If one is going to sit in the same room with God of Improv Martin Short, whose career encompasses both the ground breaking SCTV and SNL, it doesn't hurt to turn up for the interview under circumstances that would be the basis for a terrific improv. I suggest arriving at a hotel approximately two blocks north of the actual interview location, realizing your mistake and then dashing through the wind and rain of Michigan Avenue, ala 'I Love Lucy,' jumping on the elevator and rushing headlong into the publicist seconds before your scheduled 20 minutes. This will naturally dissolve any and all hesitation for someone with an improvisation background that has had any timidity about meeting Short in the flesh.
Short, dressed in a black pinstripe suit and brown t-shirt, will be quick to reassure his interviewer and instruct him to take a deep gulp of water, sit down and relax. This is the end of a long day of publicity for Jiminy Glick in La La Wood, Short's new movie in which he stars as the self-absorbed celebrity interviewer who's both larger than life and larger than a Lazy-Z-Boy. But there's still time to indulge an improv actor/interviewer before jetting home to Los Angeles.
WCT: Yea! You've made your first improv movie—finally!
MS: ( laughing ) Well, I've done lots of improv things but not a whole movie. ... On the TV show we would do home videos of Jiminy Glick and Jan Hooks, who plays my wife Dixie, is my old, dear friend—a genius—and she came out for a couple of days and we filmed these segments at my house. Jiminy would normally be doing the monologue ( he's now doing the Glick character ) and these weird interviews. At one point he said to Jeff Goldblum, 'Shush—just because I ask the question doesn't mean that I want to hear the answer.'
But in these home movies there was a slightly different Jiminy because we wanted him to be a caretaker to Dixie. Then my brother Michael Short and Paul Flaherty and I brainstormed on a Jiminy movie about that relationship. Then I just liked the idea of him going to a film festival and meeting this odd guy at the bar and we find out it's a director I imagined as David Lynch.
WCT: So was it like Waiting for Guffman where people were assigned characters and given backstories?
MS: Yes. I'd done a play with Elizabeth Perkins, but I'd never met John Michael Higgins, but I was a huge fan.
WCT: He was my sister's roommate in L.A. for a year.
MS: Get out of here! He's like a genius and where those lines came from—filthy, insane, inspired. I don't know how Elizabeth Perkins kept a straight face when he came out with some of that stuff. The same with Jan Hooks. In one of the takes she said, 'You know, fucking me is like fucking a purse' and behind the camera we're hysterical. With Elizabeth you'd see her turn her head and then beg for mercy after the take.
WCT: You got the 'Harvey Korman/Tim Conway trying to crack each other up on The Carol Burnett Show' kind of thing happening.
MS: Oh definitely. Jan is so committed and her character really does love Jiminy. She loves who he is. My brother Michael describes them as Ma and Pa Kettle on acid. It is a real couple, they're clearly in love. At one point she says, 'My husband is an interviewer' with great pride.
WCT: Now when Jiminy used to talk about Dixie before we saw her, I imagined my own gay backstory for him.
MS: But I always love that when you think something is something to shift it because no one is any one thing. Someone said to me about Jiminy, 'Are you making fun of fat people?' and I said, 'No, he's just Jiminy Glick.' ( He's doing him again. ) He happens to be a little bit this ( does his high voice ) and a little bit liking a nightly pop from his lady ( does the low voice ) . I hate to lull the audience into letting them think that something is something. It's always fun to defy expectations.
WCT: I saw him as an Allan Carr type—as someone wearing a caftan with the Japanese valet and the hunky pool boy.
MS: Well, you saw him having sex with Dixie in the movie …
WCT: Wasn't there a hint ...
MS: Well, he does have 'It's Raining Men' on his cell phone, but to be quite honest that reminds me of an article I once read where Laurence Olivier was talking about making Hamlet. He was asked why it was in black and white and he said, 'Well, I could say that black and white allows for a more expressionistic view of the world but the reality is that we couldn't afford color.' Using 'It's Raining Men' doesn't mean that Jiminy is closeted or is a nod to that. The reality is that we were trying to figure out the most preposterous thing and Paul Shaffer, who is one of my oldest friends, wrote the song with Paul Jabara so he had the ability to phone up Paul's estate and get us the song for nothing.
WCT: But he has a decided gay sensibility, would that be fair?
MS: I don't think that Jiminy knows what he is. I think that he's one of those guys that you look at and go, 'Hmmm, he's got 19 kids and 'It's Raining Men' on his cell phone,' what's that all about?
WCT: Please tell me there's going to be a special edition DVD out with the outtakes. I'm begging you now.
MS: I'm telling you there's stuff that is hysterical. There's a scene with Dixie and Jiminy where they're at the Ouiji Board and they're trying to talk to Princess Diana and it was one of the funniest things in the movie. There's some amazing stuff with John Michael Higgins and again I give Elizabeth Perkins all the credit in the world for hanging in there. He's saying things like, 'You're sucking on an ice sculpture of Ving Rhames' and how do you not fall out.
WCT: My partner is a wedding planner and do you know how many times I've seen you as Franck Eggelhoffer, the gay wedding planner in Father of the Bride? Can you talk about fabulous Franck?
MS: We did so much improvising with that film. So much of the style of that character was ( writer ) Nancy Meyers and ( writer-director ) Charles Shyer. They spent a lot of time on his look, but I remember after we'd finished the first one I went to a wedding of a real rich person and the wedding coordinator had the greatest shoes—they had emblems on them and I loved that detail—and used it in the sequel. It was all about the details with that character.
WCT: How would you interview Martin Short? I would imagine he would say, 'What's it like to have Starbucks name a drink size after you?'
MS: ( laughs ) No. He'd probably say ( does voice ) , 'Martin Short: Wasn't he the one that was interesting for about half an hour in the '80s?' No, that's not true. Jiminy's not nasty. He's too dumb to be nasty. I've said it before but it does sum up Jiminy to me. If he was interviewing Clinton he wouldn't ask about Monica Lewinsky, he'd say ( does voice ) , 'Should Shannon Doherty work more?' Cause it's really only what Jiminy wants to know, it doesn't matter if it's Bill Clinton or Martin Short. He doesn't care who's in front of him.