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October 31, 2014

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Martin Short is the host of the show, and its cast, in Vegas debut at the Mirage

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Richard Drew

Whether you know him as Ed Grimley or Jiminy Glick, you’re going to have a good time at a Martin Short show.

Classic Ed Grimley

Jiminy Glick and Ice Cube

Martin Short and Kathie Lee Gifford

Click to enlarge photo

Martin Short

Martin Short has never performed in Las Vegas, but he seems the consummate Vegas performer.

“I’ve always loved Vegas, my whole life. I’ve always loved going there and seeing acts. My parents used to take me there when I was a kid, to see Buddy Hackett and the old, hip comedians,” says Short, appearing Friday and Saturday at Terry Fator Theater at the Mirage. “What I loved was the sense that Vegas could create an intimacy, so when you see someone there, you felt that if they do it right, that you’ve had a hang with them. That’s what I try to accomplish.”

Brace yourself for a Party With Marty.

“It’s as if you were having a party and I jump onto your piano and do 90 minutes,” Short says. “It’s like me hosting ‘Saturday Night Live,’ but I am also the cast.”

Short says the show will be loosely structured, fueled by improvisation and a showcase of his most famous characters from “SNL,” “SCTV” and his many feature films. Expect greatly theatrical appearances by manic “Wheel of Fortune” fan Ed Grimley, flighty albino lounge act Jackie Rogers Jr., daffy talk-show host Jiminy Glick and overtly fashion-conscious wedding planner Franck Eggelhoffer from the “Father of the Bride” films.

Short says he’ll be accompanied by just a pianist, but expect a few surprises, including a guest appearance by an unbilled interloper wearing a kilt. The show borrows highlights from Short’s inspired one-man show, “Fame Becomes Me,” which ran on Broadway six years ago.

“There will be impersonations and I’ll sing and dance,” Short says during a phone interview. “I’ll go into the audience and bring up guys and turn them into the Three Amigos. It’s all very loose, yet structured in that the screens will be up and playing sketches, and I can go change and become a new character.”

Short’s performance is part of the Mirage “Aces of Comedy” series. Show times are 10 p.m. Tickets are $39, $49 and $59 (call 702-792-7777 or go to the Mirage website for information).

During the 30-minute chat, Short talked of character development, why he keeps a busy schedule of concert appearances at age 62 and the moment on NBC's “Today” when Kathie Lee Gifford asked about Short’s late wife, Nancy, as if Nancy were still alive (Nancy Short died of cancer in 2010). As Martin says, Gifford meant no harm.

More from the interview:

J.K.: “You’ve not performed in Las Vegas before. Why now?”

M.S.: “I do concerts all over the country. I never do tours, but I kind of have this feeling that if you stay off the stage too long, when you get back, it’s a way bigger thing than it should be. To me, it’s almost like, why do people work out even though they don’t have to take their shirt off in a movie? It’s just to keep that muscle ready. Of course, I’ve done Broadway many times, and when you do eight shows a week, you lie in state all day until you go onstage.

“But doing shows like this, three, four, five times a month, keeps you very limber, but also you have a life.”

J.K.: “Do you have any characters in development?”

M.S.: “I just did a television special for CBC in Canada, which we’ll syndicate, called ‘I, Martin Short, Goes Home.’ And in that there are five new characters.”

J.K.: “Is the process of creating a new character different for you now then it was when you were near the beginning of your career?”

M.S.: “For me, characters still evolve the same way as they did when I was a kid. You’ll be in a class, you’ll have an ear or an instinct to impersonate-slash-make fun of your teachers behind their backs, to your friends. That’s the earliest form of character development.”

J.K.: “I just wonder how you came up with someone so weird like Ed Grimley.”

M.S.: “Ed Grimley was a character that was kind of based on my brother-in-law and also kind of based on this guy I went to school with who would always, you know (raises voice as Grimley), ‘Take slides,’ and his voice would go up. I’d say, ‘Hey, Robert, did you develop any of the slides you took?’ and he’d say, ‘Because I’ve taken them, I didn’t really need to develop them, because I have taken them.’ And, suddenly, it’s not a big stretch to say, ‘I must say.’ Then the hair develops in an abstract way, and you start to have a character.”

J.K.: “You still meet those types of people who inspire characters?”

M.S.: “I am always fascinated when I go out and meet, like, the crazy guy who does your shirts. He’s not trying to be funny, but he’s being hilarious. I guess I am always an observer of life, looking at characters and finding them hilarious and evolving. I’d rather live in a life of characters than not.”

