An Evening with Martin Short
8 p.m. Sept. 22
The Whiting, Flint
Who wouldn’t peg Franck, the flamboyant wedding planner in “Father of the Bride,” as a queeny queer? The guy who played him: Martin Short.
“Often you meet guys (like Franck) – and then you meet their wife and eight kids,” Short quips from his summer cottage located north of Toronto, where the multi-talented funnyman yaks with Between The Lines just before launching a day of games and grub with his wife. First up: A boat ride. Then a round of golf, some fishing, and finally out to dinner.
In between chill days like this one, he writes. Or offers his voice to an eerie boggart in the upcoming fantasy “The Spiderwick Chronicles.” But at 8 p.m. Sept. 22, he’ll turn The Whiting in Flint into his living room, resurrecting kooky characters like popular “Saturday Night Live” neurotic nerd Ed Grimley and ignorant reporter Jiminy Glick – “a moron with power,” he says – in what the actor calls a “loose” show.
Kind of like his Christmas shindigs. Every December, the 57-year-old actor and Marc Shaiman (the musical master behind Broadway’s “Hairspray”), who Short met while on “SNL,” team up for an intimate bash. He and the out Shaiman have been buddies since the ’80s, when Short appeared on “SNL.” Still, having gay pals doesn’t mean Short’s mastered gaydar. Not that he cares to, anyways.
“It’s often very hard to figure out who’s gay. I’ve met really effeminate people who are surprisingly sincerely straight.” He lets out a light laugh. “And then the opposite.”
Nerves ran rampant during the filming of “Father of the Bride,” released in 1991. Short and the crew brainstormed ways to handle Franck, a mostly improvised flowery fella that they tried to fit neatly into what was a sweet and sincere flick. No matter who wins the Franck-was-queer debate, there’s no question he became widely known as the gay wedding planner in “Father of the Bride.” Which would’ve made Short’s decision to take the fruity role too simple. The actor’s intention was never to play gay. He just fell for Franck. Queer or not.
“I guess you could reverse it and play it like John Wayne, but it wouldn’t be real,” he says. “And if you don’t have any reality in it, then you can’t go funny, ’cause there’s nothing to ground it.”
One thing isn’t so debatable: Franck, imitated by Short mid-interview, as he unleashes a high-voiced but nonsensical sound, was the toy in the Cracker Jack box. He was like Grace’s Will – foreign to Steve Martin’s character, but tight with his wife and about-to-wed daughter.
“My eye goes to unusual behavior or heightened behavior or eccentric behavior or just funny behavior,” he clarifies, adding there’s still one character he’d like to play: a subtle prick.
Just don’t plan on seeing him pull a John Travolta sporting glamorous gowns and poofy hair anytime soon. He’s not into heightened camp. “I don’t find them (drag queens) funny. I’ve never found it funny.” He backpedals: “I found it funny in ‘Some Like It Hot.’ Ya know, straight people go and see drag acts and laugh hysterically. I just don’t.”
Perhaps the closest Short got to looking like Travolta’s Edna Turnblad of “Hairspray” was during his days as fat-suit bound Jiminy Glick, a chubster convinced he’s a deft entertainment reporter. Glick’s gaggle of fans, though, probably is most familiar with his peculiar vocal swoops, which shift quickly from effeminate to butch.
“I was stunned to see how dumb some of the levels of conversations (were on daytime talk shows), and how some of the hosts were so – ” he stops suddenly, as if to edit something that might get him in trouble. “You kind of think, like how can these people have a – this – job?”
Like Franck, and like Ed Grimley, Jiminy isn’t a character Short would swap lives with. Not even for a day. Or an hour. “If you were Gregory Peck and you just made ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ you’d say, ‘Yeah, (I’d swap with) Atticus Finch.’ But Jackie Rogers Jr.? Irving Cohen? Or Ed Grimley? I don’t think so.”
Uh, guess we won’t count on him becoming Sebastian Ballentine either.
Short shifted from his wacky ways to make our skin crawl on an episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” in 2005, playing Ballentine, a creepy psychic. Though he’s considered taking a walk on film’s dark side, he’s rejected serious roles in non-comedic flicks and has never been compelled to write something that even remotely involves creepy knife-fingered dudes in Gap sweaters. Or anything with fried green tomatoes, for that matter.
“I kind of think that comedy is so challenging, and I really think of myself as an entertainer, and so if you can make people laugh – it’s such a rare gift that I don’t feel particularly unrequited by not being able to make them cry.”
Still, Marty, laughing until they cry counts.