Ottawa Citizen

Short: ‘There’s a lot about this I didn’t expect’

New show will be kinder, gentler than some American contests

- ALEX STRACHAN

“I did a whole stage show based on what other people think about me. The truth is, I don’t care what people think about me. I don’t read the reviews; I don’t follow the entertainm­ent magazines. I only read something if I think there’s something I can learn in the moment — if I’m doing a stage play, for example, and I’m still working on the role.”

By his own admission, Short does not watch much television. His opinion of reality TV was coloured, in part, he said, by a conversati­on he had years ago with the legendary TV producer Norman Lear, who told him that reality TV is virtually always based on humiliatio­n.

Short has neither the time nor the inclinatio­n to humiliate anyone.

From the moment Canada’s Got Talent producers approached him, though, he saw it was not about humiliatio­n, but rather, encouragem­ent and affirmatio­n. Short had watched “a couple of shows” of America’s Got Talent, so he knew the basic formula, and he saw that fellow Canadian Howie Mandel was clearly enjoying himself. Short is an admirer of The Voice — again, he says, because of its positive energy, warm vibe and the idea that it’s about making good people better.

“It’s about giving someone a needed boost, that extra shot of confidence.”

Show business, at the profession­al level, can break your heart. Talent alone is not enough. You also need luck, timing and a work ethic.

“And endurance,” adds Short. “Hardly anyone ever talks about endurance, but you need endurance to last. You need your health; you need a thick skin. You have to pick yourself up, time and time again.”

Short says it’s “more daunting” now for a struggling comedian or actor to break into the business than when he did. He grew up in a musical household: his mother, Olive, was a concert violinist, and he was exposed to the life of rehearsals and constant practice from a young age. He graduated from Mcmaster University, intending to become a doctor or social worker, but found himself acting instead. He was cast in an early Toronto production of Godspell that also featured Victor Garber, Gilda Radner, Dave Thomas and Paul Shaffer as musical director.

Today’s achievers often want to be stars, Short said. But stardom never held much appeal for him. It still doesn’t.

“I wanted to be an actor. I never thought about being a star. That’s one of the things that has changed: many of the people I see today, starting out, think about being a star first.”

Social media, Youtube and the Internet have made it easier to be exposed to a wide audience, but without a vehicle — a hit TV show, a movie, a successful album — it’s much harder for a new performer to cut through the clutter and be noticed.

“In my case, I had SCTV and then, through Lorne Michaels, Saturday Night Live. You need that vehicle. Today, if you were to just show up in New York and tell everyone, ‘ I’m an actor; I’m a comedian; I’m going to be on Saturday Night Live,’ they would just look at you: ‘Yeah, right.’ ”

On Oscar night, Short gathered a group of like-minded friends — Steve Martin, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin and others — to watch the Oscars and they laughed themselves silly before hitting the party circuit, where they all laughed some more. Billy Crystal — “a good friend” — was wonderful, Short said. Then he woke up the next morning, learned about the reviews and was genuinely surprised. Not mortified, exactly, but surprised. Short thought this year’s Oscars aimed for nostalgia and elegance and what it means to be in love with the movies and cherish the experience of seeing movies in the theatres, where they’re meant to be seen. Crystal was equal to the task, Short believed, and then he learned about the negative notices.

“You do need a thick skin,” Short said. “Few people appreciate just how hard these hosting jobs can be. You’re in a no-win situation.”

Judging Canada’s Got Talent, on the other hand, is mostly upside.

In the early phase — Talent has reached the second stage, even though viewers will see just the early city auditions when the show airs tonight — Short’s task, and the task of the other judges, was simply to decide whom to vault through to the next round. The process of selecting the finalists with a genuine shot at winning is further down the road, and will require a different level of scrutiny from the judges, Short said.

“It is a competitio­n, and I find I have to constantly remind myself of that,” he said. “At this stage, it’s all about deciding who’s qualified to go to the next stage, as opposed to winning. That comes later.”

Canada’s Got Talent is a varietysho­w throwback to the days of Ed Sullivan, with comedians, dancers, singers, acrobats and others, all competing for the prospect of fame, a prize package valued at $100,000 and a new Nissan sports car.

The judges will narrow the field to 36 semifinali­sts on March 26; contest eliminatio­ns will continue Sunday nights, with the eventual finalists squaring off in a two-hour live broadcast on May 13. The winner will be revealed May 14.

Short says he expected the specific cultural signature of Canada’s varied regions to be reflected in the auditions.