J.K.: “I know this is like asking a parent who is his favorite child, but do you have a character that is more fun to play than any other?”

M.S.: “Well, I guess (laughs) they are like your kids because you created them, so the analogy is appropriate. But I think Jiminy Glick is a lot of fun, only because it’s all improvised and because Jiminy is the moron with power, he can come out and say the things that you couldn’t get away with if you said them. Because he is preposterous, he has less credibility, so he doesn’t have to worry about losing any credibility, and no one says, “How can you say such a thing?’

“I interviewed Mel Brooks once and asked, ‘What’s your big beef with the Nazis?’ I could not say that as myself.”

J.K.: “I remember Jiminy interviewing a rapper, I think it was Ice Cube. You thought he’d changed his name from Vanilla Ice, and then you asked him, ‘Where is Compton?’ ”

M.S.: “(Laughs) It was Ice Cube, with NWA, about 10 years ago. They had done ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ and I asked where Compton was. It was fantastic. He told me where I could find Compton.”

J.K.: “You were onstage with Steve Martin a few months ago, in Chicago, and talked about meeting Frank Sinatra. Did that happen in Las Vegas?”

M.S. “No, it happened in L.A. Chevy Chase had invited me to a party where we met at George Schlatter’s house, the producer, then all these celebrities got on a bus and we went over to the Greek Theater to see Shirley MacLaine in Act 1 and Frank Sinatra in Act II. It was Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, Lionel Richie, Don Rickles and Gregory Peck, all on this bus with Chevy and I. It was the most eclectic group of celebrities you could find.

“We saw the show, it was great, and we ended up back at George’s for a post-party and Dinah Shore came up to me -- she was a big fan of ‘SCTV’ -- and said, ‘Do you want to meet Frank?’ I said, ‘Yeah!’ and went over to meet Frank. I said, ‘You have no idea how big a fan of yours I am,’ and he looked at me and said, ‘I think I do.’ ”

J.K.: “Years ago, you interviewed one of your inspirations, Jerry Lewis, at the Aspen Comedy Festival, and he told you he didn’t think any female comics were funny.”

M.S.: “Yeah, I remember telling him, ‘Jerry! We were almost off the stage (laughs)!’ We were almost finished with the interview when he said that.”

J.K.: “He played a prominent role in your development as a comedian, right?”

M.S.: “He is a major influence, and, truthfully, not just for me. If you were to ask that question of Steve Martin or Billy Crystal or Jim Carrey, they would say the same thing. I think with Jerry, there was always a loose insanity to his style that was so unpredictable. You never knew what he was going to do. The other major influence on me was Harpo Marx, more so than Groucho, even. Harpo would just, all of a sudden, stretch across a desk and grab the pens and pretend he was flying, or fall asleep on someone’s back.”

“That kind of absurdity, out of left field, is what Jerry would do. The screams and the shouts and the smirks and also the characters he played. I really loved his style. Jonathan Winters is another major influence, so unpredictable that how could you possibly look away? That’s more important today than ever, with 935 channels on TV. What makes you watchable?”

J.K.: “I want to ask you about something that I expect has gotten pretty tiresome for you, but the ‘Today’ show appearance with Kathie Lee Gifford, where she talked about your marriage without realizing your wife, Nancy, had passed away. I can only imagine what was going through your mind when she started talking about her as if she were still alive.”

M.S.: “I kind of love that people still talk about Nancy. We spent 36 years together. We’ve raised three children. I didn’t mind that. But it was a complete and utter lapse. Kathie Lee is a really sweet, lovely person, and it just slipped her mind or fell off her radar. Whatever it was, there was no negative energy about it. It was just a mistake. People make mistakes. I was just trying to protect her because if I had corrected her live, on air, it would have been deeply devastating for her.”

J.K.: “The way that you talked about Nancy in the present tense was really touching.”

M.S.: “When I was 12, my brother David died in a car accident. When I was 17, my mother died. When I was 20, my father died. My wife and kids never met any of these people, but they feel they know them intimately because they are always part of my life. I’m a big believer that this is something that is going to happen to all of us, and it’s important to keep the conversation with them going and to continue to talk about them.”

J.K.: “Do you think you’ll ever get married again?

M.S.: “Oh, I have no idea. No idea. It’s all too soon. It would feel too odd. … Right now, I’m still of living the Grand Experiment. What I’m still always searching for is fulfillment. I am still looking to keep myself intrigued by it all.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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