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88: Wild And Crazy Steve Martin Gets Serious About Comedy

August 26, 2016 3:40 p.m.

Episode 88: Wild And Crazy Steve Martin Gets Serious About Comedy

Steve Martin talks about the world premiere of his new play 'Meteor Shower."

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Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Female Speaker: Welcome back to another edition of the KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast. I’m Beth Accomando.
Female speaker: For today’s podcast I am going a little off topic, to check in with Steve Martin, not about a film but rather about his latest theater piece a comedy called Meteor Shower, the play takes a familiar premise, one couple invites another couple over for dinner and drinks, think Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf but with a twilight zone twist.
Male speaker: Welcome.
Male Speaker: I don’t shake hands.
Male speaker: I don’t blame you that is one way of splendor.
Male speaker: Number two, handrails number one [laughter], small production winery in Santa Barbra, 80 dollars.
[Laughter]
Female speaker: Wow, 80?
Female speaker: Can I get you something to drink?
Female speaker: White wine is fine.
Female speaker: Coming right up.
Male speaker: Why did I get mixed with Pellegrino, [Phonetics] [01:08] if not Pellegrino do you have Perrier, I prefer Pellegrino, Perrier is too strong or just club soda no big deal [laughter] the Coopers introduced us to Pellegrino, remember that Laura?
Female speaker: You don’t forget something like that.
[Laughter]
Female speaker: Although Martin is fairly new to the theater world he’s been doing comedy for a long time, here’s an appearance he made on the Smothers Brothers Show back in 1968.
Male speaker: We happened to be walking through the writer area of the show and there he was sitting at one of our writer’s desk and later we found out that he actually was one of our writers.
Male speaker: It’s amazing.
Male speaker: Yeah, and since he hasn’t been paid for his work we thought we would let him come out and tonight make a few dollars, that’s right, ladies and gentlemen Mr. Steve Martin.
[Applause]
Male speaker: Thank you, as [Indiscernible] [02:03] said I am Steve Martin and I will be out here in a minute, while I am waiting for me I would like to jump right in to kind of a Sacco buffo comedy routine, this is really been a big one for me, it’s the one that kind of put me where I am today.
[Laughter]
Male speaker: I started off; this is really a big one, the fabulous glove into dove trick.
Female speaker: His routine was all about things going wrong, like the magic tricks where the glove doesn’t turn in to a dove.
[Laughter]
Male speaker: Thank you.
Female speaker: He soon became famous as that wild and crazy guy who would have an arrow through his he had or be playing a banjo on stage but again it would be about things not going quite right.
Male speaker: Nothing like professional show business, okay here we go, we are all ready to roll now, my name is Steve Martin I’ll be out here in just a moment and we’ll be ready to roll, I am just a professional act in show business I try to do a professional show where I am especially on television so what you are seeing is completely planned out and rehearsed.
Here we go, so here we go, we are ready now, let’s go.
[Laughter]
Male speaker: So here we go, professional act in show business.
Female speaker: His comedy style makes a lot more sense after talking to him, he talks about studying philosophy which he pointed out has almost no humor but it has some and it was the humor he found in things like Lewis Carroll syllogisms that had him asking himself, why was it funny, why was he laughing.
Martin says a lot of his early comedy was about making people laugh but leaving them not knowing why they were laughing, this approach also seems to have been influenced on his first film The Jerk.
Male speaker: In the history of motion pictures only a select few performers have become immortalized by the roles they have portrayed consider the vow, the champ, the trump and now the most casting of all Steve Martin The Jerk.
Male speaker: It was never easy for me; I was born a poor black child.
Male speaker: Meet Nathan Johnson, he is poor.
Male speaker: You mean am going to stay this color.
Male speaker: And he is eager.
Male speaker: This is the kind of music that told me to go out there and be somebody.
Female speaker: But Nathan.
Male speaker: Let him go.
Female speaker: But a different side of his academic interest were reflected in the film Roxanne where he adapted the play Cyrano de Bergerac about a title character with a big heart and an even bigger nose.
Male speaker: Can I look at those nose cards one more time?
Male speaker: CD Bales had a small problem.
Male speaker: They said it was big but I didn’t expect it to be big.
[Laughter]
Male speaker: He could handle every situation except the one that mattered most.
