The choice of Martin Short to host "Saturday Night Live" this weekend is about as surprising as his manic creation Ed Grimley missing an episode of "Wheel of Fortune."
Short hasn't hosted “SNL” in 16 years. And unlike other former cast members to return in recent seasons –Will Ferrell and Jimmy Fallon, to name two – he's not a major movie or TV star of the moment, despite his recurring role on "How I Met Your Mother."
But forgive us if we're as giddy as Grimley at a Pat Sajak fan convention. Tapping Short for the program's annual holiday show is a gift to his fans – and puts a much-deserved spotlight on an underrated comic talent who is far more than just the third of the “¡Three Amigos!"
Short commands a following that dates to his days on "SCTV" in the early 1980s. He gained wider exposure on "SNL," where in a single season – 1984-1985 – he made a memorable impact by playing a variety of oddballs, most somewhat annoying, but with an underlying sweetness (save for defensive defense lawyer Nathan Thurm).
Some of his best characters send-up show business and our obsession with it: Cigar-chomping old-school songwriter Irving Cohen (“Give me a ‘C’ – a bouncy ‘C!’”) and self-styled performing legend Jackie Rogers Jr. would have been right at home on the TV studio couch of Short’s post-“SNL” invention, the obese and obsequious celebrity interviewer Jiminy Glick.
It’s been nearly a decade since Short’s “Primetime Glick” exited Comedy Central, and even longer since his various attempts at legitimate talk show hosting success petered out. Still, Short’s long been a favorite talk show guest, thanks to his high energy, penchant for breaking into song and rubber-faced imitations (he does old-style Jerry Lewis better than Jerry Lewis). He’s earned many friends in show business, including fellow "Amigo" Steve Martin, who gave him scene-stealing moments in the "Father of the Bride" movies. Those of us lucky enough to have seen Short’s 2006 Broadway review, "Fame Becomes Me," know he’s even funnier in person than on TV or in movies. The title of the show poked fun at the brand of show-biz smarminess he’s long parodied, and offered a self-deprecating knock at his own lack of superstardom. So we’re guessing Short has to be amused that his “SNL” musical guest – Paul McCartney – is one of the biggest stars in pop culture history.
As Short prepares for his return to Studio 8H, check out some funny promos below:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.