Arts and Culture

Martin Short on Nixon, Canadian comedy and the beautiful weirdness of Steve Martin

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With comedy being dominated by ethnic minorities, it's assumed that in overcoming prejudice, many of these comedians had to work twice as hard, just as Chris Rock said he had to be twice as funny as the next guy, because he was skinny. Do you think Canada had to overcome being known as a America Jr., making the comedy twice as good?

For me, Canada has always seemed like a middle sibling [to the U.S. and U.K.]. It's like the middle sister who is sexy, but she doesn't really believe it, and has intimidation on both sides from her other sisters. And maybe that developed some of that odd-man out sensibility.

The irony of Canada is that it's more progressive than either country. When the U.S. was suffering [its economic collapse] in 2007, Canada didn't so much, because it did have regulations. They've had socialized medicine since 1962. Just 173 homicides a year, nationally, even with 24 percent of Canadians owning guns. So it's a different country.

David Raekoff once said that he could always spot a Canadian just by looking at them. Is this true in your experience?

No...no. I once showed Lorne Michaels a special I did in Toronto, and when they cut to the audience he said, "They look like Russian spies dressed up as Americans." But, no, I don't really see that.

You were in a legendary cast of Godspell with Gilda Radner, Dave Thomas, Paul Shaffer and Eugene Levy. Had the hippies-turned-Christian, Jesus movement of California reached Canada in the '70s?

I think it was more of a theatrical thing. Jesus Christ Superstar was actually written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who was English, and Godspell was Stephen Schwartz and John-Michael Tebelak, doing their thesis, writing a show based on the book of Matthew -- and they were both Jewish, by the way, so it wasn't even from their own religion.

Those things were very successful. But I always think of that "born again" phrase being from the '80s and '90s. Theatrically, between Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell, those were the shows that, if you were 21 and an actor, you wanted to be in more than anything. Audiences loved them. It was all this Jesus portrayed in a way he'd never been portrayed before.

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Josiah M. Hesse
Contact: Josiah M. Hesse