Steve Martin BANJO ON HIS KNEE
STEVE MARTIN has been a sadistic dentist, an out-of-towner, a frustrated traveler, a father of 12 and a jerk. Now he’s just happy to be a banjo player—in real life, not on screen. In recent years, the comedy legend has stepped away from Hollywood and shifted his focus to theater (his comedy Meteor Shower— starring Amy Schumer—is set to open on Broadway in November) and a longtime passion: bluegrass music. On September 22, the skilled banjo player will release a new album, The Long-awaited Album (yes, that’s the title), with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers. The songs are uptempo, goofy stories of love (“Caroline”) and family awkwardness (“Strangest Christmas Yet”).
Martin, who famously incorporated the banjo into his ’70s standup act, is pretty sure the bluegrass community doesn’t see him as an actor-dabbler. “Well, I don’t know what they say about me behind my back,” he says with a laugh.
The banjo hasn’t been a popular instrument for some time. What attracted you to it, and do you wish more people shared your affection for it?
I loved the banjo from the first time I ever heard it. I found it to be quite an emotional instrument. Its popularity is just right. It’s a specialized instrument, it’s a specialized sound, [and] not everyone’s going to gravitate to it or needs to know about it.
Even though movies are no longer a priority for you, are there any filmmakers you’d like to work with, given the opportunity?
Oh yeah. Coen brothers. There’s so many people. I did work with Ang Lee. Unfortunately, the movie [ Billy Lynn’s Long Haftime Walk] was a flop. But I liked it. Directors’ names aren’t on the tip of my tongue anymore; I’m in such a different world now.… I think a new comedian is Jerry Seinfeld. That’s how behind the times I am. —ZACH SCHONFELD
STRINGS ATTACHED: Martin, seated, far right, with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers.