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Steve Martin and Martin Short Take Comedy Nerds to Heaven With Their Netflix Special
When Three Amigos premiered in 1986, Saturday Night Live was in its ’80s slump, Seinfeld had yet to rewrite the sitcom, and the term “alt-comedy” was but a twinkle in the eye of sleep-deprived youngsters obsessed with David Letterman and their ever-deteriorating Monty Python VHS tape collection.
The movie, starring Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, and Martin Short, was a critical flop in its time. Roger Ebert gave it a one-star rating, writing, “The ideas to make Three Amigos into a good comedy are here, but the madness is missing.”
Nearly 35 years later, this exact form of hollowed-out, dumb-for-dumb’s-sake comedy that Ebert maligned has now become a dominant sense of humor among our increasingly cynical culture. Ingenious morons like Nick Kroll and John Mulaney, in their dandruff-encrusted Oh, Hello! routine, are living proof that with a little luck, and a lot of Steely Dan jokes, our infected sense of humor could finally bleed through to the mainstream.
But just as Mulaney and Kroll’s George St. Geegland and Gil Faizon are ghoulish reminders of a vaudeville-inspired era of comedy’s past, Martin Short and Steve Martin’s new two-man Netflix special, An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life, reminds us that the history of this idiotic sense of humor runs deep. The formidable legends of the first comedy boom prove they’re just as relevant today as they were almost half a century ago.
Through a series of sarcastic one-liners, put-down songs, monologues, character vignettes, and just some straight-up emotional harassment, the two Martins bring nearly 100 combined years of goofball experience to the stage, once again setting the bar for just how idiotic comedy can be. It’s surprising that we’re not hearing more talk about this earthquake of a comedy special—especially since it marks the first true return to form for Steve Martin, a bonafide giant who famously quit standup in 1981.
An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life reminds us that the history of this idiotic sense of humor runs deep.
But perhaps more significant than Martin’s return to stand up is the bewilderingly uncaged Martin Short, who, at 68, may finally be having his long-deserved breakthrough. Short, who may pale in the shadows of his Amigos compatriots, is a living legend, one of the last real utility players of comedy, and a self-proclaimed “gnome” that can be thrown into literally any scenario and blow up the scene like a stick of shticky dynamite. (See his bout as Uncle Jack in Arrested Development for the funniest two minutes of your life).
Between his recent slew of appearances on Saturday Night Live, his wickedly funny turn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, the upcoming Martin Scorsese-directed SCTV Reunion Special, and now An Evening You Will Forget, the lesser-known Martin may finally be getting his much-deserved due next to Comedy Hall-of-Famers like John Candy, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, and Dan Aykroyd.
If Kroll and Mulaney’s show is a pastiche of two stupid ornery assholes who secretly can’t live without each other, then An Evening You Will Forget feels like the original text. Martin Short and Steve Martin don’t need to put on wigs to be moronic old bastards—they kind of invented that, and hell, Martin’s been grey for almost half a century. But it’s clear from the onset that these two icons are not out to tout their achievements. Much the opposite, in fact, as the whole thing seems designed to break down the absurd world of rich, old Hollywood celebrities. “We thought you might like to know us a little bit,” Short says at the special’s beginning, to which Martin replies, “And the reason we think that is because we’re egomaniacs.”
Much like in Oh, Hello!, the two Martins bounce between being at odds with each other, to being at odds with themselves, and then taking their anger out on the audience. But, unlike Kroll and Mulaney’s fictional characters, these two septuagenarians have real-life accomplishments (and failures) to draw upon. In a ping-pong match of barbed zingers, Steve Martin says, “You know what I love about touring with Marty Short? No paparazzi.” Later, Short goes on a tear about Martin’s famous white hair and pale appearance, taunting through a friendly grin, “It’s like I’m being haunted… You look like Anderson Cooper froze to death on New Years Eve.”
The duo manage to poke fun at each other’s musical accomplishments—actual achievements that they playfully undercut. Steve Martin serves up an excellent set of original banjo music with his backing band, the Steep Canyon Rangers, a bluegrass unit that could probably make for an exceptional Netflix special on their own. It’s a bit surprising to see the infamously petulant comedian get a bit sincere to play a banjo, and of course, Martin Short isn’t going to let that slide. “Hanging out with Steve is a lot like the movie Deliverance.” he says. “It’s all fun and games until the banjo comes out.” Short, a Tony Award-winner for his role in the Broadway musical Little Me, also does a little bit of crooning, to the deadpan dismay of Steve Martin. (“I think you are underrated as a singer,” Martin quips, “which I totally get.”)
While much of the special centers around the barbs these two throw at each other, An Evening You Will Forget is not afraid to have a little heart—a major departure from our current era’s obsession with cynical and post-ironic comedy. Short spends some time between riffs speaking about his complicated childhood, living in a large family with an alcoholic father. With Steve Martin’s lovingly dedicated banjo performance, we get a sense that these two stars are genuinely thankful for their long careers, and that modesty is something they actually care about—not just the brunt of a joke.
Their farewell song, much like the special in its entirely, is as absurdly funny as it is emotional. Between squabbles and competitive jibes about their careers and their successes, Short and Martin deliver some actual sincerity for their friendship, a bond that’s endured almost half a century. And though Martin mocks Short’s short list of awards and Short calls Martin an asshole, the show’s closing does get a bit mushy when the pair puts aside their differences to sing together, “Our friendship has so long survived, it’s lasted 30 year somehow. We are buddies ’til the end, who thought the end would be right now?”
A loving sentiment, but while the old-timers may have already punched in unprecedented careers worth of comedy, film, and television achievements behind them, this special feels like just the beginning—especially for Short, who seems to be enjoying a late-career bloom. Whether or not we’ll get another stand up special from the duo, at least one thing’s for sure: These guys changed comedy, and they’ve still got a lot to say.