Female speaker: I’m locked out of my house.
Male speaker: Come on inside I’ll get the tools.
Female speaker: I don’t have any clothes on.
Female speaker: Maybe you’d like some wine with your nose.
Male speaker: I want to look like Diana Ross.
Female speaker: I think she’s falling in love but she doesn’t know it yet.
Female speaker: There’s someone I think I should get to know better, his name is Chris McDonald.
Male speaker: This time I want you to do it deep; I want you to cut the thing off.
Female speaker: Maybe you can encourage him a little.
Male speaker: She wants somebody who looks like me and talks like you.
Male speaker: Don’t panic, stay calm, stay calm.
Male speaker: Because there is a heart here.
Male speaker: That’s good, that’s okay.
Male speaker: That wants yours to know there is a possible 502 on Main.
Female speaker: In 2014 Martin came to San Diego to collaborate with the Old Globe Theater on a new musical he had created with Edie Brickell, the musical was called Bright Star and it had its world premiere at the Globe and then went on to Broadway where it garnered a few Tony nominations.
Now Martin’s back at the Globe where there is something of a Steve Martin appreciation society forming with people like artistic director Barry Edelstein eagerly welcoming the writer and actor back to San Diego for another world premiere, this time it’s for the comedy Meteor Shower.
Male speaker: I am so honored and grateful to him that he is entrusting his work to this theater.
Female speaker: This was a play he started 20 years ago, how early were you aware of this play?
Male speaker: When Bright Star was running, when Bright Star was here in 2014 which actually was a little, longer ago than it seems, what makes it seem short is that it was on Broadway just a couple of months ago, so it never really stopped after the Old Globe, it just kept going so that’s what makes it feel so recent but really there’s been a lot going on since Bright Star closed.
So I asked him, do you have anything else that the Globe can look at? And he said, yeah I have this play, I’ve been working on it for a long time and I keep wanting to come back to it why don’t you see if you like it and I read it and I thought, wow, this is really funny, why don’t you keep going and here we are.
Female speaker: As a theater company you don’t have that many slots for how many plays you can put on each year so what is it about Steve Martin that does make you want to return to him?
Male speaker: How long you’ve got, I mean a lot of things, first of all he’s a really gifted comic writer and that actually is pretty thin on the ground in the American theater.
A lot of amazing wonderful plays and a lot of plays that are funny but actually not very many people are writing just out and out comedies so it’s actually a matter of statistical fact so when Steve Martin comes along and says I’ve got a new comedy and he’s as accomplished as he is, you know, novelist and screen writer and essayist and play write and all those things, you take it really seriously.
The other thing is that I have a friendship and professional collaboration with him going back close to 30 years now, I mean at least 22, 23 years and those relationships are precious and serious and you don’t take them lightly so when somebody on that short list of people that you’ve got that long and artistic relationship with says hey I’ve got something I’d like you to look at you take it seriously.
Female speaker: And how would you describe Meteor Shower, what kind of a play is it?
Male speaker: It is a comedy, we are calling it an adult comedy because it has some mature themes in it, it’s a marriage comedy, it’s infidelity comedy, it’s a relationship comedy, a comedy in every sense but the subjects that it explores are specifically marriage and specifically marriage over a length of time and how a couple that’s been married for a while keeps things fresh, deals with challenges and most of all what the beautiful things are that come from being married to somebody for a long period of time.
That’s really what it is, it’s only four actors, very intimate in its form and intimate in what it’s about but it goes in to some really interesting things about what it’s like to try and forge a relationship with another person over a long period of time.
Female speaker: Bright Star was in a small sense about a mother and a son and this is about couples, how do you see like his particular themes changing between these two plays?
Male speaker: They are very, very different, Bright Star was a very sentimental story, the music brought with it a tremendous emotional tide force that gave it a sort of wistful feeling.
[Background music]
Male speaker: Meteor Shower doesn’t have that, it’s a much edgier and purely funny thing, what Steve and Gordon are trying to do is just make people laugh and have a wonderful time and along the way gain some insights about human psychology and marriage and relationships so it doesn’t have the sort of sepia toned wistful emotional quality that Bright Star had.
Female speaker: Hey Chef Boyardee are you going to list the whole recipe?
