not yet, anyway. And -- no, I liked the variety and I still like the variety. That's why I like to do -- even now, television and movies and then Broadway.

GROSS: I think you did industrials, too, and industrials...


GROSS: ... there are sometimes, like, song and dance numbers in praise of the new line of automobiles or...

SMART: Yeah, I would do: "the spirit of Chrysler, '75" and -- or you'd, you know: "I'd rather be a Fury than a Ford, yes, I would..."


Car would come out -- there are dry-ice girls in bikinis, and me in kind of a, I don't know, Donny Osmond white suit. Oh, it's been a bumpy career, don't get me wrong.

GROSS: You must have felt so ridiculous doing those industrials? Or was it fun?

SMART: Not when the paycheck arrived, because the...

GROSS: Right.

SMART: ... industrial paid you five times more than you'd ever get paid. So you'd make, I don't know, $1,000 a week.

GROSS: That's good.

SMART: That was a lot of money, yeah. So, you know, I've never -- you know, I'm not terribly -- I've never been drawn to the admiration of strangers. You know, it doesn't really bother me what a stranger will say: "gee, you look goofy in that suit." "Oh, OK, bye-bye."

I'm not -- it's if your loved ones think you look goofy -- that might hurt -- but not strangers.

GROSS: What was it like the first time you went to Vegas and saw, in the flesh, some of the veterans who you had admired on TV for so long?

SMART: Well, it's always -- it's always odd to meet any celebrity. I think the oddest celebrity to meet is a celebrity from your childhood, because they're the ones that still seem larger than life even today.

GROSS: Boy, I really agree with you.

SMART: You know, I remember -- I'm friends with Jamie Curtis, and when I met her father the first time, I couldn't get over the fact that that was Tony Curtis. It just was too surreal. That was the guy from "Some Like It Hot."

But one time, Paul Schaefer and Eugene Levy and Dave Thomas and I went to Vegas. In a day and a half, we saw -- we pretended we were the rat pack: I was Frank; Paul was Sammy; Eugene was Dave; and -- I mean, Eugene was -- Dave? -- Eugene was Dean; and Dave Thomas was Cesar Romero -- just 'cause he was the last one in the room. It was just -- that was the thing -- whoever the last, you know, showed up got to be Cesar Romero.

And we saw -- the three shows, we saw Ann Margret; we saw Wayne Newton; and Liza Minnelli, in a day and a half. And it was unbelievable. Liza at one point called me -- she did an introduction of each one of us.

She said: "are they -- you out there? Oh, from S C" -- then she looked at her paper -- "T V, my favorite, Eugene Levy and Dave Thomas." They applaud. And then she said: "from the David Letterman Show -- he's terrific -- Paul Schaefer." And then she said: "and there's someone else out there -- who's helped me through a lot of stuff."

And I leaned over to Paul and said: "I bet you any money she's talking about George Hamilton," because I thought I'd seen him in the audience. And she said: "he's been there for me. I not only think he's real smart, but I think he's real handsome, too."

And I leaned over to Paul and said: "would you call George Hamilton 'smart'?" And she said: "Mr. Martin Short."

And I'd never met Liza, so it was a little startling. Then she confused me even more by saying: "pleasure to meet you," so now I was totally confused. I guess, you know, through my comedy I'd helped her, is what she was saying, and she was very sweet. I love Liza.

GROSS: When did you start doing voices?

SHORT: This interview. I've never done it before, and I think I'm pretty good.

GROSS: By the time it's over, this interview's over, you might even get better.

SHORT: Yeah. No, I don't know -- I always made fun of people, like teachers. You know, I had an ear for mimicry, I guess. You know, sometimes you do these things you're not aware of that it's unusual. You think everyone can do it. And a lot of people can. A lot of people have great, you know, who are accountants and lawyers, and they can impersonate their boss. It's just -- it really is an ear.

