In the late 1970s and early '80s, Steve Martin was the most famous stand-up comedian in America. Martin's albums, such as "Comedy Is Not Pretty" and "Wild and Crazy Guy" sold millions of copies and helped launch a career that went on to movies, novels, and stage plays. But along the way, Martin lost his love for performing on stage in front of an audience.
A couple of years ago, though, the enjoyment returned thanks to a show he developed with longtime friend and fellow comedian Martin Short.
"There's something about working with a partner that's just fun, rather than doing it one-hundred percent alone," says Martin.
Before he went on to television shows like "Saturday Night Live" and numerous movies, Short cut his teeth in improv with Chicago's famous Second City comedy troupe. And while he says he never lost his love for performing, he, too, appreciates the chemistry of working with a partner on stage.
"[In improv], when you bombed, sometimes those were the funniest stories when that happened," Short says. "But if you bombed by yourself, it's not funny. The difference is that it's a shared experience."
Not that either expects their show in Milwaukee this Sunday evening to bomb. The show, "An Evening You Will Forget For the Rest of Your Life," has been touring nationally to rave reviews - more or less. The two performed Thursday in a USO show in Chicago.
"We performed for a group of sailors who - we think - had no idea who we are," Martin says. "But it went well, and we feel that we educated them about who we are, and by the end of the show, it went great."
In addition to the funny interplay between Short and Martin, the show also features music from the bluegrass band, The Steep Canyon Rangers, with whom Martin plays banjo. The group's latest album, "The Long Awaited Album," came out just a few days ago. It's a serious bluegrass album, though Martin's humor shines through in songs such as "Caroline" and "Nights in the Lab."
While he's played with the band for years, Martin says it was only recently that he felt comfortable weaving his comedy life together with his musical talent. He worried that doing that might make it seem like he wasn't taking music seriously. "But a friend in the music world told me," Martin recalls, "that 'if you go out there and just do music and don't do any comedy, that's cheating the audience.' And so I put comedy in, and it was the correct decision, I think."
Both comedians say they relish the opportunity to write and perform new material together, and constantly tweak the show so that it works for its audiences. Even so, they realize many of their fans come to the performance with memories of [Martin's] "King Tut" or [Short's] Ed Grimley in their mind.
"I remember last time I was doing a Broadway show," Short says, "I would leave the stage door at night and people would call out lines from sketches, and I would get in the car and think, What is that from? I know it's from something."
Short and Martin say the show varies a bit from night to night. But while they say they are both fans of Milwaukee, as of Friday, they had not developed any dairy- or sausage -themed material for their Wisconsin audience. "That's not a good sign," Martin worries.
Steve Martin and Martin Short's "An Evening You Will Forget For the Rest of Your Life" is on stage Sunday evening at the Riverside Theater.