One of my favorite Canadians is Martin Short. He’s arguably one of the most consistently funny, super charismatic people in showbiz. Right now I’m reading his autobiography, and I love it. Here’s a story that took place in 1977, after Martin had had a pretty successful run as a musical stage performer in Toronto:
By February, I had nothing on the employment docket: no work, no auditions, no exciting prospects. It was a career low point. Absent any professional obligations, I flew to LA to join my wife, Nancy, who was knocking on the door of record companies trying to get a deal. (She was an amazingly-talented singer and songwriter.)
It so happened that Paul Shaffer, who was then the leader of the SNL band, was in town at the same time. Bill Murray was as well, so Paul invited Nancy and me to join the two of them for dinner. In a couple of months, Bill and Paul would unleash upon the world the iconic lounge singer bit.
I, meanwhile, was stuck in a rut. There was always work for me back in Toronto, but increasingly it was a dreary safe harbor. Having once felt like the guy who didn’t need the Second City improv troupe, I now felt like the guy who, unlike all of his classmates, chose not to go to university because he wanted to open his own shwarma stand, but the shwarma stand hadn’t worked out.
Nancy and I were walking along Santa Monica Boulevard, en route to our dinner with Bill and Paul, when I froze. There was a bench nearby. I coolly turned to her and said, “I have to sit down now.”
“Why?” Nancy asked. “What’s going on?”
“I cannot spend an evening with Bill and Paul,” I said. “I can’t spend another evening pretending to be happy for someone else’s success. I just need to sit.”
Nancy, bless her heart, sat by me and held my hand. Finally, after about 15 minutes, she whispered, “How long are we going to sit here?”
I gathered myself – eventually. But we didn’t have dinner with Bill and Paul. Instead, we headed east, to the Cast Theater in Hollywood, where an improv comedy troupe called War Babies was performing.
They were good. They made me laugh. And I finally saw the light: this is what I am supposed to be doing. I phoned Andrew Alexander, who owned and operated Second City Toronto, and boldly declaimed, “I want to join Second City.” Andrew, the savior of many of us, was, thankfully, happy to make a place for me.
And so northward I flew, ready to begin life as Martin Short, Funnyman. And forever after, into our eventual lives as Los Angelenos, Nancy, whenever we drove past the corner of North Flores Street and Santa Monica Boulevard, would point to the bench and say, “Hey, look honey, there’s Breakdown Corner.”