GROSS: Martin Short -- his new movie, A Simple Wish, opens Friday. He'll be back with us on the second half of our show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with Martin Short. He's starring in the new movie A Simple Wish. In the '80s, Short was a regular on the Canadian sketch comedy series SCTV, and then on Saturday Night Live. His recent movies include Father of the Bride and Mars Attacks. Before he got paid to perform, Short hosted and guested on imaginary shows in his bedroom.

Could you just do like a really short kind of pop-culture autobiography -- just -- like, interested in, like, TVs and TV shows and movies and so on, that really affected you when you were young. What were the TV shows that you had to watch every week?

SHORT: I would say "Dick Van Dyke."

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

SHORT: I would say "Jackie Gleason," "I Love Lucy," "Jack Parr" -- the hour show. I was -- I'm -- was too young for the when he was on the "Tonight Show," but after that; "Bilko" -- you know, there's a lot of them. I'm probably missing most of them.

GROSS: Now, what did you get from The Jackie Gleason Show? I had such mixed feelings about the show. It was on Saturday nights, and there was funny stuff on it, but I never quite got the June Taylor Dancers, and some of Jackie Gleason's characters, like the bartender, I thought was too heavy on the pathos.

SHORT: Yeah, you know, I must admit, I'm more drawn -- when I think of Jackie Gleason, I mean, I used to watch that because our family watched it.

GROSS: Right, exactly. Yeah.

SHORT: But my -- you know, definitely, my favorite Jackie Gleason was when he would play Reginald van Gleason, but primarily "The Honeymooners."

GROSS: Right. Oh, that Jackie Gleason Show, of course, right.

SHORT: I loved that. Yeah, and I loved that because it was -- it was just such solid acting. I mean, it was comedy through acting. And Lucille Ball did the same thing.

You know, Lucille Ball was the first person that if she had to play getting up early in the morning, having not slept properly -- she would mess her hair up and get her voice real deep like that -- "C'mon, Ricky." And it was just adding reality to what people are like in the morning.

GROSS: Did you have fights with your family about which TV show to watch, since you watched as a family?

SHORT: I remember taking my Howdy-Doody watch and breaking it apart, because they wouldn't let me watch "Superman."

GROSS: You showed them, huh?

SHORT: Yeah. It was like -- yeah -- pretty cagey of me. You know, I didn't get to watch Superman and I have a broken watch. But basically, you know, with one TV, you just kind of went with the flow.

GROSS: What about movies? What were the movies that first had a big effect on you? For better or worse.

SHORT: You mean, as a kid?

GROSS: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

SHORT: Well, I would say The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

SHORT: We're obviously covering a theme here. "The Shaggy Dog" I liked -- Fred MacMurray. Anything with Tommy Kirk, basically -- "Old Yeller," of course; "Flubber." Let's see, and "Diary of Anne Frank." I had a wide range.


Did you really like The Diary of Anne Frank, or did you just throw that in?

SHORT: No, no, no. I remember seeing the Diary of Anne Frank when I was a kid and I remember my parents' friends saying "no, no, no, he's too young to go and see that" -- and being mesmerized by this idea that there was such butchery in the world, and just living in such a small, enclosed space with your family. 'Cause I tried to imagine living in a small enclosed space with my family, and it wasn't a pretty thought.

GROSS: Now, what about music? You've been very caught up in music by Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. Did your parents listen to those records when you were young?

SHORT: No, not really. They -- my mother was a concert mistress of the Hamilton Philharmonic, so she was classically oriented. And my father was, you know, an Irish immigrant, so it was like John McCormack (ph): "le tor, te dee, ta da" -- so, you know. And no -- it wasn't -- and opera. I mean, it wasn't a bit pop thing going on.

GROSS: So how did you discover pop?

SHORT: Through television; through...

GROSS: Variety shows?

SHORT: ... radio. Yeah, seeing people perform and sell and hear them being engulfed in applause, and I guess something seemed exciting about that.

GROSS: Did you ever listen to a lot of rock and roll?

SHORT: Yeah -- boy, I was obsessed with the Beatles. I loved the Stones. And yeah, I switch over. I mean, I just loved -- but I was drawn ultimately to either the bands or the performer who performed -- you know, who really got up there and didn't just do the music, but really sold the music.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

SHORT: But I also loved Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, those people, too, so.

