Comedic legend’s chatty bio brings plenty of charm
FOR a country whose modest version of show business lacks anything resembling a star system, Canada sure has produced more than its share of stars. And it could fairly be argued that Martin Short — actor, singer, comedian, TV legend, movie star, Broadway juggernaut — stands tallest among them all. Despite having been a resident of America for several decades, Short is a decidedly Canadian kind of star — unassuming, polite, kind, good-natured, self-effacing and very much beloved in showbiz circles. How he got from here — well, Hamilton, Ont., to be precise — to there is described in charmingly chatty fashion in Short’s aptly titled new autobiography, I Must Say: My Life As a Humble Comedy Legend. As the most enduringly successful member of Canada’s greatest-ever generation of showbiz exports, Short’s is certainly a tale worth telling. Written in chronological fashion and employing a light, conversational style, I Must Say is an easy read filled with anecdotes and reminiscences that offer readers a rare insider’s glimpse at the formation of this country’s most formidable cluster of comedy stars. He states at the outset that being a star was never his dream while he was growing up in middle-class Hamilton, the youngest of five children of a steel-industry executive and a concert violinist. But the antics he describes very much suggest that Short was grooming himself — if not for stardom, then at least for a lifetime as a performer: “Outside, on Whitton Road, normal Canadian childhood was taking place, with kids playing hockey in the street until darkness fell and the streetlights came on. Inside, little Marty was snapping his fingers and singing, ‘Weather-wise, it’s such a cuckoo daaaay!’” It may have been dreams that steered him toward showbiz, but it was stark reality that set within him the resolve to get there. When he was 12, his eldest brother — whom he idolized — died in a car crash; by the time he was 20, Short had lost both his parents. Having endured that accumulation of heartbreak, there was nothing in show business — rejection, failure, missed opportunities — that would deter Short from being who and what he inevitably became. The biggest break, of course, was the first one. In 1972, Short landed a role in the nowlegendary Toronto productionp of Godspell, which placed him in a company that would includen the likes of EugeneE Levy, Andrea Martin, Gilda Radner, Victor Garber, PaulP Shaffer, Jayne Eastwood and Dave Thomas, and into a showbizzy social circle frequented by Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Catherine O’Hara and several other soon-tobe famous Canadians. After a somewhat tumultuous relationship with Radner ended, he met and fell instantly and deeply in love with fellow performer Nancy Dolman, an understudy in the Godspell production who would become his wife, partner and soulmate for the next 30 years. The rest, as they say, is history — Canadian showbiz history — and Short turns out to be quite a storyteller, offering intimate details of his successes, missteps and, eventually, his triumph as a cast member on SCTV and Saturday Night Live, his moderately successful big-screen career, and his later-in-life return to his stage-musical roots. Short might be accused of going a bit overboard with entertainment-industry name-drops, but this is a showbiz memoir, and its author has more than earned the been-there-done-that right to dish. As much as I Must Say is an entertainment biography, it’s also a love story, albeit with a very wrenching ending. Short is frank and straightforward in describing the loss of his beloved Nancy to cancer, and lightens the mood slightly by addressing that muchdiscussed Today Show appearance in which an oblivious Kathy Lee Gifford quizzed Short about his marriage, clearly unaware that she had died. Throughout the book, Short also introduces readers to many of his best-known sketch characters — Ed Grimley, Jiminy Glick and many more — and offers insights into how, where and why they sprang from his imagination. As Short stories go, this one’s rather entertaining. Brad Oswald is the Free Press TV
Martin Short’s bio is in part a heart-wrenching love story of his late wife Nancy.
I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy