Last night, during the second show in Jerry Seinfeld’s year-long residency at New York’s Beacon Theatre, something amazing happened, with no warning at all. For the first time in 35 years, Steve Martin did stand-up comedy.
Now, it’s not like Steve Martin is a hermit or has retired from entertainment. Anything but, really. He writes plays and screenplays, still does the occasional movie. He also performs live all the time, although these days it’s bluegrass that he’s doing, not comedy. (Okay, he did a little bit of bluegrass here, too.) So Martin fans aren’t exactly hard-pressed to see him work. Still, for him to walk out onto a stage and tell jokes into a microphone… That hasn’t happened in a very, very long time. Martin never had a farewell tour, or even a farewell show. He just stopped. And then last night he came back.
Vulture’s Jesse David Fox was at the show, and you should definitely read his whole account, although I’ll warn you that the jealousy you’ll experience may be a violent shade of green. He says that when the announcer came on to introduce Seinfeld’s “very special guest,” no one paid much attention. In a big theater like that, most people don’t even stop the conversations they’re having, since “very special guest” usually just means “opening act.”
But the announcer’s pause continued, and I wondered if he might say “Paul Simon,” as there was a guitar mic onstage and I have to assume Seinfeld is friends with Simon, you know, just from being famous guys — hell, Tom Hanks was in the audience. Then he said it: “Mr. Steve Martin.” I lost all of my shit. I screamed a scream I was familiar with, as it’s the sort of scream I’ve heard at comedy shows for years when some celebrity — be it Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, or Louis C.K. — drops in on a show unannounced; however, this time it was coming from my mouth. This was a very special guest.Boy, do I feel sorry for the poor ticket holders who thought they’d use that opening act time to visit concessions or wait in line for the bathroom. I, myself, am guilty of occasionally arriving late to shows, deliberately missing openers to avoid parking lot traffic jams.
From the way Fox describes it, this was a truly historic night. Even if it doesn’t indicate a full or even brief return to comedy, what Martin did for those ten minutes on stage was special. He was the same comedian he was all those decades ago, in essence, but self-aware enough to be his honest self. This wasn’t an impression of his old act— more like an homage to his past self. Fox tried to come up with an analogy, ultimately using musicians as a comparison.
By their nature, musicians play their old songs, which is supposed to remind you exactly of when they were great but doesn’t really. Watching Steve Martin tell that joke was like if, in the middle of a modern-day Bob Dylan set of gurgles and growls, he brought out a time machine, turned the dial to 1965, and had young Bob Dylan come out to sing “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”
Here’s that joke he’s talking about, by the way, complete with pauses because Martin’s rhythm is so important to his humor.
By the way, I apologize for the ticket prices. [Pause.] I know it seems expensive, because there is like one guy, two guys, and a couple of mics, but it’s not that way. There are like four sound people, and two lighting people, and [pause] drivers, and wardrobe people, and catering, and someone to walk Jerry’s Fitbit around. [Pause.] A celebrity look-alike, in case Steve doesn’t feel like going on. Steve says hi, by the way.
Again, go read the whole piece. And then take Steve Martin’s advice and watch the internet tear itself apart afterward.
I'm very flattered by this article, but…https://t.co/gukMt4p4rK— Steve Martin (@SteveMartinToGo) February 19, 2016
..but the real joy is watching an almost perfect Internet degeneration of the comments thread. https://t.co/gukMt4p4rK— Steve Martin (@SteveMartinToGo) February 19, 2016