10:03 AM CDT, May 14, 2012
"I'm gonna try out some material," Andrea Martin said Friday night at Second City's UP Comedy Club, declaring herself thrilled to be back for the weekend at the institution that, via its Canadian branch and SCTV spinoff, launched her career long ago. "None of it is new," she quickly added, as if in horror at the very thought of such a thing, and lest anyone started getting excited and missing the tone of Martin's clip-job, victory-lap, all-retro act. "I just want to see if the old stuff still works."
Well, there sure was old stuff. Any time Larry King is a punch line, you're back somewhere distant. Martin's central gag, as you might imagine, is that she is all too aware of the cobwebs.
"What once was pert/Now scrapes the dirt," she sang, during one of several comic ditties loosely themed around the travails of the aging comedian and accompanied this past weekend by the droll if muted Seth Rudetsky, the typically ebullient host of the Broadway channel on satellite radio.
"Some of you who are just joining me at this point in my career," she said, darkly, "might be wondering who this Andrea Martin is."
This, she said by way of explanation, was her "Everything Must Go" show, her "Comedy Garage Sale," her "I've Run Out of Options" tour.
It's hard to ever imagine Martin, a formidable comedian, a self-confessed character actress since the age of 9, a 65-year-old woman beloved on Broadway for her caustic wit, deadpan timing and strong singing voice, ever running out of options.
This show was more of a gentle trot through her career, replete with a video montage of her many achievements, starting with her first Canadian Kit Kat commercial, toddling through her shtick on Letterman and "The Tonight Show"— offering a nod to "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and showcasing her famously horrified Tony Award acceptance speech, widely noted for her screeched "ARE YOU KIDDING?" when the orchestra started cutting her off. One cuts off Andrea Martin at one's peril, even if one has brass.
Still, if any performer is going to show clips of past TV comedic glories, those clips really should be SCTV, wherein the material was far ahead of its time, formatively speaking, and thus remains very funny. At one point Friday, Martin showed herself playing Anne Murray doing an impression of Janice Joplin, which is so hilarious, even in excerpted form, it eclipsed anything live on the stage, which was perhaps a risk Martin was willing to take.
Martin also spent a chunk of time reminiscing about her theatrical breakthrough in the first Toronto production of "Godspell," a show that featured, along with Martin, such cast members as Gilda Radner, Martin Short, Eugene Levy and Victor Garber. All in the same show. Musical direction, incidentally, was done by a kid called Paul Shaffer.
At least Edith Prickley, one of Martin's best SCTV characters, showed up in person, recalling an encounter with an activist upset about her love of leopard-skin clothing. "He asked me if I knew how many animals had to die for me to wear this jacket," said Prickley, in prickly mode. "I said, 'Do you know how many animals I had to sleep with to get it?'"
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