Luxe Life Blog
If you can’t play the bagpipes, Martin Short is a suitable substitute
The answer is slightly salty.
I speak of Martin Short’s thumb and what it tastes like.
This is information culled after playing Short like a set of bagpipes during his two shows at the Mirage this weekend. In this skit, we both wore kilts and tams as his piano player, Jeff Babko, played a Scottish number across the keyboard.
We marched toward each other from either side of the stage. We bowed to each other, then to the audience. Short then grabbed me behind the neck, swung his legs over my outstretched right arm and jammed his thumb into my mouth. Then, wailing like a set of bagpipes, he called out a brilliantly inappropriate rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
At the conclusion of the truncated number, which lasted about 60 seconds but seemed to drone for several minutes as Short flailed heavily in my arms, we bowed out, then to each other, and that was it.
We performed this skit twice, Friday and Saturday nights, and also twice during rehearsal Friday afternoon at Terry Fator Theater. The appearance was arranged quite casually. I’d interviewed Short several days earlier for a column that appeared Thursday. Hours after we talked, MGM Resorts PR rep Kristen Cadenhead called and asked the cryptic question, “Can you lift 150 pounds?”
“I think so,” I said.
“And what is your kilt size?” she asked.
Having no experience in actually wearing a kilt, I wasn’t sure of my size. Medium swarthy? Extra leggy? Turns out it was large.
These were the requirements -- and my availability Friday and Saturday night to be at the Mirage -- to join Short onstage. I would have said yes to anything -- attempting to swallow a flaming sword or standing still as Short attempted to pierce an apple from the top of my head with an archery set. I am a huge fan of Short’s, dating to his days on “SCTV,” and for a time could perform passable impressions of Jackie Rogers Jr. and Ed Grimley. It would be an honor to hold him as he pretended to be a set of bagpipes, or even as a lute.
During Friday’s run-through, Short welcomed Fator and Fator’s wife, Taylor, to talk through appearances both would make during the two shows. Fator brought different puppets each night, Vikki (the cougar) on Friday and Berry Fabulous on Saturday. They would join Fator for an interview with Short’s character Jiminy Glick. Taylor was to deliver champagne to Short, in a shapely sort of way.
After they spoke, Short called out, “Where is my bagpipe player?” I raised my hand. “Hello, John!” he said. “You can lift 150 pounds?”
We took our spots at the wings. I was told to march out, Scottish-style, raising my arms high and lifting the opposite leg (right arm, left leg, like that), which is not an easy step to execute when you are nervous as hell. We ran through it twice.
“You good?” he asked.
“We can do it again if you want,” I said.
“I already know the act,” he said.
At the performances, I waited for about 20 minutes at stage right while Short performed between clips of his great film and TV work. I was beyond self-conscious, figuring out ways I might ruin the show. Biting him, for instance. Or, worse, dropping him. I kept tugging and readjusting the kilt, tucking in the shirt as if the audience would be judging the bit on how high the garment set on my waist. The tam was a size too small, likely, and felt a little like a bandana pulled too tight.
The spotlight finally hit both of us and we marched out to Babko’s Scottish playing. And people laughed. We met mid-stage, nearly nose-to-nose, and Short had a bemused look on his face. All I could think was, “Do not drop Martin Short.” He seems even heavier than 150 pounds, likely because he was fiercely kicking and thrashing while calling out “Amazing Grace.” I blew hard into his thumb, and the crowd laughed some more.
It was a very Monty Python-esque moment. It made no sense. There was no warning of what was coming, no explanation whatsoever of what was just performed.
I’ll take from this an idea of why entertainers do what they do. There is an adrenaline rush of acting out a scene that evokes an audience response. Each night I was bubbling over, fairly dizzy from the experience. You can feel that performers can become addicted to that sensation, which explains why Short, at age 62 and nothing more to prove, still performs live. It’s a rush.
And I will forever remember that glint in Martin Short’s eye as we bowed to each other, that tiny, shared expression that this was a very rare and fantastic moment in time. For one fleeting moment, I was proud to prop him up.