Male speaker: Shut your stupid face.
[Laughter]
Female speaker: Eat me.
Male speaker: You wish.
Female speaker: Boy do I, cowboy.
Male speaker: It’s like a desert down there.
Female speaker: Even a desert needs a little watering. Corky the party has started, can I get a refill?
Male speaker: It’s much more of a raucous out and out comedy.
Female speaker: Is that one of the reasons why you wanted to do it because it does have that contrast?
Male speaker: I really was following the Steve Martin impulse, I mean there are just certain writers that you have a relationship with, the theater company has a relationship with and you say, anything you write will take root really, really seriously if not anything you write we’ll do, you know, I feel that about Steve, anything he writes we’ll do.
This is his home now, a world premier Steve Martin comedy that’s really genuinely hilarious that’s a perfect thing for people to come in and do on the summer and we’ve been very clear about the fact that there are some body content and some language that’s why we are billing it as an adult comedy, so we’ve been very upfront about that and I have found watching of the shows and previews a couple of times that people really respond to the kind of naughtiness of it.
There is nothing mean spirited or overly aggressive or violent about it but there’s a willingness to talk about some adult matters in a frank way that’s just funny.
Female speaker: So, who are they?
Male spacer: I have never met her and he’s handsome-ish so she probably is too, that’s the way it goes, good looking guy good looking girl not so good looking guy not so good looking girl, not so good looking rich guy, good looking not so bright girl.
[Laughter]
Male speaker: Not the bright rich girl, good looking smart girl.
[Laughter]
Male speaker: Not so good looking rich girl latent homosexual guy.
Female speaker: What do you hope people come away with this play with?
Male speaker: I hope people come away with their faces hurting from laughing so much, we survey our audience after they see the show and somebody sent a response back saying my daughter and I came to see the show and we laughed ourselves sick which I thought, that’s great [laughter] that’s good just people laughing themselves sick.
But you know what I think, what I’ve been telling people a lot about this play is its set in Ojai in the 90s and what people don’t talk about with Steve so much is that he is a great thinker about California.
You know his movie LA Story is one of the great movies about life in Los Angeles.
Male speaker: Rather than do an interview with me which would be fascinating by the way I thought that possibly I would take you on kind of a cultural tour of LA.
Male speaker: I always painted the blouse sort of translucent, you could just make out her breast underneath it.
Male speaker: When I see a painting like this I must admit I get a little emotionally erect, bon appetite.
Male speaker: Steve Martin.
Male speaker: Did you know that the same technology used to clean up the Alaskan oil spill can also suck fat from your thighs and chin?
Male speaker: LA story.
[Overlapping conversation] [00:13:47]
Male speaker: Both of his novels are set in southern California, he grew up in Orange County he began his career in Hollywood a while ago, he still lives part of the time in LA, he’s got a sense of southern California that’s really unique, small handful of writers in American history have made southern California their thing and Steve’s one of them.
So one of the things that’s fun about watching this play in San Diego is you really come away with a sense of a wry, ironic thinker having fun with the very particular and peculiar sub culture of our region of the United States.
Female speaker: Do you want a free wine?
Male speaker: I am going to cool it on the wine.
Female speaker: You’re not drinking that much, just a bit.
Male speaker: [indiscernible] [00:14:55]
Female speaker: No fat.
Male speaker: No fat in wine?
Female speaker: No.
Male speaker: Trans fats, cholesterol?
Female speaker: No.
Male speaker: Then what’s the problem?
[Laughter]
Female speaker: No problem with anything at all as I check in with another one of Martin’s fans at the Old Globe Theater, this time it’s Gordon Edelstein, no relation to Barry.
Gordon Edelstein is directing Meteor Shower.
Male speaker: Steve Martin is a unique voice in American, let’s call it entertainment, his stand up work, his acting work, his writing work, both for movies and for theater, he has a unique very specific artistic point of view and like all great artists and I do think that Steve is truly a great artist, like all great artists they are utterly and thoroughly themselves and first of all as soon as I read it, it was Steve’s brilliant hilarious sense of humor.
His slightly off centered take on human beings and it was a play about marriage and relationships and about sexual relations.
Female speaker: When Gerald and I had trouble we went to work on it too.
