Everything Martin Short Hated About Being on ‘Saturday Night Live’
Sure, Martin Short enjoys those Saturday Night Live hosting gigs now. He’s even kissed Lorne Michaels full on the mouth on national television — now that’s love. But during his single season as a cast member, Season 10 back in 1985-1986, Short was borderline miserable. Three shows in, he was writing his resignation letter (even though he managed to stick it out for the full season). In his memoir I Must Say: My Life As A Humble Comedy Legend, Short lays out his list of grievances.
After finishing up his legendary run on SCTV, Short and his wife Nancy had just settled into a rented home in Pacific Palisades. The comic loved everything that California had to offer. “I couldn’t get over the rush of seeing the ocean on my left as I drove up the Pacific Coast Highway,” he said, one reason that he kept putting off producer Dick Ebersol before committing to the show at the last minute. New York winters, man. Not fun.
The Insane Schedule
This was the real sticking point. Here’s how things worked at SCTV, a show that Short says moved “at a gentle, if laborious, pace.” A sketch’s performers might gather around a monitor for playback after a take, giving each other notes on how to improve the bit. Scripts were written over the course of weeks, even months.
On SNL, of course, there were no multiple takes, no polishing the comedy to get it just right. Short was a basket case for his first live show, successfully lobbying Ebersol to ditch the traditional cold open (it bombed in dress rehearsal) in favor of a pre-filmed piece. The piece that Short had filmed for the second show? The live anxiety caused SNL to air that one as well. The show ended up going just fine, but Short was worn down by the weekly grind of Idea-Script-Rehearse-Perform. There was no time to recover. “Sunday night, I’d start getting a sour feeling in the pit of my stomach,” he writes in the book. “It was final exams every week.”
Who’s the Star Here?
By Short’s admission, the Season 10 cast didn’t gel. Short, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer were brought in like high-priced, free-agent ball players, and they saw themselves as the stars of the show. That didn’t exactly go over with holdover cast members Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mary Gross, Gary Kroeger and Jim Belushi who were pushed to the end of the bench.
How big were the egos? Ebersol somehow convinced Eddie Murphy to come back to host, and Short was put out about having to write sketches for him. “The problem was that we four ringers — Billy, Chris, Harry and me — considered ourselves the stars of that season of SNL,” he writes. “We were a little arrogant about our standing as SNL’s headliners; we basically thought that we were the hosts every week.”
All of this made for an anxious, miserable year, one that saw Shearer go through with quitting midway through. Writer Larry David also offered a screaming resignation, although he showed up for work the next week and turned the whole experience into a famous Seinfeld episode.
Looking back, Short appreciates the opportunity but has serious regrets. “I wish I’d enjoyed Saturday Night Live more,” he confesses. “I wish I hadn’t felt so perpetually under pressure when I worked there. But I think that’s just what the show does to some people.”