Who puts on a one-man show with a cast of five? Tony winner Martin Short, who returns to Broadway next week in the musical comedy Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me. Short, 56, is best known for the zany characters he created for SCTV and Saturday Night Live. The Emmy Award--winning jack-of-all-trades talked with TIME's Amy Lennard Goehner about angst, the birth of Ed Grimley, and celebrity navel gazing.
How would you describe Fame Becomes Me?
It's a satiric look at celebrity narcissism. It started when I had these Christmas parties and someone said, "Why don't you do a party like this where people get up and perform, and it's all loose?" And I kept saying, "You can't do that anymore. When you do a show headed by yourself, you must expose your soul, and if you don't have enough [pain], you have no recourse but to make it up. And that became the satire of it. I literally was thinking, "I can't do this show because I don't have enough pain in my life." There was a time when we'd watch the Olympics and were happy to see a skier like Bode Miller ski down the hill. Now we have to know everything about his second cousin's flirt with gingivitis.
In the show, you worry that there's not enough angst, so you create a 12-step program for fictitious problems. But in reality, you lost a brother when you were 12 and both parents before you were 20. Do comedians have to have a tough life in order to be funny?
I don't think that's why I'm funny. I think I'm funny because my family, my siblings were funny. I think that kind of loss can fuel how you lead your whole life. It would be more why I've chosen to treat my life more like a party than something to stress about.
The show touches on everyone thinking that you're Jewish.
"He's Jewish on his manager's side"--that's the line. People do think I'm Jewish. But we're Irish Catholic. My father had a brogue.
I also noticed you worked in a few Mel Gibson references.
How can you not when you're talking about someone self-destructing? What happened to Mel Gibson is the kind of thing you bolt up at 3 in the morning and go, "Oh my God, did I have this horrible dream!"
What was it like growing up?
Being the youngest of five, you're adored, you're fueled with confidence. I would go to my attic; I'd record Martin Short Sings Songs of Loves Ago. I was 14. My mother, who was the concert master of the [Hamilton, Ont.] symphony, would say, "beautifully sung, a little flat here ..." Absurdity and eccentricity were not criticized.
Who were your comedic influences in Ontario?
Hamilton is 50 miles from Buffalo, so I rarely watched Canadian TV. My influences were Stan Laurel, Harpo Marx, Jerry Lewis, Nichols and May, Jonathan Winters, Dick Van Dyke and Jackie Gleason. Those were the big heroes.
Where does the inspiration for the characters you create come from?