GROSS: Martin Short is my guest and he's starring in a new movie called A Simple Wish, which is a contemporary fairy tale. It's a comedy.

It's been, I think, about 13 years since the Saturday Night Live season that you did.

SHORT: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: Do you still communicate with the characters who you came up with for SCTV and Saturday Night Live, like Jackie Rogers, Jr. and Ed Grimley, Irving Cohn (ph) the songwriter?

SHORT: Well, I've done -- I've done two hour specials and an hour-and-a-half special in that time, and those characters have appeared in those things. And I've hosted Saturday Night Live, and they'll show up there.

I mean, I -- you know, it's -- what's nice about not doing these characters very often is that they don't wear out their welcome. In the same respect, if you have a funny idea for them, they are parts of your personality, so you can -- you can do them, you know?

In the last special I did, I did a Jackie Rogers piece -- "The Bodyguard One 'Mo Time." It was -- and Jan Hooks played Whoopi Goldberg and she was my bodyguard. You know, so you come up with a funny idea, you can still utilize them. And that was two years ago. So certainly I wouldn't say I've ever stopped doing the characters.

GROSS: You know, it's funny. There's been this so whole controversy about memoirs and whether they violate the privacy of other people who are written about in them, and how accurate are they, and I feel like you were ahead of the game with the Jackie Rogers, Jr. Memoir -- "Damn You, Daddy Sir."

SHORT: That's right.


GROSS: How did you come up with that one? Was it...

SHORT: I don't -- you know why? I'd just read that summer Bing Crosby's -- I can't remember which son wrote a book about his father, and it was like there was nothing to it. You know, yes, he'd been abusive verbally, according to the son, but it was -- there was so much, you know -- then he, you know, would buy me all these suits and I'd have to wear them.


You know, just a -- it just didn't seem weighty enough for -- to write a whole book about, you know? So it seemed like the Jackie Rogers, Jr. character -- I mean, the essence of that satire was that he was everything that was disgusting about show business.

And so that if there was a new trend, even the fact that his father had been killed, he still brought up his father in every interview because that was his -- the only reason he was being hired.

GROSS: Now, do you still develop characters even though you're not going a variety show?

SHORT: Oh, yeah, yeah. I'm just writing a special now with this character "Sheldon," who's a piece called "Boylita," based on "Lolita." About a sexy young 13-year-old boy and the woman who comes. And I play Boylita's father, Sheldon: "you only are interested in him." Sounded like a Shelley Winters type -- "liar!" "You don't care about me."
You know.


GROSS: My guest is Martin Short, and he's starring in the new movie A Simple Wish." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Martin Short. I'm wondering if Jerry Lewis has ever seen your impression of him?

SHORT: Oh yeah, I know Jerry now.

GROSS: Do you really?

SHORT: Yeah, yeah, he...

GROSS: How did you meet?

SHORT: I met Jerry in 1991. I was asked by -- I guess Jerry's company to come and sit and talk with him. He was doing a retrospective on Martin and Lewis, and they just wanted to -- we sat and they ran three cameras for two hours, and the excerpts were used -- cut throughout the special.

And I was a little apprehensive meeting him because I had impersonated him and I didn't know if he'd seen it and I didn't know if he hated it or if he liked it or -- but he liked it.

He thought it was funny and he was exactly what you'd hoped he'd be. He was just a big kid. And very young -- very young, weirdly young. I mean, like a -- you know, the energy of 40. It was just overwhelming.

GROSS: Well, when you do a characterization of someone like Jerry Lewis, do you figure that he's wondering: is Martin Short doing this because he loves me or because he hates me?

SHORT: Well, I always think that you can't worry about what people will think. You know, it's like a Hirshfeld (ph) sketch. I don't think that Al Hirshfeld sits back and says: "I wonder if they'll hate the fact that I'm augmenting a wart."

You know, I think to do someone, obviously, you wouldn't know how to do them unless you'd watched them and watched them and become their fans, but you've got to celebrate the foibles, but you also have to celebrate the genius.

