Take the frenetic zaniness of Jerry Lewis, add the masterful mimicry of Rich Little, blend in Dick Van Dyke's slapstick sophistication and you come close to understanding the genius of Martin Short. Close, but no exploding cigar. Truth is, he's that rare breed of clown who defies categorization. From the manic, obsequiousness of SCTV's Ed Grimley to the fussy fastidiousness of Franck, the accent-addled wedding planner in Father Of The Bride, Short's comic range knows no bounds. There is nothing he can't, or won't, do for a laugh.
Born March 26, 1950, in Hamilton, Short originally aspired to a much different career, earning a degree in social work from McMaster University. Soon, however, the smell of the greasepaint lured him to Toronto, where he was cast alongside such fellow future stars as Gilda Radner, John Belushi, and Victor Garber in a now-legendary production of Godspell.
Hollywood beckoned, and Short languished for nearly a decade in such uninspired TV fare as The David Steinberg Show, The Associates, and I'm A Big Girl Now before returning to Toronto to replace Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis on SCTV. Earning both an Emmy and a Nelly for his SCTV antics, Short next transferred his talents, along with his widening troupe of characters, to Saturday Night Live, providing a much-needed comic boost to the flagging late-night staple. Following a single SNL season, Short returned to Hollywood to co-star with pal Steve Martin in the hugely popular Three Amigos! He has since added more than two dozen film and TV credits to his remarkably diverse résumé, including such audience favourites as Father Of The Bride, Jungle 2 Jungle, A Simple Wish, Merlin, and Alice In Wonderland.
Perhaps the greatest testament to Short's incomparable dexterity came two years ago when Neil Simon decided to remount his classic 1962 musical Little Me. The biggest challenge was to find a lead actor with both the energy and ability to juggle, night after night, eight vastly different roles. For Simon, there was only one solution: get Martin Short. The Broadway cognoscenti heartily approved, naming Short the best lead actor in a musical at the 1999 Tony Awards.
Throughout three decades of escalating success, there has been a method to Martin Short's madness. He learned long ago that size doesn't matter. As content with a well-crafted cameo as he is with a starring role, Short knows that character actors are the ones with staying power. As he explained to US magazine in 1997, "What's great about being a character actor is you know that you can survive forever. It's not about the gloss of your eyebrows' One of my greatest influences was Don Knotts as Barney Fife."