Homage to Steve

Homage to SteveSynopsis: Originally released in 1984, this show features Martin’s Oscar-nominated short The Absent-Minded Waiter; his full performance at the Universal Amphitheatre from September 28, 1979; and “The Comedians Segment”. 

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Homage to Steve 7.0

eyelights: The Comedians Segment. The Absent-Minded Waiter.
eyesores: the recycled material.

“Comedy is the ability to make people laugh without making them puke.” – Steve Martin

‘Homage to Steve’ is an unusual home video programme. Originally released in 1984 (sometimes under the title ‘Steve Martin Live’), this 56-minute set is a collection of three disparate segments, beginning with the Academy Award-nominated short “The Absent-Minded Waiter”, followed by “The Comedians Segment” and then a live concert performance.

What makes it unusual is just how impossible it is to know exactly from what period the material is culled.

For example, the opening skit “The Absent-Minded Waiter” was nominated for a 1978 Academy Award in the SHORT FILM (Live Action) category even though it is dated 1980 at the end of the clip. And “The Comedians Segment” is not dated but is presumably from 1984, seeing as it’s credited at the end of this programme.

The most confusing of the bunch is the live concert, which all records that I’ve found claim was performed at the Universal Amphitheatre on September 28, 1979. However, this is supposedly the same footage that was excised from the ‘Steve Martin: A Wild And Crazy Guy‘ TV special, which was broadcast on November 22, 1978.

Clearly the live material couldn’t possibly have been recorded after the broadcast of the show, so what gives? A quick search also found another discrepancy, in that Elton John apparently did a series of shows at the Amphitheatre from September 26 to October 6 of that year. It seems unlikely that both took place at the same time, however.

“The Absent-Minded Waiter” is a 7-minute short film that stars Martin, Buck Henry and Teri Garr. A couple comes into a restaurant asking for a waiter whose colleagues can’t stand. She doesn’t understand why her date wants Martin, but he keeps reassuring her it’ll be an unforgettable experience. It’s a one-note joke sketch, but it’s amusing nonetheless.

“The Comedians Segment” finds Paul Simon, David Letterman, Alan King and Henny Youngman, all crowded on a couch quizzing a self-important Martin on comedy, looking for tips. He also gets calls from other comedians, including “Woody Allen”. It’s an amusing bit but it’s mostly notable for Martin’s one-line definition of what comedy is.

At the end, Letterman asks him if he has any rare footage lying about, an especially weak segue into the live show.

The concert is a full 45-minute set, with no cuts. It takes place in the aforementioned Amphitheatre, which seated 5300 people at the time and which appears full to the brim. I was surprised to discover that the set was so short, as I assumed that he was the main act. Could it be that he was an opening act? If not, didn’t ticket-buyers feel ripped off?

Martin’s set is not unlike the one from ‘On Location With Steve Martin’, and it was a disappointment to me. What I liked about ‘On Location’ was that it felt fresh, nearly spontaneous. Two years later, it’s well-worn and shows that it was all premeditated – or that the “spontaneous” bits were later ground into a routine for the enjoyment of the masses.

As with ‘On Location’, Martin starts off by rambling a little bit (albeit in a less inspired fashion), played some banjo, talked about men and women, did a similar juggling act, again talked about the language difference in France, played some serious banjo, pretended to get electrocuted by his mic, then did his magic and balloon animal tricks. Déjà vu.

Martin inserted a few new bits, but they were very brief. One of them was the non-conformist oath, which he did with audience participation and would be all-too-familiar to fans of ‘Life of Brian‘, as it emulates the scene outside of Brian’s house. I’m not sure if this was unintentional but it appears that Martin, who was a Python fan, ripped them off.

The show ended (or encored…?) with Martin performing his hit single “King Tut”, a platinum-selling single taken from his 1978 album ‘A Wild and Crazy Guy’. I really didn’t get it. I thought it was boring as heck and a poor way to wrap up the show. But the audience seemed to dig watching him do his weird dance in that King Tut head gear of his. Meh.

Actually, I was kind of surprised to hear what the audience cheered the most for – which was usually the physical stuff, like his body language as the “wild and crazy guy”, his arrow-head or his “happy feet” routine. I’m not sure why, as it wasn’t especially funny-looking or skilled. I think Martin’s strength lies in absurdist humour more than in physical gags.

In any event, I enjoyed the body of the programme, even if it didn’t bowl me over or crack me up. ‘Homage to Steve’ is an appealing look back at Martin’s career up to that point for anyone interested in the American comic legend. It’s not his best work, but it’s a decent look at his shtick and at the phenomenon that took hold in the late ’70s.

It’s unfathomable to imagine now but, for a moment Steve Martin was comedy’s equivalent of a rock star. He was a breed apart.

Post scriptum: I’ve gotten in contact with Shout Factory, the producers of the DVD set ‘Steve Martin: The Television Stuff’, which includes this programme, to get some clarifications on the ‘Homage to Steve’ discrepancies, but they have absolutely no idea what is going on and failed to properly investigate the matter; after expressing confusion, they failed to follow-up on it.

Date of viewing: June 18, 2015

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