Like many successful comedy stories in modern history, Lorne Michaels was involved.
The new variety show “Maya & Marty,” which airs its fourth episode on June 21, pairs “Saturday Night Live” alums from different generations — Maya Rudolph and Martin Short — for a spectacle of music, sketches, celebrity guests and more.
amNewYork sat down to chat with Rudolph and Short about the show.
What brought you two together?
Maya Rudolph: Fate. Fate. Comedy. Lorne.
Martin Short: Lorne Michaels put us together to do the 40th anniversary [of “Saturday Night Live”], put us in charge of a section of the show and from that begot rehearsals, meetings … that would lead to, “Let’s have lunch,” a lot of improvising, fooling around, “Let’s have dinner,” and you kind of bond, you get to know each other. Then I think we had a successful chemistry on that show and I think Lorne went, “Hmmm.” So that was it.
Variety shows were very common years ago, but not as much now. Was it a struggle to educate the audience?
MR: We’re not having a struggle. I think struggle is more about people expecting something that it isn’t. The truth is this is the best possible type of show for Marty and myself because we’re both performers and we’re both team players, we like performing with others, we play well with others and we love the joy of performance and the bonding of performance. So this is actually the best possible arena for us. It’s never really deterred us that people have this preconceived notion that we’re bringing something back. I think we’ve just kept our heads down. “Saturday Night Live” never went away and we’re doing something that comes from those roots as well as Marty’s roots in “Second City TV,” or as some people call it, “SCTV.” The cool kids call it. I think that’s more of an idea than a reality.
MS: I think so. When I think of the classic example of a variety show, it’s “The Ed Sullivan Show.” You’d have jugglers, opera singers. And then you’d say, our lead-in is “America’s Got Talent,” and what do they have on there? Opera singers, jugglers, puppet guys, people who became famous from doing their puppetry. It’s more of pure entertainment. When I was a kid, there were these shows all over the place as well as all of the other shows in television. There weren’t as many reality shows, of course. And so is there a market for this? Can the audience enjoy this? I think the audience will enjoy anything I think they’re allowed to get used to. This idea that variety has been gone from Donny and Marie [Osmond] — it just isn’t accurate.
MR: I think what’s been gone is that everyone and their mother had a variety show. We’re variety performers, so that’s just what we do. The other thing about that, I think, that we never really think about, but we talked about early on being individually important to both of us, was that we wanted the show to feel good and I think that’s an element of this show.
MS: It is important to realize with both of us that we love doing this, but this doesn’t define us. She has four children 10 and under. I have three children and I have a long career. I’m 66 years of age.
MR: I’m 67.
Wow, you look amazing.
MR: Thank you.
MS: Tremendous work. And so what I think is very important about that is you surround yourself with people who are joyful and happy. You have Kenan Thompson. Kenan Thompson is the most loving, upbeat …
MS: … delicious human being on the face of the earth.
You guys do a lot of characters, but you also have to be yourself here. Are you excited to offer this new side?
MS: Well, I’ve been showing up as myself on talk shows for 30 years, so it isn’t that strange for me.
MR: It’s not new to Marty, it’s new to me. And I’m the first to say I enjoy hiding behind characters, but I did feel it was time to be myself and I think that’s important and I think it feels good. And I knew that Marty is so great at that, that I had someone to help guide me there and test the waters.
MS: But it is something to get used to. People that we’ve adored — Peter Sellers, Charlie Chaplin — they were the characters that they inhabited. But this show demands that we also see you. But when we go on “Letterman,” you’re yourself.
Can you each speak to each other’s best qualities?
MR: Marty is the guy. He’s literally great at everything, he’s up for anything, he’s upbeat, he’s positive, he smells terrific.
MS: Pears soap.
MR: Pears soap? Really? He’s got a nice Canadian sensibility and he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’s also from a generation that I think is my favorite.
MS: The gilded generation?
MR: I didn’t say that, you did. I said my favorite generation. … I don’t think anyone really knows how hard he works. I really am truly amazed. He never stops and is just constantly working and dedicated.
