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Arts & Culture

Notes From Steve Martin's Conversation At The Globe

Bob Ross
A photo from The Globe's In Conversation, an intimate chat with Barry Edelstein and Steve Martin.

If there's such a thing as theater best friends, then the Old Globe's Barry Edelstein and celebrity Steve Martin are one of the most charming examples of it.

The two men have collaborated on everything from big musicals ("Bright Star") to obscure German productions ("The Underpants"). And now they're together again for "Meteor Shower," a small play that examines marriage.

"How did we get married?" Martin asked Edelstein at the end of their In Conversation, an intimate chat held on the Globe's Shiley Stage on Thursday evening.

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Over the course of their one-hour conversation, the Globe's artistic director and the world-famous comic discussed grand ideas like the root of creativity to specifics on how jokes ended up in the movie "The Jerk."

Here are some of the highlights:

Remembering Conrad Prebys

Before the event began, Edelstein walked on the stage and said he had just come from Prebys' memorial service. The philanthropist was a major donor to the Globe and its plaza is called the Conrad Prebys Theatre Center.

"What Conrad gave to our region ... is just extraordinary," Edelstein said. "There's no one like him in all of the United States."

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On the life span of jokes

Martin said there's a joke in "Meteor Shower" he thought of 30 years ago, but never had a place for it.

"Carl Reiner once said that you never throw anything away," Martin explained.

Edelstein asked where he kept these jokes. In a notebook? In his brain? Martin then pulled out his iPhone and read a few of his latest bits.

Bob Ross
Steve Martin and Barry Edelstein have a long history of collaboration. Their latest is the play "Meteor Shower."

The short life of "Bright Star" on Broadway

Martin's musical "Bright Star" opened at The Old Globe and made it to Broadway, where it ran for four months.

Because he's been in show business so long, and because he's had plenty of experience with criticism, Martin wasn't hurt when it closed. (Though he said his co-writer Edie Brickell took it more personally.)

"The ultimate experience was so joyful, and it will have a life beyond Broadway," Martin said.

Edelstein explained that "Bright Star" will eventually have a national tour and anticipates that regional, college and high school groups will perform it.

Musicals vs. plays

Martin said he isn't going to launch another musical for Broadway because of his age.

"I'm almost 71," he said. "By the time something new gets on Broadway, I'd be 78."

He also said it's a hard lifestyle to sustain.

Plus, if he doesn't like a joke or a line, changing it in a musical means having to rearrange music and change choreography. If he doesn't like a line in a play, he just cuts it.

Bob Ross
Barry Edelstein and Steve Martin In Conversation at The Old Globe.

On comedy

Martin said he didn't realize he was funny until the late 1980s, which is long after his stint as a writer for the Smothers Brothers, his many appearances on "Saturday Night Live" and the release of "The Jerk."

He explained that he grew up on silliness and only later did he develop "an actual sense of humor."

That joke on "The Jerk"

When they were working on "The Jerk," director Reiner picked up Martin every morning and they'd ride in to the set together. One morning, Martin told Reiner a joke and they laughed the entire car ride.

They knew it was silly, but they put it in anyway. It can barely be heard over the traffic noise in the scene. The main character, Navin, is hitchhiking.

A driver stops and says, "St. Louis?"

"No, Navin Johnson."

The audience in the 580-seat theater erupted in laughter.

Martin wrapped up by discussing his affection for San Diego, calling it "a fine town" with fantastic theater.

Jim Cox
"Meteor Shower" stars (from left) Jenna Fischer, Greg Germann, Alexandra Henrikson and Josh Stamberg.

"Meteor Shower," starring Jenna Fischer and Greg Germann, runs at The Old Globe through Sept. 18. Most of the shows are already sold out, though Martin pointed out that there will be a real-life meteor shower happening next week.