Female speaker: What did you do?
Female speaker: Threesomes.
[Laughter]
Female speaker: You had a threesome?
Female speaker: Twice, Gerald, me and a stewardess.
Male speaker: I thought it was as usual for Steve, hilarious, brilliant and very insightful and truthful, so I immediately even though the play itself, the form was not yet complete, the play that the audiences will be seeing here in San Diego and my audiences in New Haven will see is a far more developed work that that early sketch. It’s a little more than a sketch, early draft, but the inside and the humor and the Steve Martin-ness was all there and I find it irresistible, brilliant, unique and irresistible.
Female speaker: Can you put your finger on what it is, like how he is coming at these relationships in marriage that is different or fresh from what other people have done?
Male speaker: That’s a good question and I don’t know that I can and the answer is going to be too long for the sound bite that you are going to want from me. Steve has a very generous spirit, you think of all his comedy there is not a cruel moment in anything he’s ever written, so it is both somewhat satiric at the what fools these mortals be. Somehow satiric at all our behavior yet it’s done with a loving and knowing nonjudgmental heart.
Female speaker: I understand you probably did not know that you hurt me.
Male speaker: You said that I probably did not know that I hurt you.
Female speaker: Yes, I am asking you to be more careful with my feelings, they are not play things.
Male speaker: Your feelings are not play things, is that what you meant?
Female speaker: Yes.
Male speaker: I am sorry that I hurt you in this way; I hope that you understand that I did not intend to hurt you and will try to use that particular joking manner less often.
Female speaker: I do understand.
Male speaker: He’s both a great entertainer and a great artist, you don’t have those hand in hand all that often, he both understands how to delight an audience without pandering while mainly remaining true to his very specific and particular artistic point of view, his temperament.
And he’s created something which he has sustained for 35 years or I don’t know how long it has been and it’s very impressive and I just consider myself unbelievably lucky to be a steward of this new work of his, I just I am so grateful and lucky and having the time of my life.
Female speaker: Talk about your cast, it’s only four people.
Male speaker: Its two couples, in a way it’s a classic structure, one couple has another couple over for dinner, there is dozens of plays and dozens of TV shows and movies in which that is the originating premise, right? Somebody coming over for dinner, what happens?
I am not going to tell you want happens but let’s just say that a couple that comes over stirs the pot.
Male speaker: So what should we do?
Female speaker: Let’s tell them I was obese.
Male speaker: That’s a new one.
Female speaker: Keeps me on my toes, I wonder what they’ll tell us, it took the Coopers 40 minutes to tell us one intimate thing.
Male speaker: The Coopers, the mighty Coopers, who thought they’d be so fragile?
Female speaker: They got to bed with us in 29 minutes, was that a record?
Male speaker: Who’s counting?
Female speaker: We are.
Male speaker: You are obese
Female speaker: You are his problem.
Male speaker: It’s the night, it could be fun.
[Doorbell rings]
Male speaker: That must be they.
Female speaker: They got my speak, oh I love to chat and I haven’t chatted for a while.
Male speaker: Other sides of each of the character’s personalities come out that they otherwise would not have and aside from the personalities that were otherwise unknown to them each person in a character gets revealed in an extremely hilarious fun and surprising way.
Female speaker: And do you want to talk about the actors you’ve chosen?
Male speaker: Yeah, we are so lucky, we have a spectacular cast headed by Jenna Fischer who is one of the stars of The Office; magnificent actress, Greg Germann who is a wonderful actor, plays her husband who is one of the stars of Ally McBeal and I’ve known him for years as a wonderful stage actor.
Josh Stamberg who is again a wonderful actor he’s done all kinds of television and film as well and Alex Henrikson who is few years out of the Yale drama school who is doing extraordinary work, so it’s kind of like a perfect quartet, they are taking Steve’s words and doing a great job.
Female speaker: So if you had to sum this up for people to pitch, this is why you need to come see us.
Male speaker: The truth is we don’t need the publicity because it’s almost sold out, I would say Meteor Shower is hilarious and wise and truthful look at marriage.
Female speaker: The fact that Meteor Shower was essentially sold out before the first performance even began is one of the reasons I wanted to highlight the play, through the interviews with Barry Edelstein, Gordon Edelstein and Steve Martin along with clips from the play, I thought it would at least give fans of Martin a taste of what the play is like.
