PHOTO BY CAITLIN CRONENBERG/HULU
MARTIN SHORT IS BACK AND BETTER THAN EVER. AHEAD OF THE SECOND SEASON OF HIS HIT HULU SERIES, ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING, SHORT DISHES ON THE STATE OF COMEDY TODAY, HIS DISDAIN FOR TRUE CRIME STORIES, AND WORKING WITH CLOSE FRIEND AND COLLABORATOR OF 37 YEARS STEVE MARTIN ON THEIR FIRST TV SERIES TOGETHER—WITH THIRD AMIGA SELENA GOMEZ.
WHAT FIRST DREW YOU TO ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING? What drew me to it was the premise. Obviously, [series creator and co-star] Steve Martin and I adore working with each other. And also the pedigree of the writers. It was John Hoffman—I love Grace and Frankie—and Dan Fogelman, who I’m a big fan of. And, of course, Steve. My initial response was to say, ‘Boy, that kind of sounds ideal.’ I think I agreed without reading a script.
YOU AND MARTIN ARE INTRODUCING YOUR COMEDY, FRIENDSHIP AND CHEMISTRY TO A WHOLE NEW GENERATION. WHAT HAS THAT BEEN LIKE FOR YOU? You know, I’m not on social media. So I don’t aggressively try to seek out people’s reaction. So I’m not aware, but I’ve always been aware of different generations that come up to you because they discover your work later on. A 19-year-old came up to me and said, ‘Dude, you made Interspace; it’s my new favorite film!’ I made that in 1987, but he’s discovering it now, so that’s the ongoing thing. I think what’s been brilliant for the show was enticing Selena Gomez to do it because she [introduced it] to over 300 million Instagram followers.
IS SELENA GOMEZ YOUR NEW THIRD AMIGA? WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH HER? Absolutely. … It’s very interesting because we had Zoomed, but we launched this at the height of COVID, so I never met her in person. For the first day of shooting, I remember driving to the studio and thinking, ‘Geez, you know, Selena could be a nightmare. I mean, she could be—she’s a pop princess. She’s adored by most of the world, in the numbers. She literally has a billion followers. And she’s been a star since she was 16! I wonder what she’s going to be like…’ And she was so sweet and so immediately likable and adorable. But also, what was interesting is that Steve and I have a philosophy of keeping a very loose, happy set, because that’s all you can control. We keep it light and we joke around, but she’s exactly the same way. I loved her right away; she fit in like a glove. It was really quite remarkable.
DO YOU PERSONALLY ENJOY MURDER MYSTERIES? Not remotely; oh, my God, no. I always found those shows depressing, but Steve [is] always obsessed with them and so [is] Selena; she’s even been to symposiums where they discuss the crimes. And Steve listened to every one of those shows that you see on television, that I’d switch past 1,000 times. So, no, but of course, in this case, I play a theater director, so that I know about. … Don’t get me wrong, I love Knives Out. I love mysteries, but I just find that the ones on television, you know, the true crimes… it’s always depressing to me, some lovely person has been stabbed. It’s not my thing. I’d rather watch old Dick Van Dyke shows.
LET’S TALK ABOUT YOUR CHARACTER, OLIVER PUTNAM, WHO IS AN EXBROADWAY DIRECTOR AND A FATHER AND FRIEND TRYING TO MAKE ENDS MEET. WHAT MAKES HIM SO DYNAMIC? I’ve always thought that if we, the audience, see someone trying to be funny, then we’re not really going to laugh at them. So you have to develop a character that would say that line sincerely. [Oliver] has been a guy who’s been very successful in his career, just not successful for the last 15 years, but that means for 30 years, he was successful. I find that for most people in the arts, if they’ve had three movies that bombed, they don’t start their fourth movie saying, ‘I bet this is gonna bomb too.’ You go, ‘I bet this is gonna be a hit this one,’ and you do that in the theater too. Generally, there’s an optimistic tone to anyone who is interesting to watch. I find someone who’s optimistic and has a positive spin on life [is] just a more interesting character.
WE ARE IN A PLACE CULTURALLY WHERE COMEDIANS ARE BEING CENSORED AND TRYING TO BE MORE POLITICALLY CORRECT THAN IN THE PAST. WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON THE STATE OF COMEDY TODAY? Any situation that needs correction struggles for a couple of years to find its center. It’s like an old clock and the pendulum goes too far in the ‘let’s be sensitive,’ and then it finds its middle. So I’ve never particularly been the brunt of [the joke], so I can’t really relate to what it’s like, but I can understand it. I think that there have been times when it’s very hard—you see one of those Comedy Central roasts where they just butcher someone, right? And yet everyone is there knowing that’s the gimmick. That’s what it is. However, if someone asked me personally to be someone who roasted or someone who was the roastee, I have always said no, because it goes a little too far for me. But I do think it has a right to exist, especially if everyone is on the ground floor of understanding that it’s just comedy. You know, Bill Maher said an interesting thing on his show about the infamous Will Smith slap, and he felt it was a perfect example of modern-day comedic censorship because you cut to Will Smith, who laughs at the joke, then he gets a glare from his wife who’s told no, this is not to be laughed at, and then he has to go the opposite. But his instinct was to laugh at it. So I think that we have become a little overly sensitive, but I think that it’s already happening: The center is finding itself.
Season 2 of Only Murders in the Building will premiere June 28 on Hulu. Catch Martin Short and Steve Martin on tour, culminating at the Hollywood Bowl, July 2-4.