“They were, but not to the extent I expected,” he said. “That was a surprise.”

Short says there’s something affirming about a culture that can produce an Acadian fiddler in Calgary just as easily as in Quebec or one of the Atlantic provinces. Dance crews aren’t just found in urban centres like Vancouver and Toronto; they can also come out of the Prairie provinces and small-town Ontario.

The result is a talent competitio­n that is proving to be just as eyeopening to Short as it is for many of the contestant­s.

The early, televised audition shows were edited down from stops in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal, Halifax and Toronto.

“There’s a lot of talent in the early auditions, but inevitably, you learn more about what you’re dealing with, the deeper you get into the process,” Short said. “A terrific dance crew that you saw in Calgary, for example, stands out in the beginning, but, by the time you get to Toronto and you’ve seen all the other acts, you realize there are other dance crews out there that are just as good. So the process changes. It evolves. As a judge, your judgment and opinions evolve with the show. I wasn’t expecting that. There’s a lot about this I didn’t expect. I’m learning, too. I’m getting a lot more out of it than I thought I would.”

Talent, like comedy, is subjective, Martin Short says. As Albert Einstein once noted of talent: “I have no special talent. I am only passionate­ly curious.”

Short had passion and curiosity in abundance when he began his acting career as a sketch comedian and he’s still looking for that as one of the judges of Canada’s Got Talent, which convenes tonight on Citytv.

Talent is subjective, but passion and curiosity are universal. Short knew, when he agreed to be a judge on Canada’s Got Talent, that he wouldn’t necessaril­y see eye-to-eye with fellow judges Measha Brueggergo­sman and Stephan Moccio every time a contestant stepped into the spotlight. Brueggergo­sman and Moccio share that passion though. And curiosity.

“We share similar sensibilit­ies, but we each have a unique area of specialty,” Short explained on the phone from his home in Los Angeles last week.

Short is an actor, writer, producer, singer and comedian — “a performer,” he says simply — familiar to comedy audiences and longtime TV viewers from his formative years on SCTV and Saturday Night Live, and, more recently, his dramatic, Emmy-nominated turn as a financier’s trusted family attorney in Damages. Brueggergo­sman is a Juno Awardwinni­ng opera soprano and concert artist; Moccio is a pianist, composer, record producer and songwriter who has co-written songs for Céline Dion and Nikki Yanofsky, and worked with Josh Groban, Sarah Brightman and Kardinal Offishall, among others.

Together, the three have formed a bond based on mutual respect and the idea that talent is not something easily defined or labelled, but rather, recognized on a gut level.

Short says, too, that Canada’s Got Talent’s producers have insisted that the judges be themselves and not play a role based on people’s perception of other TV talent competitio­ns. That’s one of the key reasons Short agreed to do Canada’s Got Talent in the first place. He was not interested in being “cast” in the Canadian TV equivalent of the affable buffoon, the den mother and the snarky Brit.

“I’m known for playing characters,” Short explained. “If I appeared as a character, as anyone other than myself, people would spot it immediatel­y and know it rings false.”

Canadians would not embrace a show calculated to be nasty and demeaning, Short added. “Canadians have a sweeter outlook.”

Nor do Canadians have an inflated idea of stardom and what it means to be a “big star.”

“It’s one of the reasons I think so many Canadians have broken into the comedy scene in a big way in America,” Short said. “We are different. We have a different sensibilit­y. I don’t think that nastiness for nastiness’s sake would play nearly as well in Canada. I was determined to be myself, and that’s true of Measha and Stephan, as well.”

Short’s past characters include Jiminy Glick, the fictional showbiz interviewe­r he played on TV in Primetime Glick, on film in Jiminy Glick in Lalawood, and on the Broadway stage, in the one-man show, Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me.

 ?? JOHN MAHONEY, POSTMEDIA NEWS ?? One of the characters Martin Short has created over his career is Ed Grimley. ‘I’m known for playing characters,’ Short says.
JOHN MAHONEY, POSTMEDIA NEWS One of the characters Martin Short has created over his career is Ed Grimley. ‘I’m known for playing characters,’ Short says.
 ??  ?? Canada’s Got Talent host Dina Pugliese, left, stands with judges Stephan Moccio, Measha Brueggergo­sman and Martin Short.
Canada’s Got Talent host Dina Pugliese, left, stands with judges Stephan Moccio, Measha Brueggergo­sman and Martin Short.

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