I had a chance to sit down with Steve Martin at the Old Globe Theater after the play had only two preview performance and he was still delivering re writes, I began by asking him if the collaboration with The Globe has proven to be a good creative partnership.
Male speaker: I have a very good working relationship with The Globe, I knew Barry Edelstein the director years before he came here, I was very happy for him when he came here and then he asked me to see what I had in the drawer.
Female speaker: And you keep pulling stuff out?
Male speaker: Yeah, well I keep working at that.
Female speaker: So do you feel that you learned anything from that Bright Star experience that you were able to apply to putting together Meteor Shower?
Male speaker: Specifically I don’t know, I learned an enormous amount but there are two very different experiences with Bright Start where we have the cast of 18 and orchestra and we have a choreographer many different departments but this play is only four actors and a director and that’s pretty much it for my communication.
The more you work on something with a genre the more you know about it so I know that those four years working on Bright Star was informative to me, yes.
Female speaker: So you went from Bright Star to a Meteor Shower, does this reveal anything with your fascination with astronomy?
Male speaker: I’ve always had a fascination with astronomy but I didn’t actually never even put that together, the title in Bright Star came from a little song I’d written and I’d even written lyrics which got changed but the song was called Bright Star.
[Song playing]
Female speaker: And that was one of the first songs that Edie and I put in and she re wrote the lyrics for it but the title stayed so that’s how it defaulted in to that title but Meteor Shower is actually about a Meteor Shower.
Bright Star is metaphorical; this is about a Meteor Shower.
Female speaker: How does a Meteor Shower come up in conversation?
Male speaker: She said Gerald wanted to leave town to see this meteor shower, first I’ve heard of it, so he puffs up, kept calling it a rain of fire, can’t miss a rain of fire once in a lifetime and I said, we live in Ojai and he said can you see the stars there and I said yeah, shopping on the weekends.
[Laughter]
Male speaker: And he looked at me like a blank, but she laughed.
Female speaker: You liked that.
Male speaker: Yeah, she got the joke.
Female speaker: Now you started Meteor Shower about two decades ago, correct?
Male speaker: Yes.
Female speaker: So what initially inspired you to write it and then what made you feel this inspiration to go back to it?
Male speaker: I’ve been going back to it periodically through the years, I think the first time we had a staged reading of it I thought, it’s working but it needs some work and I got quite busy all of a sudden and didn’t pursue it and then every once in a while I take it out and look at it, make some changes, and just figure it out.
Its inspiration, because I started 20 years ago I am not sure ,I just thought that meteor shower was a great umbrella event to put some couples in a situation.
Male speaker: Oh, that was a beautiful one.
Male speaker: Because sitcom writing is so good these days and has been for a long time you have to be very careful that your play is not a sitcom because all the sitcom subjects have been covered so it has to be a real theatrical and a little more intellectual and out of the real world than a normal sitcom would be.
Male speaker: Corky is a cannibal.
Female speaker: No.
Male speaker: I am sorry, she doesn’t like to talk about it but since we are swapping intimacies.
Male speaker: Is that true? Please don’t answer if you don’t want to.
Female speaker: Yes it is true but I don’t like the way you phrase it Norm, I am not a cannibal, I was once a cannibal.
[Laughter]
Male speaker: Remember we looked it up; it doesn’t matter if you are actively doing it now, once you remain a cannibal.
Female speaker: So how do you feel that you did that in this particular play, how did you pull it out of that sitcom room and put it in to a theatrical room?
Male speaker: Well one the language, I don’t want to say its elevated, it’s different, sometimes it’s different than the way people talk normally, sometimes it’s a little more poetic, not often.
Also the events occur out of time, I mean the time gets juggled around a little bit and also I feel it has a deeper point than you would find in a sitcom.
Male speaker: The brightness of the sun overwhelms the dimness of the meteor like the way some personalities overwhelm a lesser life.
Female speaker: I never thought of it that way.
Female speaker: I didn’t either.
Male speaker: How about you Norm, you ever think of it that way?
Female speaker: Sure I did.
Male speaker: When?
Female speaker: He wants to know when you thought of it that way.
Male speaker: Probably college.