And I've seen -- I've seen people kind of attack, you know, other people. Let's say on Saturday Night Live, a cast members "gets" someone, as they call it. And it's just an attack, but it's unfair because then you also have to -- what's provocative is what we love about them as well.

GROSS: What did you try to capture about Jerry Lewis in your impressions?

SHORT: I just would do his comedy and make it funny, you know? I would be funny like Jerry, or try to be as funny as Jerry, and then, you know, show other sides as well. But you know, we did very innocuous pieces. We did, you know, Jerry Lewis and Ingmar Bergman in "Scenes from an Idiot's Marriage."

GROSS: Right, right.

SHORT: And stuff like that, you know. They weren't attacks in any way.

GROSS: What's the difference for you between doing a character in a sketch series and doing a character in a movie, where you're that character throughout and it has to be very realistic?

SHORT: In a strange way, you have to be realistic in both forms, but the sketch form allows you to be -- it's more like a painting, an abstract painting. In a film, it's a little less abstract. You know, Ed Grimley's hair stood up and his pants were high, but no one ever said to him in any sketch: "hey, how come your hair's in a point?" Because Ed was a piece of modern art, and you didn't comment on the details. The look symbolized the inner spirit of the character.

So you can be nice and abstract in that four-minute form. In a film, it demands a certain amount of reality. What was great about a film like "PeeWee's Big Adventure" was that Tim Burton took a sketch character like PeeWee, but he made the whole world abstract, and therefore PeeWee seemed to fit in that world.

GROSS: Boy, that's a really good point. Yeah. So, do you get any more pleasure out of one or the other -- the short sketch or the longer film?

SHORT: I think -- I don't know, I think that probably the most satisfying for me is the sketch, simply because you have more power over it. You have more control. If you do a film, it's the director's film. It has nothing to do with you.

Your job is to give the director 17 different flavors, so that when he's in the editing room he can say to the editor: gee, I wish -- wish we had that same scene; I wish we had greater energy there. The film needs greater energy. Oh, we do, we do -- we have that one take where, you know, Marty did it with greater energy -- or less energy.

And that's what your job -- your job is to give as many different textures and colors of clay to the sculptor, but the sculpture is the director's. You can sit back and see the finished product, and say: why didn't he use this? Why didn't he use that? You're not the power there. But when you do sketch, and you do specials and you do these kind of things, you are the power.

GROSS: I guess what I'm wondering is since you're so good at it and since you like it so much, why did you leave the sketch show Saturday Night Live so quickly after one season?

SHORT: Well, first of all, I only had one year contract, and because I'd already done three years of SCTV.

GROSS: True.

SHORT: And, you know, I had a new baby and it was grueling, grueling, grueling schedule. It is. I mean, I was a writer/performer, so it makes it a little bit different, you know. And I think also because I was coming in from SCTV, I never felt that I could just learn and be the new kid on the block. I treated each week like a Special.

I think Billy Crystal did too, and Christopher Guest did. We all had one-year contracts. And Harry Shearer -- you know, we all came in under a special -- it was called the "George Steinbrenner Year" -- where they paid a little bit more to get these kind of guys who'd been around for a while to boost up the quality of the show.

But I always likened it to climbing to Mount Everest: You do it once; you can't believe you've done it; it's exhilarating; it's fabulous; you're excited before it starts; you're glad when it ends. And if someone said after coming down from Mount Everest: OK, now, rest tomorrow and we'll start up again. You'd say: no, I don't want to.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

SHORT: It's like ongoing final exams. I think if I'd found a way to do that show where I could have been not there every second of the day, I'd still be doing it, 'cause I loved -- I loved the Saturday Night part.

GROSS: The actual performance.

SHORT: Mm-hmm. It was the -- it's a very schizophrenic show -- it was when I was there -- because first of all, you know, everyone has a different story about their experience there. Mine was that I was treated like a prince. I could not have been treated nicer or with greater respect. That was never an issue for me.

