Only Murders in the Building: Steve Martin and Martin Short’s Best Collaborations

Steve Martin and Martin Short solve Only Murders in the Building because they’ve defied death on stage for decades.

Steve Martin and Martin Short in Only Murders in the Building.
Photo: Patrick Harbron | Hulu

It’s no mystery why Only Murders in the Building is killing it on Hulu. Besides the national obsession with true crime, there is a chemical reaction to the players which triggers a chaotic element unknown in forensics. Selina Gomez’s (occasionally “Bloody”) Mabel Mora ties up the loose ends. You might say she Martinizes them. It is harder to find looser ends than Steve Martin and Martin Short. As Charles-Haden Savage and Oliver Putnam, respectively, the two performers may stick to the scripts in the series, but they spent over a generation improvising over each other.

Martin and Short met while shooting the 1986 film Three Amigos! with Chevy Chase. Admiring new friend Steve’s opulent home, Martin was moved to ask “How did you get so rich,” he recalled on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, marveling at its improbability by admitting “I’ve seen your work.” They’ve been collaborating ever since, from sketch shows to live tours, and motion picture near-franchises. They launched their first live show, A Very Stupid Conversation, in 2015. By 2019, they were threatening audiences with their Now You See Them, Soon You Won’t tour. It was a smash of course, because just last year they began a tour promising You Won’t Believe What They Look Like Today.

Here are some of the times you might recognize Steve and Martin from what they looked like the other day:

Three Amigos! (1986)

When El Guapo and his gang of desperadoes terrorize the good people of the Mexican village of Santo Poco, villagers set off an alarm only silent film actors can hear. It sounds just like a casting cattle call, and Lucky Day (Martin), Ned Nederlander (Short) and Dusty Bottoms (Chevy Chase) know just where to rustle up the right costumes.

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“All of us has an El Guapo to face,” Lucky Day assures the citizens south of the border. “For some, shyness might be their El Guapo. For others, a lack of education might be their El Guapo. For us, El Guapo is a big, dangerous man who wants to kill us.” Directed by John Landis, written by Lorne Michaels, Steve Martin, and Randy Newman, who also wrote the songs, Three Amigos! was in-famous when it came out. That doesn’t mean more than famous, as the film claims. The poorly reviewed flop sprouted into a sweet Little Buttercup of a comedy cult classic since.

Saturday Night Live Season 12 Episode 6 (1986)

One would think Short and Martin would have a longer list of mutual credits on NBC’s long-running sketch show. Short was a cast member for the 1984-85 season, and Martin was one of the earliest regular hosts. Each of them introduced iconic characters, Steve’s Wild and Crazy Guy, and Martin’s Ed Grimley to name just two. Steve broke records for how many times he hosted, flipping his tenure in the Five-Timers Club several times over. With only three hosting credits, Short is a mere waiter at that exclusive VIP backroom. The pair co-hosted a few times, but we can imagine some covert deal with Alec Baldwin where it still only counts towards Steve’s Club record.

Steve and Martin’s brightest spot together was their first, when they hosted alongside Chevy Chase on Dec. 6, 1986. It remains one of the most irreverent and expansive monologues in the history of the show, with a production number loaded with irony. Short channels Katherine Hepburn, and Steve takes over regular programming, even if he does lose his place on the cue cards a few times.

Father of the Bride (1991) and Father of the Bride Part II (1995)

You would think Steve’s George Banks would trip over himself before hiring Franck Eggelhoffer, Martin’s uniquely, shall we say overenthusiastically tasteful tongue-twisting wedding coordinator, for a repeat performance. Banks’ company makes shoes, after all. But not only does Eggelhoffer plan the chaotic nuptials of Banks’ daughter Annie (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) in Father of the Bride, but Banks’ wife, Nina (Diane Keaton) calls him back for the 1995 sequel Father of the Bride Part II.

In the first film, the wedding is set to happen in five months’ time, a little fast but Franck “does it for a loving.” The sequel sees him plan dual baby showers for Nina and Annie. Franck’s wedding cake of choice cost $1,200, imagine the price of two sets of fully choreographed prenatal arrangements. While Banks desperately navigates mangled phonetics and skyrocketing costs, Franck delivers fantastic betrothals and gatherings as over-the-top as Short’s manically complex performance. Martin sleepwalks through his best scene in the sequel.

