Steve Martin and Martin Short aren’t exactly new to television: Steve Martin won an Emmy Award in 1969 for his work as a writer for “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” and Short won two Emmys over the years, including one in 1983 for his work on ‘SCTV’.
Before Tuesday, they had been nominated for nearly two dozen Primetime Emmys together, for work that included the Academy Awards (for which Martin has hosted and written), the FX drama “Damages” (on which Short played a sinister right-hand man to a Bernie Madoff-type) , and their 2018 special variety “Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life.” (Short has also received nominations for the Daytime Emmys.)
Now they’ve added new filigrees to their careers: Short and Martin both received Emmy nominations for their starring roles in the Hulu comedy “Only Murders in the Building.”
In the series, which alternates between broad farce and dark comedy, Martin plays a once-famous TV actor and Short plays a never-so-great Broadway director who lives in the same Renaissance-style building in Manhattan. With the help of an enigmatic young neighbor (Selena Gomez), they try to solve a crime in their home – or at least interpret the mystery in a popular podcast. (Martin, who co-created “Only Murders in the Building” with John Hoffman, also received a nomination in the comedy writing category, and the show received a total of 17 nominations.)
Short and Martin have been longtime friends and collaborators (going back to the 1986 comedy “Three Amigos!”). So you’d think they might be happy about each other’s success and excited to compete for the Emmy awards. But their feelings may be more complex. They met in a video interview on Tuesday; these are edited excerpts from that conversation.
“Only Murders in the Building” was recognized many times today. How does it feel?
STEVE MARTIN Well, we’re excited. We are thrilled with the nominations, not only for us, but also for the show. We’re stunned that Selena wasn’t nominated because she’s so pivotal to our performances, really.
MARTIN SHORT She has been nominated as an executive producer.
You both have storied histories as TV nominees –
MARTIN Not me. Marty does.
SHORT Steve, let’s take our joke off the show. Hey, Steve, how many Emmys do you have again?
MARTIN [thinking] Oh, I want to say five. [pause] I want to say five, but I have one. If I won I would be on a roll. Because that would have been 53 years since my last win.
SHORT Gosh, I wouldn’t like to see what you look like by the time you get your third win. I won twice.
To whom is this greater honor?
MARTIN Oh, definitely Marty.
SHORT I’d say if I wasn’t nominated, I’d go to Vegas and bet $100,000 that Steve would win. But we tend to think we’ve split the votes a bit.
MARTIN It’s a great honor for everyone. Because we weren’t working two years ago.
SHORT To think there was prime time as a kid: ABC, NBC, and CBS. And now you’ve got a billion shows – so many that my family has told me they’re just brilliant and I haven’t seen them. To thrive in such an era is pretty awesome.
MARTIN I also believe that the comedy acting category should be split in half, for overly broad and far too subtle. So whatever the nominations are, you have subcategories. Marty could win Overly Broad, and I could win Way Too Subtle.
SHORT You could be in your own category, which is too pale to be truly light.
MARTIN When they get a close-up of Marty, they use me as a springboard.
Have you ever been in direct competition before?
SHORT Just emotional.
MARTIN Every minute of every day.
Martin, this is the first ongoing series you’ve been on for a while; Steve, this is your first ongoing series ever. Is there a way you feel like rookies?
MARTIN I was surprised, I thought the shooting would be very different. I thought it would be twice and you move on, and twice more and you move on. But no, it’s like a movie. We film five hours in 12, 14 weeks. A film lasts two hours in 10 weeks.
The second season of “Only Murders in the Building” has storylines and episodes dedicated to characters other than your own. How do you feel about stepping back or withdrawing from the series when you need to?
MARTIN We love it. I learned that from ‘The Jack Benny Show’ that he always stepped back for other talents, and I’m grateful. I know Marty isn’t, but I’m grateful when a really talented person comes in and does their thing. We had Nathan Lane, he’s been nominated. Jane Lynch, who has been nominated. Amy Ryan, sadly not nominated, but she deserved it.
SHORT James Caverly was brilliant. I came from ensemble [on “SCTV”], so I was used to it. If John Candy had something great to do, step back.
MARTIN It’s funny because you say you’re from an ensemble, but today you’d never know.
SHORT My thing is, I’m tired of the ensemble. And you know what helped me with this? I was tired of working with peers.
MARTIN Well, that can only be interpreted one way.
Are you going to support each other on Emmy’s night? Or will it be killer? Will it be every man for himself?
MARTIN I suggested to Marty to back off, but he doesn’t say why. It’s just a mystery. And then he starts a whisper campaign that it’s because I have a deadly disease.
SHORT Steve told me this last night and I said, ‘I don’t quite understand. It seems to serve you more than I do.’
MARTIN I said he comes across as a hero. He takes a step back for his friend.
SHORT So when all this has happened, and you sit there and you hear, “And the winner is – Bill Hader,” what do you do?
MARTIN [leaping up from his seat] I’m good!
I think that plan will be received in the right spirit.
SHORT I don’t think that was a bad thing.
MARTIN Nothing is received in the right spirit. I recently tweeted a picture† They brought me a latte and they can make these beautiful designs – it had my picture on it. I thought, this is great, I’m going to tweet this. Then there’s a response that says, “If you’d tweeted this two years ago I would have enjoyed it, but now I can’t afford a latte. [Expletive] you.”
SHORT Please put that in there. That symbolizes everything.