It was literally just that -- the work. I mean, you'd finish the show Saturday night. Let's say it went really well, then you go to the party and everyone congratulates you and says "oh, isn't that great." Then you wake up Sunday morning, you feel proud and you get some phone calls. And you go to lunch, and everyone's "hey, saw your show Marty -- it was great."

And then by Sunday night, you start to get that thing in your stomach: oy, I have no ideas; oh, God...

So then the next Monday, you meet the host, and you have no ideas and you fake your way through your writers meeting: "yes, I was thinking, Ringo, maybe you could play a guy with a beard. I haven't really worked it out." "Uh-huh. That sounds good." All right. And then by Tuesday afternoon, if you still don't have an idea, you're in a panic, because Wednesday's the read through.

So Saturday, you were king of the hill and Tuesday, the biggest failure in the world -- unrelenting.

GROSS: If you could write movies for yourself or just like tell people what roles you wanted to play in the movies, what roles would you be doing now?

SHORT: I think I'd like to do a wide variety of roles, you know. I co-wrote the script "Clifford." I loved that film. It was a total abstract film. But films are not that -- Clifford is a late-night film, and the movies are primetime.

You know, a lot of people from late-night have had difficulty in making the transition to movies, and people think it's because it's the movies. And it isn't. It's the sensibility.

You know, to do a primetime TV series, you know, you play to a lower common denominator than you do if you do a late-night series on HBO, let's say. And the movies are primetime.

They have to be because it's only if you do an expensive movie -- because you must -- you can't -- I mean, without question, one of the funniest films in the last year is one called "Waiting for Guffman" (ph). But Waiting for Guffman, you know, hasn't broken $10 million because it's not playing to mass America.

GROSS: I just want to ask you about one of the characters that you used to do, and see where you stand with him now, and that's Irving Cohn, the old tin-pan-alley songwriter who'd crank 'em out and had a story behind every song. As someone, you know, who loves songs, is he a character who sticks with you?

SHORT: Well, I just loved Irving because it was -- this idea that he wrote, you know, 200 songs a week, all of them bad.

GROSS: Right.

SHORT: And so that he'd say, you know: "NPR is quite a thing; you get to do, that's hear the songs to sing; that people talk to you every day, and then at the end of the day, you'd go home and have dinner -- dat, dat, dat, dee, dee, dee." And that would be a new song -- "NPR." He'd get a residual. He'd go home, have lunch, have a steam and then have a stroke and be found the next morning.

GROSS: Well, hey, looks like we've got a new theme song.

SHORT: Yeah.


GROSS: Martin Short, it's really been a delight to talk with you. I love your work.

SHORT: Thank you very much.

GROSS: And I really thank you for coming and good luck with your new movie, A Simple Wish.

SHORT: Thank you.

GROSS: Martin Short, his new movie A Simple Wish opens on Friday.

Here he is as Ed Grimley:


SHORT: Too much, Wheel Fortune, give me a break. I couldn't be more excited, I must say, this anticipation. It's making me mental. What if they say: "yes, you can be on the show?" I think I would go so crazy. Oh, it would be just the best.

Mr. Sajak, I would like a buy a vowel, please. And a free spin, wouldn't be bad I must say. Oh, and to get to meet Pat Sajak -- like I suppose you could do better than that? No way, 'cause it seems to me that he would be a pretty decent guy, I must say.

What if we became best friends? Best friends in the world, so I would just like phone his house up and say: "is Pat there? Just tell him it's me." Oh, aye, yeah. That really makes sense, now that I think of it. Like I suppose Pat Sajak doesn't have like over a million friends, probably.

But then again, maybe he doesn't? It's difficult to say. Oh, this is...