[Laughter]
Male speaker: I thought of it when I was 16; see meteors represent the conjunction of two very different worlds, like the bug flux [Phonetics] [27:07]
Female speaker: The bug flux?
Male speaker: Yes, right here in California too but the mountain bugs that love the mountains and the coastal bugs that love the coast but where they meet and mingle is called the bug flux and its chaos.
Female speaker: You started this 20 years ago, you as a person has changed a lot in 20 years so how has your views on marriage changed and kind of been reflected in a way that you’ve changed the play?
Male speaker: A lot of people say that the play is about marriage, I don’t think that’s its number one subject, I think it’s about an individual psychology and its express through the concept of marriage.
Female speaker: I am so sorry.
Male speaker: I honor that you are sorry.
Female speaker: I honor and cherish you as a person.
Male speaker: I need to be in my cave now.
Female speaker: Yes.
Male speaker: But yes everything has changed quite a bit and that’s why when I go back to it I want to make sure it’s number one purpose is to be funny and be surprising, surprisingly funny.
Female speaker: I developed exploding head syndrome, it’s not as rare as you might think, you can just be dozing off when suddenly you think you’ve heard the loudest explosion of your life.
Male speaker: And it’s in your head, can’t be measured from the outside.
Male speaker: I think we are bordering on that but when the opportunity came up to do it the first instinct was to modernize it like we had fax machines in the first version and I thought you know what, if I do update it to 2016 in ten years it’s going to be out of date anyway so I wanted to leave it in the period of 1993 also because the play deals with a certain subject matter that was fashionable in that period so actually I decided I wanted to leave it in 1993.
And when something s period, it’s only 23 years, the audience can watch it, like you’d watch Shakespeare and you’d go this is not from our time but I am still learning something from it, you get an easier perspective on the show, I think .
Female speaker: Do you think that also comes from like, by focusing on characters and kind of very human behavior, that is has this kind of universal and timeless quality.
Male speaker: I hope so but I’ve always believed that the more specific the characters are the more universal they’re because even though a character might be completely unique he is certainly sharing he or she is certainly sharing characteristics with us today.
Female speaker: I think it also comes from when like somebody writes something that’s very personal, the more personal detail they put in it tends to be more universal because it’s so specifically:-
Male speaker: It’s like an acting rule or a writing rule that’s born out to be true.
Female speaker: When I talk to you about Bright Star you had talked about a lot of these musicals that you had seen as a kid. When you are writing comedy and especially comedy that deals with romance or marriage do you have any influence from old Hollywood movies like screwball comedies or films like that?
Male speaker: I would say that this particular play, whatever my comedy influences are certainly coming in to play it’s hard to name them all but I would say this play is more inspired by kind of absurdist theater which I studied in college but it’s not absurd the play, it’s not meant to be puzzling so I’d say its roots are more literary and also I feel the comedy that’s coming out is new and fresh for me which I like.
Female speaker: So you can surprise yourself?
Male speaker: Yes absolutely.
Female speaker: You had talked about taking philosophy in college and how that kind of changed your perspective on things, how has that affected you as a writer especially moving in to more theatrical play writing?
Male speaker: Strangely philosophy almost has no humor in it [laughter] but it does have some humor if you read [Indiscernible] [31:09] Russell who was kind of free willing with his prose which I really enjoyed but also specifically it was more logic, Lewis Carroll was a magician too and he wrote absurd syllogisms essentially and they really struck me.
This is so strange. Why is this funny and I couldn’t figure it out, it wasn’t conventional and that is what I experienced when I was doing my standup act which I wanted to leave the audience where I am laughing and I don’t know why and I kind of want that for this play.
Female speaker: How great people know if they want to sleep with a person within two seconds of meeting them.
Male speaker: Is that a non sequitur or a sequitur?
[Laughter]
Male speaker: Because it hasn’t been getting last, we’ve had two previews that has been successful especially in the humor department and I would say that at least ten or fifteen percent of it we would say I am laughing, I am not sure why and I am very happy about that.
Female speaker: I have to confess I haven’t been able to see the play yet.
Male speaker: You don’t have to confess that, it’s a statement.
Female speaker: Well I feel bad.
Male speaker: More than a confession.