MS: And Maya is like Mozart. It is impossible for her not to score 10 out of 10 when she’s doing a sketch. It doesn’t matter what she is doing. … In every sketch we’ve done, the performance is 11 out of 10. That’s pretty amazing. I’m much more spotty.
There has been an impressive array of guests so far. Do you have any dream guests?
MR: I have a lot of dream guests. I would love to sing with Bette Midler. That would be an all-time joy.
MS: Bette Midler or Barbra Streisand. Of the two?
MR: I’ll take either. But I have a personal relationship that Bette Midler doesn’t know about with Bette. Just growing up, I wanted to be one of her backup singers. Once you identify and something becomes yours, you have a relationship. I just met her for the first time when she played [Madison Square] Garden — I had never met her before. She and I have a long history in my head.
MS: She is phenomenal.
MR: But if Barbra wanted to sing anywhere near me, I would not have a problem with that.
She’s coming to Brooklyn.
MR: I’ve never seen her live, ever.
MS: She’s unbelievable.
MR: She’s unbelievable. How do you sing like that?
MS: And you know what’s amazing about Barbra? I did this event a few years ago, I think she raised like a gillion dollars — when Barbra finds out something, she found out that more women die from heart disease than men, but it’s funded more for men. That made her go crazy, so she’s been raising millions of dollars every year for women’s heart disease. But she did a thing at her home where she sang for 25 minutes and people paid a lot of money, and I was the emcee. When you’re here, and she’s over in that chair and there’s Barbra singing, it’s beyond belief. You say to her after, “That was great.” And she goes, “Oh, you think?” and that kind of questioning is why she’s still great. She didn’t say, “I know.”
MR: Like I do.
MS: Yeah, like you do.
Do you ever get intimidated by any of these guests?
MR: He doesn’t get intimidated. I do. No, Marty doesn’t.
MS: I think you get intimated by people that were famous when you were 12 and in my case they are all dead.
MR: See, for me, it’s all your friends. All your friends were those people for me. … That will always make me feel like I’m not worthy.
What’s coming up on the show?
MR: What can you tease?
MS: Who’s on show four will be Ricky Gervais, Cecily Strong, Kevin Kline, sketches and merriment. Laughter and joy.
MR: [laughs] Romance!
MR; Yeah, he’s right.
MS: Will Forte, Jerry Seinfeld.
MR: Ana Gasteyer. Good old friend Ana Gasteyer.
MS: Kelly Ripa, Paul Rudd. They’re all going to be here.
MR: And more.
MS: And more and more.
Do you have favorite haunts around the city?
MS: I tend to go to the same places because I’m not a foodie, as much as if it’s not noisy and the vibe is good. I’ll go to Orso, after theater I’ll go to Bar Centrale above Orso.
MR: I don’t know Bar Centrale.
MS: It’s right above Orso.
MR: I’ve never been.
MS: You haven’t? Oh, it’s fun. … If you go, and you see a show, the “Hamilton” people might be there, and Matthew Broderick might be there with Sarah [Jessica Parker]. It’s hip, it’s actors.
MR: I’m a foodie, I go to all the food places. I just finally got to go to Má Pêche because it didn’t exist when I worked here years ago. Sit at the bar and have those amazing carts come around, the steamed brisket bun, oh my god they’re so good.
MS: Waverly Inn I love, but again, it’s the atmosphere. It’s the vibe. Morandi in the Village I like.
MR: Morandi is great, I used to live right above that.
MR: Yeah, when [my daughter] Pearl was 1. That’s where she lived when she fell off a chair and I had to take her to get stitches. Those are the things you remember.
MS: I just remember as a kid hearing that scream, running out the door, running around expecting to see a spike through the head or something and it would be like, “My finger.”
MR: Believe me. Shrieks of terror, bloodcurdling terror.
MS: And the fear that you have running toward her to see what you’re going to see.
MR: “Jack scratched me!” That’s it?
MS: OK then, at least you didn’t over react.
“Maya & Marty” airs on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC/4.