Martin Short wraps ‘Maya & Marty,’ calls co-star ‘Mozart’

April 22, 2024 | (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — TV is in a much different place today than the pre-streaming era of the “Ed Sullivan Show” or “Carol Burnett Show,” a time when live viewers couldn’t binge watch “The Smothers Brothers” or “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.”

But decades after “Sonny & Cher” and “Donnie & Marie,” the variety show is making a comeback with NBC’s “Maya & Marty,” whose hosts Martin Short and Maya Rudolph say the genre never went away.

“It’s always existed, people just don’t use that term,” Short told WTOP. “If you had to describe ‘America’s Got Talent,’ which is our lead-in, you’d say, ‘Hmm, they have a juggler and a puppeteer and a singer and a stand-up, that sounds like a variety show to me.’ Or ‘The Voice’ or ‘American Idol’ or ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ it’s all entertainment and performing, that’s what variety shows were.”

The NBC experiment wraps its six-episode limited run Tuesday at 10 p.m. after averaging 4.5 million viewers per week since its debut on May 31. It’s the brainchild of “Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels, who noticed the Rudolph-Short chemistry during last year’s “SNL” reunion special.

“We had done the musical and comedy section of the [‘SNL’] 40th anniversary,” Short said. “Lorne had put Maya and myself and Mark Shaiman and Fred Arimsen in charge of that section, which was about 20 minutes of the show. … Lorne really responded to our chemistry together and thought that would be a great combination. He said, ‘How’d you like to do a show together?’ And we both said, ‘Yeah!'”

Shot in New York’s 30 Rock, “Maya & Marty” allows plenty of crossover with the stars of “Saturday Night Live” (i.e. Kenan Thompson) and “The Tonight Show” (i.e. Jimmy Fallon). The vibe feels as if any of these hilarious comedians can walk down the hallway of NBC and pop onto the show at any time.

“It’s more professional than that,” Short laughed. “Each guest is booked. One night, Jimmy Fallon jumped in and made a cameo appearance. He’d also been a guest on the show [previously] because he’s literally next door. We’re both on the sixth floor of 30 Rock. He’s Studio 6 and we’re Studio 6A.”

It also works the other way around, as Short and Rudolph appeared on Fallon’s “Tonight Show.”

“You have to imagine, it literally is walking 30 feet to his studio,” Short said.

The collection of “SNL” alums and celebrity guests have tallied a star-studded lineup, including Jimmy Fallon, Larry David, Tom Hanks, Steve Martin, Kate McKinnon, Savion Glover, Miley Cyrus, Drake, Sean Hayes, Nathan Lane, Tina Fey, John Cena, Nick Jonas, Eva Longoria, Kevin Hart, Ben Stiller, Ricky Gervais, Cecily Strong, Amy Poehler, Jerry Seinfeld, Will Forte, Kevin Kline and Ana Gasteyer.

How is such a feat pulled off from week to week?

“It’s all done in an organized fashion,” Short said. “Some pieces get discarded and some pieces go into rewrite. On the Monday before we tape on Thursday, we have a read-through and Lorne Michaels is there and all the writers and crew. Then we go into Lorne’s office and decide what’s going to be in the show. Then sets are being built and costumes are being made and you start rehearsing the next day.”

The result has been a number of memorable sketches, though Short isn’t one to reminisce.

“I tend not to sit back and say, ‘My God, I nailed it,'” he said. “You gotta let people come up to you and tell you what they like, because comedy is the most subjective thing in the world. People might love Jiminy Glick and people might hate Jiminy Glick. It doesn’t mean anyone’s wrong, it’s just subjective.”

Even if Short doesn’t pat himself on the back, fans certainly have their own favorite sketches.

“They like Jiminy Glick with Larry David, they like when Jimmy Fallon and I played two little kids on Steve Harvey’s show, they liked Maya Rudolph as Melania Trump. We’ve done a lot of stuff,” he said.

Whether it’s Trump or Beyoncé, Rudolph routinely impresses Short with her comedic chops.

“It is unbelievable,” Short said. “We have a lot of filmed pieces in this show [and] I am someone who always goes to the director, ‘How was that? Should I bring that down? Should I bring that up? What do you think?’ I like a lot of feedback and it’s almost by luck if you stumble on the right take. She is like Mozart. If she’s in a sketch or a film, whatever she does, it’s perfect. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

No doubt her “SNL” run from 2000-2007 helped Rudolph perfect her sketch comedy skills.

“You hone your craft so well doing something like that,” Short said.

Of course, Short has plenty of comedy experience himself, having mined some of the most sidesplitting laughter of his generation with “SCTV” (1982), “Saturday Night Live” (1984), “Three Amigos!” (1986), “Father of the Bride” (1991), “Captain Ron” (1992) and “Mars Attacks!” (1996).

Sorry, Franck Eggelhoffer fans: Short shot down rumors of a potential “Father of the Bride III.”

“That’s bogus,” Short said, laughing. “That’s the kind of thing that if you repeat a character, there’s nothing wrong with repeating a character if there’s a very good reason to repeat that character. So you’d have to see who was going to direct it, you’d have to see who was going to write it, and you’d have to know that Steve [Martin] and Diane Keaton were a part of it and Kimberly Williams, etc.”

Until then, you can see Martin and Short reunite in Tuesday night’s finale of “Maya & Marty.”

“Steve Martin’s on the show,” Short teased. “We have the great Emma Stone, of course. Kelly Ripa sits down with Jiminy Glick. … [Expect] a lot of surprise guests.”

Click here for more info on NBC’s “Maya & Marty.” Listen to the full conversation with Martin Short below:

April 22, 2024 | (Jason Fraley)
Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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