Comedy Comfort Food

by | Nov 11, 2021 | COMEDY

When Steve Martin and Martin Short came to the Altria Theater on October 22, they proved that comedy doesn’t have to be edgy to be extremely funny.

“You can start by wiping that fucking dumbass smile off your rosy fucking cheeks. And you can give me a fucking automobile – a fucking Datsun, a fucking Toyota, a fucking Mustang, a fucking Buick. Four fucking wheels and a seat.”

Steve Martin said this and more to Edie McClurg in an expletive-rich scene from 1987’s Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

I only remember hearing “fuck” once at the Altria Theater on October 22nd and Martin Short said it. There were probably a handful of “fucks” said that night, but I just remember the one. And the one was “motherfucker.”

It’s safe to say there’s much edgier comedy out there now. You know the names. You can recite what they’ve said or pull it up on your phone. I think the audience on the 22nd was fine with sitting right dead in the center. 

I wonder what fans of strictly edgy comedy are like when choosing a restaurant. Do they consistently look for traditional meals reimagined? Are they only enticed by boundary pushing menus? On and on about how their palates were given makeovers and their most recent dining experiences have – shut up

Sometimes people just want to eat something they can ignore that still tastes good. It doesn’t always need to be an adventure. Something eaten comfortably, without much consideration, so the diner can focus on whatever else. For instance, talking to the person across from them. Maybe stare out the window at the sidewalk. Or give their phone more attention. Maybe take a picture of their food.

Realizing later: Damn, that was good.

When it aired in 2018, Rolling Stone called Steve Martin and Martin Short’s Netflix special, An Evening You Will Forget For The Rest Of Your Life, “comfort food.” The duo definitely looked like macaroni and cheese at the Altria Theater during The Funniest Show In Town At The Moment. I think the nearly 3,600 people in attendance would probably agree.

It was nice to see Steve Martin and Martin Short again. We’ve lost lots of people these last two years. Some of their faces we’ve seen on TV for decades. 

From my seat way back in Section C, Steve Martin looked more-or-less like his Father of the Bride character, “George Banks.” The kinda smug upper-middle-class retiree who looks older since the last time you saw him but doesn’t seem older. Martin Short looked like the less-flamboyant identical American cousin of “Franck Eggelhoffer,” and it’s hard to believe 26 years have passed since the last of those films was released. 

Both wore suits (Short accessorizing his with a colorfully striped, matching tie and sock combo, while Martin’s remained dutifully conservative) and those Father characters didn’t seem too terribly far off the mark from who you could imagine them being in real life. They’ve looked the same for 40 years. 

A tight-ass and a cartoon. Each now in their 70’s. 

Prior to Steve Martin walking out alone on stage to applause, a highlight montage of each performer’s career played on a projector screen that was much too small for the Altria stage. Regardless, it was a welcome reminder of just how long these two people have been present in American living rooms. The audience cheered at specific segments. Martin and Aykroyd’s “We’re Just Two Wild And Crazy Guys” from SNL was one of them. Short’s Ed Grimley was another. This went on for five or ten minutes.

“Just play your hits” Steve Martin said, following with, “We don’t have any.”

This set the tone for the evening. The comedy was very Mom and Dad. I went with my mother, and she laughed the entire time, so there you go. Even though the comedians didn’t revisit old material (no fake arrows and no Jiminy Glick), it did seem like a Sunday drive through familiar country. Not exactly a nostalgia show, but also not shying away from being one either. 

Photo by Ryan Kent

Martin and Short were seated in black leather chairs for light conversation. Topics segueing into other funny bits, sometimes with piano accompaniment by Jeff Babko. Each insulting the other throughout. 

Steve Martin talked about his morning in Richmond, mentioning the Moore Street Café. He said there was a man on the sidewalk singing incoherently. When the two made eye contact the man abruptly stopped singing and said, “Hello, Steve Martin.” 

Three male audience members were chosen at random to come onstage. Donning sombreros, they played a Three Amigos inspired game which looked part “Macarena” and part Vaudeville. Both of which will elicit blank stares from anyone born after 1998, or still alive from the 1920’s.