Female speaker: Okay it’s a statement, I always feel bad interviewing people when I haven’t actually seen
Male speaker: I understand, and it’s very hard to talk about it for me because I don’t want to just say well here is what it is and then have people go see it already knowing what is it, I like the first time effect.
Female speaker: The surprise.
Male speaker: A surprise yes.
Female speaker: Alright, I will try not to get you to reveal anything secret.
Male speaker: That’s okay, it doesn’t really matter.
Female speaker: [laughter] but what I was going to ask you is everybody has been describing it as this adult comedy, so describe a little bit what that means for an audience.
Male speaker: Well, the word I always use is its body as opposed to vulgar, I don’t like vulgarity, when you just start writing the rules aren’t in your head saying, it can’t be that, it can’t be that, you just start writing and see what comes out and then you shape it later and then it just immediately came out as, if you’ve got two couples under the stars in the summer drinking it might turn a little body.
Male speaker: We were just nuts about each other, let me show you something, Laura come here and blow me.
[Laughter]
Female speaker: Why, is it that day of the year?
Male speaker: See, I like to [Indiscernible] [33:28] her.
Female speaker: Do you feel that the play reflects anything about your own marriage or your parent’s marriage?
Male speaker: I would say it doesn’t reflect my marriage, it definitely doesn’t reflect my marriage, maybe a little bit maybe but it reflects an interest I had specially in the 90s of learning about relationships and I read a lot of books, I paid attention and I wrote a book called Shop Girl which was about a relationship that wasn’t going to work.
Female speaker: Are you happy?
Male speaker: Yeah, I am always a little edgy.
Female speaker: Restless.
Male speaker: That’s a good word.
Female speaker: I want you to have the drawing of me sleeping. It’s in the gallery.
Male speaker: You don’t have to do that.
Female speaker: No I want you to have it; I made it while we were seeing each other.
Male speaker: Thank you, and just so you know, I am sorry for the way I treated you.
Female speaker: I know.
Male speaker: I did love you.
Male speaker: This Shop Girl is not very funny but it is very emotional I think, this play take was called my interest in to how relationships work and turns it in to comedy rather than turns it in to sadness like Shop Girl did.
Female speaker: You seem to be somebody who takes the art of comedy very seriously, is that something sometimes people don’t expect?
Male speaker: That I don’t know, I do tour around the country doing a stage show with Marty Short, it’s all comedy, we do some music but 90% of it is about the great joy in delivering a great joke and I get a lot of pleasure from that and I get pleasure from this and watching the actors deliver comedy to the audience, uprising comedy and it’s almost very touching to feel that our written word is getting a laugh as much as if I were delivering it myself, it’s really fun every night here.
Female speaker: And you’ve written comedy for a lot of different formats in terms of stand up and feature films and theater, what’s the difference in writing comedy in a live theater situation versus for a film?
Male speaker: I’ll almost say there is not so much difference, the main difference in the testing of it because I always test jokes on people, I kind of sneak something in that I am working on and say, I think this is funny blah, blah, blah but with the live theater you test it every night and you can make a change if it’s not working or if it’s written too subtly or too broadly but in a movie you shoot it and then you don’t test it for six months later and if you have to change it you have to re edit it which may be possible or impossible or re shoot something so you are not really working in front of an audience in film but that’s another discipline, you learn how to do that too and you have to rely on your own comedic beliefs.
Female speaker: But when you came in you actually had new revisions for the play for your director Gordon, so it’s still being tweaked?
Male speaker: It’s still being tweaked, this has only been performed ever twice and so you are constantly learning things about it and you just don’t want to say it especially with comedy, you say, no, no, no that’s it and that’s what this process is, that’s why you do previews otherwise you wouldn’t do previews you would just say let’s open it.
Female speaker: Did you have any big surprises the first time it went before an audience?
Male speaker: The main surprise was that they were laughing because you just never know, you go to bed the night before the first preview going I can’t think of one funny thing in this play and then the audience comes in, sees for the first time after you’ve been spending 20 years on it and its fresh to them so we were pleased.
Female speaker: Do you enjoy it being performed in the round?
Male speaker: You know what it’s just what it is, it seems to be going fine so unfortunately it means that half the audience has their back turned, the actors have their backs turned to half the audience at all times but that’s what the director does is move them around so that they are not robbing people of seeing the expression etcetera.