​The Prince of Egypt (1998)

DreamWorks Animation parted the Red Sea for the epic biblical musical The Prince of Egypt, but had the wisdom to keep Steve and Martin inseparable as high priests Hotep and Huy. In the scene where Moses goes Old Testament, turning rods into serpents, the priests take it back a notch, giving a history lesson on the awesome might of Egyptian gods. These old-school multi-deity worshippers didn’t just float into town in a basket, and no matter how many Commandments Moses is packing, they let him know he’s “Playing with the Big Boys.”

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The religious humiliation is too grand a tale for telling. It must be sung. There must be magic: High, low, straights and pairs, card tricks and shadow puppets, lighting cues and serpentine threats. Hotep and Huy don’t do it out of spite, they offer the position of an acolyte, but the wandering religious statesman doesn’t bite. That’s what serpents are for.

​Jiminy Glick in Lalawood (2004)

Martin Short’s film critic Jiminy Glick is clueless, fawning, insulting, and at large in the motion picture capital of the world. No, not Hollywood, but the Toronto International Film Festival, where a celebrity was all too brutally murdered, and just by one of Glick’s eviscerating reviews. The film is a sequel to Short’s Comedy Central series, Primetime Glick, and benefits from the change of scenery.

Glick’s growing notoriety gives him the juice to interview celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg, Sharon Stone, and Kurt Russell, but Short’s improvisation with Martin about full frontal nudity is as revealing as it is funny. “Hot Havana Nights” may be a fake film-within-a-film, but Jiminy gets Steve to dig deep inside those embarrassingly small moments which grow into the biggest parts.

​Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life (2018)

When we think of Steve and Martin, “and it’s not often,” their live acts should be the first thing to come to mind. Touring since 2015 with A Very Stupid Conversation, the pair played to all their strengths, using all their fingers, as Steve also picked and plucked the trusty banjo he’s kept on hand since being a comedy writer for The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 2018, the best bits of the Martin and Short’s live shows were pieced together like a vaudevillian variety special spinning stand-up standards spanning decades into a broadcast event on Netflix.

Directed by Marcus Rabo, An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life was nominated for four Primetime Emmys, and a Directors Guild of America Award. As one of their songs assures, it makes you “glad you saw their show before they’re dead!”

Any Joint Talk Show Appearance

As entertaining as Martin and Short can be in any scripted or staged performance, none match the occasions they are just being themselves on talk show appearances. Well, when Steve is being himself because Martin can slide between over a dozen characterizations, impressions, or caricatures in under two minutes, if left to his own devices. More if being egged on by the comic who used to wear an arrow through his head on stage. Short graduated, through the persistence of Eugene Levy and Dave Thomas, from the improvisation group The Second City in Toronto, and groomed to be a magnanimous perfectionist in group dynamics. In an appearance on The Howard Stern Show, Howard Stern cites an article calling Short the “greatest talk show guest of all time.”

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There are two YouTube clips showing the pair’s appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon Weeknights. Martin and Short dismantle Fallon in one, and destroy each other in the second. Every single sentence is a laugh line in each. For an added bonus, watch Bill Hader “do” Martin Short on any podcast. It reinforces Short and Martin’s cumulative reputations while they continue to feed the legend.

Only Murders in the Building

Now in season 3, Only Murders in the Building breaks more than legs for “Death Rattle.” The play-within-a-series marks Putnam’s triumphant return to the Broadway stage, because theater is all about choices. Like what to do when the leading man keeps dying over and over. Meryl Streep’s Loretta Durkin is an unusual suspect, and a very stiff, yet ghostly, Paul Rudd isn’t the only stunt the show pulls off.

Martin’s host Charles-Haden Savage draws professionally acting amateur investigators like Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, and Winona Ryder to be upstaged by a true crime podcast. To be fair, it’s Gomez who presses Sting to confess to a killing. He writes a song about it. Putnam pans it with a zinger packing the force of Short’s entire Jiminy Glick critical catalogue in a throwaway line.

The first three episodes of Only Murders in the Building season 3 are available to stream on Hulu now. New episodes premiere Tuesdays through the finale on Oct. 3.