A portion of the show was dedicated to individual routines. Steve Martin chose to impress the audience with his mastery of the banjo, mostly backed by the Steep Canyon Rangers. One song being the aptly titled, comedy classic, “Banjo.”

Martin released a bluegrass album with the band in 2011 called Rare Bird Alert which was nominated for a Grammy. The previous year the Steep Canyon Rangers had won the same award for their (minus Steve) album Nobody Knows You. They collaborated again with Martin in 2013 (and singer Edie Brickell) for the record Love Has Come For You and once more (minus Edie) for 2017’s The Long-Awaited Album

Short’s routine had less formality. Singing and flailing about on top of the piano while badly impersonating a female lounge singer. He also removed his clothing until only a nude body suit remained. At one point, cradled by Babko, Short pretended to be a set of bagpipes skirling away at Amazing Grace. The audience loved it.

Martin and Short came together again quickly roasting celebrities whose photos appeared on the projection screen. 

“Jeff Besos is the richest thumb in the world.”

“Madonna: Let’s see how many times 27 can go into 63.”

“Mark Zuckerberg is so white he makes you look like a member of the Wu-Tang Clan.”

“Kim Jong-un looks like the bouncer at a lesbian bar.”

My mother laughs loud. You can normally pick her out of a crowd if something hits her funny, and that doesn’t take much. The people in the rows across the aisle were laughing just as hard as she was. The people around us were too. All of them seemed to be in roughly the same age group as my mother. After the show, she said she enjoyed listening to the man behind her laugh.

Ryan’s mom had a great time at the show. Photo by Ryan Kent.

“We’re not going to live forever,” Steve Martin said into the microphone at one point, and for the first time during the evening, the elephant in the room emerged. What Martin had said was true, and it stung. Of course, they read each other’s eulogies after that, Babko’s piano accompaniment sounding much like the sonatas played during those god-awful animal rescue commercials. 

Martin saying of Short, “He fought so hard staying alive, while I was pulling the plug.”

Short saying of Martin, “You bland, overrated, white-haired son of a bitch. I know Steve is looking down on us all now, because he was always looking down on everyone.”

A while back, a friend pointed out to me that people over 65 have a difficult time finding employment because of their age. Deemed a health risk or out of touch with the current trends in corporate professionalism, or lacking the basics to new operating systems. These justifications appear to be upheld by lawmakers, or at the very least ignored by them. Yet our country is largely run by a group of rich white Americans well into their septuagenarian years. 

I thought about this driving my mother home from the show. She’s a 67-year-old retired Naval secretary who can’t find work. Not even a few hours a week. Most days are spent calling her family. Reminiscing about how things used to be and how good the music and movies were. How she misses the simplicity of those days and how she feels out of touch with the country she was born in. Where has all the time gone? The people?

Not exactly a nostalgia show, but also not shying away from being one either. 

I wonder if Steve Martin and Martin Short ever have these conversations. I wonder if they feel out of touch. It was 1995 only a few years ago, right? Did they, one day, wake up in their seventies?

They’re not gonna live forever.

Hearing my mother laugh and the man behind us laugh and all the other people laugh at the Altria Theater was good to experience. We’re lucky that Steve Martin and Martin Short are still walking out on these stages. Still funny. I’m glad the audience was able to witness something like this. A reminder of who and what is still here.

It was raining enough to use the windshield wipers. Mom turned off the report about President Biden speaking earlier that day in Baltimore. She slipped her new Rare Bird Alert disc into the CD player and played the last song. It was a live bluegrass version of “King Tut.”

“Your grandfather loved this,” she said. 

Most things are just not as simple as comfort food. 

Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent is the author of the collections, Poems For Dead People, This Is Why I Am Insane, Hit Me When I'm Pretty, and Everything Is On Fire: Selected Poems 2014-2021. He has also co-authored the poetry collections, Tomorrow Ruined Today, and Some Of Us Love You (both with Brett Lloyd). His spoken word record, Dying Comes With Age, will be released by Rare Bird Books in 2022. Ryan is a staff writer for RVA Magazine and maintains a pack a day habit. (photo by D. Randall Blythe)

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