Female speaker: And talk about your cast.
Male speaker: They are incredible, Jenna Fischer, Greg Germann, Alex Henrikson and Josh Stamberg, they all are from different parts of the globe, Alex is a theater actress and Jenna we all know, we all know the other two but they are spot on, I told them I said look, you guys are so good that if something doesn’t work I know it’s the script and sometimes when you are working you can’t tell because you know the actor didn’t deliver it the way it was intended, let’s put it that way, so this is a great gift to be able to work with these really talented actors because they are not only delivering it spot on they are elevating and creating humor between the lines so I am really grateful to them.
Female speaker: Did they take from the script right away like that or did you have some dialogue with them?
Male speaker: No, they seem to, they seem to understand it and the characters.
Female speaker: Barry talked about how you are very much a California writer, how do you feel about that?
Male speaker: That’s a story of his, that I am a California writer but when I look back I say, yeah you can argue that because of LA Story and Shop Girl; shot in LA and movies I’ve done set in LA but I do love California, I love being down here in San Diego, its bright and sunny, my wife has very fair skinned it’s a big problem, I like the openness, I like driving and I grew up in Orange County California.
Female speaker: How would you describe the kind of your tone of your comedy? Gordon was talking about how it is nonjudgmental and you have this kind of affection for your characters, do you agree with that?
Male speaker: Yes I do, as a writer you can’t, if you create a bad guy the audience knows that that character is a caricature, but if you create a real person who does bad things that’s different, sometimes you can be sympathetic to a bad guy who is a real character or who’s in a situation beyond their control.
Female speaker: We’ve talked about the fact that you’ve written for a lot of different formats, what keeps drawing you back to the stage, what is it about the stage?
Male speaker: I love really earning those laughs and theater, the audience doesn’t kid you, their response is a true response so I like the challenge of it plus I really like that even though theater is a femoral the script lives on and you have this chance to work on it and work on it and work on it because it’s absolutely true like they always say that 90 % of a script is not written its re written.
Sometimes you find a gem right away, sometimes it takes two weeks of production or sometimes it takes a month of production to find something, I find that my writing gets better the more opportunity I have to revisit it, so if I write a book, if I am finished I put it down for at least a couple of weeks then I come back and I read it aloud to my dog [laughter] and it’s really just to hear the words and in theater you get to hear the words all the time, every night, I mean I love that I can go there at 7:00 o’clock and see it again and find timing.
Sometimes you would just be listening to it in exchange and you’ll think this needs another line, it needs another line between when he says that and she says that, even sometimes a pause or a gesture, it makes a huge difference to be able to say, Gordon the director said, I think it would be better to pause, blah, blah, blah and then see it be true, it’s very exciting.
Female speaker: Do you ever go back to one of your films and have that sensation of, oh if I could only go back and tweak that.
Male speaker: I don’t really watch my own films but no because I just know in my head it’s impossible so yes there are certain things that I would change but you can’t.
Female speaker: Alright, thank you very much for your time.
Male speaker: Great, thank you so much, I can go to rehearsal.
Female speaker: You can get to rehearsal, I think one minute late.
Male speaker: Only a minute, yeah, okay thank you very much I really appreciate.
Female speaker: Don’t walk away with the microphone.
Male speaker: Thank you.
Female speaker: That was actor and writer Steve Martin, his world premier play Meteor Shower runs at the Old Globe Theater through September 18th, the tickets are scarce, you can also listen to podcast 75 to hear Martin discuss his earlier play at the Globe Bright Star.
Thanks for listening to another edition of the KPBS cinema junkie podcast, next up will be a preview of horrible imagining film festival which runs September 7th through the 11th, I’ll be speaking with festival founder and director Miguel Rodriguez, we’ll have an in-depth discussion about horror and about how the festival is pushing the envelope on how we define that genre.
There’ll be lots of clips from the films as well as a preview of the Fabio Fritzi [phonetic] [42:51] concert, horrible imaginings and dread central will be bringing to San Diego in September, subscribe to cinema junkie on ITunes or check out the archives at kpbs.org/junkiepodcast, so until our next film fix I am Beth Accomando your resident cinema junkie.
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