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There’s a kind of pleasure you get from Steve Martin and Martin Short’s new Netflix special that has become increasingly rare. An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life is a taped version of the theater show they’ve been touring the country with; recorded at Greenville, S.C., this hour-plus is crammed with jokes, jokes, jokes, and music, music, music. It’s old-fashioned showbiz with a knowing wink, featuring anecdotes about celebrities they’ve met (Steve Martin with Elvis Presley is quite a different pairing) and a chatty interlude during which they show the audience photographs of themselves as kids.
Kids, these two are not: Short is in his late 60s and Martin is in his early 70s, a fact I mention not for ageist ridicule, but to place their comedy in context. Martin and Short are baby-boomers who grew up in a pop culture that was dominated as much by Frank Sinatra as it was by the Beatles, by Bob Hope as much by Saturday Night Live. In other words, for these two — and for the adoring audience that hoots and laughs and cheers them along here — show business is about pure entertainment, but also about winking ironically about the purity of entertainment. Or as they sing on one of the comic songs that dot this performance, “Our egos are gigantic, and we’re both wearing Spanx.”
The two first met while making Three Amigos in the 1980s and became friends. But they’re friends who like to rib each other, who know each other’s weak spots and vanities. Short’s droll sarcasm about Martin’s banjo-playing, and Martin’s eye-rolls when Short name-drops the superstars he knows — these are funny ego-puncturings. In this show, they perform together, then in separate segments (yes, Martin hauls out both his banjo and the group he records with, the bluegrass outfit the Steep Canyon Rangers), and then reunite for a boffo finish. In between, they do stuff that’s both familiar and new. You may have seen Short do his character Jiminy Glick — the fatuous celebrity interviewer modeled on Merv Griffin — but you probably haven’t seen Jiminy as a ventriloquist’s dummy, propped on Martin’s lap. It’s an amusing visual that enlivens Jiminy’s familiar shtick.
Unlike a lot of comedy specials these days, including most of the ones Netflix does, there’s no straining for coolness here, no anger, no strenuous deconstructions of gender roles or savage political humor. It’s just two old guys — “Steve, you’d tell me if you were having a stroke, wouldn’t you?” Short asks with mock-worry early on — hamming it up, dancing and singing and mugging. It’s escapism at its most warming.
Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget For the Rest of Your Life is streaming now on Netflix.
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