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Martin Short
High: Former Saturday Night Live cast member Martin Short. Though he only spent one season with the show 1984, he left a lasting impression with his characters such as Ed Grimley, Jr., the cowlicked dork, and his impersonations of Katherine Hepburn and Jerry Lewis. Since then he's appeared in a number of films: "Father of the Bride," and "Father of the Bride 2" -- as a flamboyant party planner -- and "Mars Attacks." In 1993, he made his Broadway debut in the musical version of Neil Simon's "The Goodbye Girl," and recently was in "Promises, Promises" on Broadway. He also had a short-lived prime time TV show, "The Martin Short Show." He's currently appearing in the film "A Simple Wish."
Spec: Movie Industry; Media; A Simple Wish; Martin Short
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: Martin Short
Date: JULY 07, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 070702NP.217
Head: Raw Power Reissue
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Iggy Pop's 1973 album "Raw Power" is considered a cornerstone of punk rock. This snarly, distorted album has just been remixed and reissued.

Music commentator Milo Miles gave it a fresh listen and found himself thinking about the uses of sound.


(Unintelligible) you should be of the living dead
(Unintelligible) stay away from me
Raw power is sure to come a'runnin' to you
If you're alone and you got the feel
It's sold out, let's (Unintelligible) of here.
Raw power is sure to come a'runnin' to you.

MILO MILES, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: It was just too much, back in 1973, when a bunch of little snotnoses like me heard the New York Dolls debut record, and Iggy and the Stooges' Raw Power in the same season.

In a flash, we understood punk rock, even though it didn't have a name. And we knew it was the future. Punk was wittier and more compact than heavy metal. It was thornier and more deranged than hard-rock blues. And punk made its garage band predecessors sound mild-mannered and uncommitted.

When it was new, Raw Power was hated by many fans of progressive rock and sensitive singer-songwriters. Now that people call Raw Power a classic, punk purists claim that two earlier albums by Iggy and the Stooges are fiercer and braver. While those two records may reach higher highs, but they scrape lower lows as well.

And Raw Power has Roarin' Iggy's most expressive and controlled vocal performance. Iggy Pop was the first rock singer to make "I love you" sound like a threat.


POP SINGING: And now a girl will steer you round
Sound can drive you blind
I move to (Unintelligible) my machine
And I will not stand in line
A sick boy, sick boy going 'round
Rambler (Unintelligible)
Baby want to take you out with me
And come (Unintelligible)

MILES: The big snag with Raw Power was its rotten sound, and even those who thought it uniquely tinny and enjoyable on vinyl knew that the CD version was a braying mess.

Producer David Bowie had originally mixed the album after it was clear Iggy was too much of a braying mess to do it himself. When a much more mature and sober Iggy heard that CBS was going to redo the album whether he helped or not, he came aboard and gave the project his bite of approval.

Now, some folks, notably critic Ira Robbins (ph), have complained that Raw Power has been ruined by having clear bass and drum parts -- made ordinary, you know?


I'm a (unintelligible) cheater with a heart of napalm
I'm a runaway son of the nuclear a-bomb
I am the world's forgotten boy
The one who searches and destroys
Honey, gotta help me please
Somebody's got to save my soul
Save it (Unintelligible)
Look out honey, 'cause

MILES: I don't know. It's not like it was remixed in quadraphonic or something. Now, if the remix had boosted the treble even further until the record was a dog-whistle whine, that would have been punk, man. But I would argue that love it or hate it, the new mix makes sense as a market strategy.

As a way to explain what could happen with Raw Power, let's talk about another controversial record that came out four years before the Iggy record. When the much-hyped debut of the supergroup Blind Faith, featuring Steve Wynwood and Eric Clapton first appeared, the cover featured a topless girl who looked about 13. Heh, heh, heh, heh -- what a scandal. That cover was yanked and replaced by a cruddy group shot of the band.

Then, quite a few years later, everybody calmed down and the original cover was restored. Now, the collector's item is the record with the cruddy group photo.

So hang onto those funny-sounding copies of Raw Power, kids. I bet both versions of the record end up on sale in the 21st century.

GROSS: Milo Miles is a music writer living in Cambridge. He reviewed Iggy Pop's Raw Power, which has been reissued by Columbia Legacy.

Dateline: Milo Miles, Cambridge; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Critic Milo Miles reviews the reissue of Iggy Pop's "Raw Power."
Spec: Music Industry; History; Iggy Pop; Raw Power
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: Raw Power Reissue
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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