Steve Martin remembers squinting through the stage lights at the Riviera’s Versailles Showroom and noticing an oddity: An empty booth.
“I could see everything and was very close to the audience, and those seats were backless,” Martin says of that unsettling night nearly 40 years ago. “I could see one empty booth. I hadn’t seen an empty booth in eight years, and I hadn’t seen (that) in eight years. It was always my paranoia that this was going to end, and I wanted to be just ahead of it.
“Whether it was valid or not, it gave me a rational excuse to just jump ship.”
That was Martin’s final pure stand-up performance on the Strip, and the beginning of his opportunities in film (“The Jerk” had just been released), writing books and joining the Steep Canyon Rangers bluegrass band.
Martin returns to the Strip with his friend Martin Short co-headlining in “An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Lives” April 9 at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace.
The show blends comedy skits (Short resurrects favorite characters Ed Grimley, Nathan Thurm and Jiminy Glick) with clips from both comics’ film careers. They perform solo — Martin plucking away with the Rangers — and as a duo, volleying jokes side-by-side.
Short has previously performed solo at The Mirage in the “Aces of Comedy” series, and Martin says he has developed enough straight stand-up material for an hourlong stage show. He could further bolster a stand-up performance with an opening act (such as the Rangers), using the same format as the old days.
But both comics say they prefer tackling shows such as the Colosseum gig together.
“Part of the joy of doing all this, after you get the hang of working with another person is just commiserating, rehearsing in the afternoons, having a glass of wine and commiserating after the show,” Short says during a three-way phone interview with Martin on the other line. “You want to enjoy your company. And Steve’s abilities are just so vast, from playing the banjo to juggling to writing. He has a very fast writer’s mind.”
“I am constantly being amazed by the Steve Martin mind. I continue to feel, ‘I wish I’d thought of that,’ ” he adds.
Over the past six years, Martin has also headlined with the Rangers at The Mirage and again at Reynolds Hall at The Smith Center. Martin jokes throughout, once referring to a bank of banjos behind him and saying, “Why do I need all these banjos? It’s just one, big ego trip.”
But he’s equally effusive about his longtime friend’s talents.
During an appearance at Caesars Palace last March, Short’s confidence and love of live performance was on full display when — after performing one skit in a full, nude body suit — he finished the bit and called over to Martin, “Top that, (expletive)!”
“Marty is very surprising and his mind doesn’t go where you think it’s going to go in this kind of running banter we have,” Martin says. “His personality is enjoyable, and it’s challenging. He doesn’t always aim to please.”
Martin puts the tandem shows in the context of his entire career.
“This is the only time in my life I’ve ever completely enjoyed performing,” Martin says, “where there wasn’t some kind of dread accompanying it.”
The two often write together for these shows. Chiseling time is a challenge, as is arriving at territory the two have not previously covered.
“We do it based on what we want to accomplish,” Short says. “Sometimes we want to try out a bunch of new material, so we spend about two hours on the phone, sitting in front of our computers trying out new jokes.”
It can take a long time to land a few minutes of stage-worthy material.
“The tragic thing is that if you work really, really hard on new material, and you get 10 minutes, that’s fantastic,” Martin says, “but it’s only 10 minutes out of two hours of work.”
The Short-Martin performance returns to the Colosseum on July 23, Aug. 25 and Oct. 29. This set of shows could lead to a long-term residency for the duo, similar to Jerry Seinfeld’s extended commitment to the Colosseum.
“It’s just so much fun,” Short says. “There’s nothing like looking at your calendar and seeing, ‘Friday night: Fly into Vegas.’”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. He also hosts “Kats! On The Radio” Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on KUNV 91.5-FM and appears Wednesdays at 11 a.m. on KTNV Channel 13. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter and @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.