The quips comes hard and heavy when you talk to Steve Martin and Martin Short about their show touring the country. During a recent phone call, Martin stops to ask about the clacking noise he hears coming from a reporter’s keyboard.
Martin Short: (dryly) Boy, this is a good part of the interview.
Steve Martin: Screw you! I know what I’m doing!
MS: You know what you’re doing?! I should do the show alone.
SM: Yeah, I want to see the box office from that!
That probably gives you a good idea what to expect during their performance at Comerica Theatre on Sunday, Aug. 13. The two joke and goof around with each other. There’s audience participation in a bit devoted to their 1986 film “¡Three Amigos!” And there’s music from Martin’s bluegrass group, the Steep Canyon Rangers.
“Hanging out with Steve is a lot like the movie ‘Deliverance:’ It’s all fun and games until the banjo comes out,” Short quips on stage.
The show spun off from a 2011 performance at a comedy festival in Canada, in which the two were asked to interview each other.
“It was really fun and we thought, ‘let’s do that again,’” Martin says on the phone at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif. “We realized there could be a little bit of a show involved. Marty brought his piano player. I brought the band, and it’s just evolved into a really big show.”
There is a format to the evening, but there is also room for simply playing around. That’s important for both Martin, 71, and Short, 67, who have emerged as two elder statesmen of comedy (“See them before they’re dead” proclaims a video package used in the show).
“There’s structure and there’s certainly things we know we’re going to do, but I don’t think any one show is the same as the one before or the next one,” Short says, on the phone from Canada.
“I ad-lib for 10 minutes,” Martin says, back in playful insult mode. “I would say Marty can do three minutes tops.”
One reason things have been going so smoothly is that both guys, friends for years, have similar work habits, Short says.
MS: We work in a very similar way. We’re drawn toward what doesn’t work. We’re literally talking about trying to improve the show as we walk off.
SM: Wait a minute. ‘We’re drawn toward what doesn’t work?’ That sounds like we’re trying to put in what doesn’t work anymore.
MS: No, we’re drawn toward what doesn’t work to fix it and make it better.
SM: That sounds better.
The show promises to touch on the longevity of both of their careers: Martin was a writer on the landmark “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.” As a stand-up, he opened for Ann-Margret — “so delightful and so nice,” Martin says — before he exploded as an arena-filling comedian and major movie star.
Short got his start in the Toronto production of “Godspell” in 1972. It starred Victor Garber, who went on to repeat his role in the film, though Short did not. (“That must have hurt,” Martin helpfully offers). Later came “SCTV,” hit films and a busy stage and film career.
With two marquee names this big, one imagines scheduling would be a nightmare.
“It’s not hard at all,” Martin says. “This is kind of the No. 1 thing we do. Most of our time is set aside for this. This is a big priority.”
There’s a good reason the show ranks so high for them.
Performing live, “you always have another chance to do something potentially perfect,” Short says. “It’s exciting to make something better… In a movie, you don’t have any control over things. You’re just an actor. Here you have total control.”
Steve Martin and Martin Short
When: 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 13.
Where: Comerica Theatre, 400 W. Washington St., Phoenix.
Details: 602-379-2800, livenation.com.
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