Steve Martin and Martin Short talk touring together and 'newfangled old-fashioned' variety show

It's barely been a year since Steve Martin and Martin Short last brought their roadshow to town. But there was never a doubt in their minds they'd be back.

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Jay Cridlin
, Tampa Bay Times Pop Music/Culture Critic, Tampa Bay Times

It's barely been a year since Steve Martin and Martin Short last brought their roadshow to town. But there was never a doubt in their minds they'd be back.

"We thought -- and I seriously mean this -- we've got to play Florida more." Martin said in a phone interview. "We really love doing this. And I will add that we have loved playing in Florida."

Over the past decade, the longtime friends and comedy collaborators have played Tampa Bay a combined five times -- thrice together and once apiece on their own. Not a bad rate, since it's not like either actor needs the work, and Martin famously quit stand-up in 1981.

On Friday, Short and Martin will return to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg to joke, swap stories and play a little music, with Martin, a Grammy-winning banjo player, backed by his buddies the Steep Canyon Rangers.

What started as a way for Martin and Short to recreate their silver-screen chemistry from Three Amigos and Father of the Bride has evolved into a pretty finessed and fine-tuned routine, one Martin said he'd like to keep doing for years.

"It was really audience-based: What are they responding to? What are they interested in?" Martin said. "I think they want to see comedy, and that's what we completely focus on. We do a little music, as a relief. Marty's a great singer, and I do one or two serious musical numbers because they seem to enjoy that. But basically, it's a funny show in kind of a newfangled old-fashioned way. It's a real variety show, and we've just had great response to it."

Before their show in St. Petersburg, Martin (calling from New York) and Short (in Los Angeles) hopped on the line to talk about the joy of their joint performances, with a little light ribbing along the way.

You guys do a lot of joint interviews. That's kind of rare for two performers of your stature. Why do you do so much joint press?

Martin: I'll tell you why. I can be very funny because Marty sets me up -- he's kind of bland, so I take what he says and I turn it into humor, and I think the interviewers really like that. Because when it's on its own, it's just not as funny.

Short: That's an interesting answer. But as you can see, it's not that funny. So the reason we can do this together is so that the interview can be funny, and that's why I'm here.

Martin: Which is exactly what I said.

Short: I know. But I said it with an attitude that was more interesting.

Why do you guys go on the road together? It's not like your careers hinge on it.

Martin: Marty's career actually does hinge on it. I'm just joking. No, we really enjoy it. I was just telling someone today, "You know what? I want my life to be just touring around with Marty." I would be very happy for the rest of my life to do that.

Short: Steve and I have done so many years of concerts on our own, and it's so much more fun to do it with someone. Particularly for me, who's from a history of Second City and improv groups where even if you're dying, you've got company, and it's fun, and you laugh about it afterward. If you do it by yourself, it's just kind of sad.

You used to call this show "A Very Stupid Conversation." Now it's "An Evening You Will Forget For the Rest of Your Life." How has the show evolved?

Martin: It started as a conversation; we just told funny stores and thoughts and things. And then we thought, We want it to be more of a show. Marty was doing his numbers, and I realized, Hey, I'm falling down here. That's when I wanted to bring the band in, so I could really contribute to my half of the show. We just started developing bits, and it turned into this comedy show.

Do you surprise each other on stage?

Martin: All the time.

Short: Often, our immediate conversation when we're leaving the stage -- we don't even have our mics off, the audience is still applauding -- and we're going, "Oh, that one line you said, we should try that! We've got to remember to put that in!" It's always a work in progress.

Martin: One of the surprises is that Marty actually shows up. Because when you have that much alcohol and drugs in your system, you never really know. He's a diva. And, you know, every night at 8 o'clock, man, there he is. It's amazing.

Short: I'm wobbly, but at least I'm finding a straight line. I'm a pro.

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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