Comedic Star Emcees Genesis Prize to Robert Kraft
In Israel to emcee the bestowal of the $1 million Genesis Prize on businessman-philanthropist Robert Kraft, actor, writer, comedian Martin Short spoke with The Media Line about his art, comedy and the rise of anti-Semitism.
Kraft becomes the sixth Genesis Prize Laureate, the fourth to receive the honor in Jerusalem as did last year’s recipient Michael Douglas, Michael Bloomberg and Itzhak Perlman. The prize, dubbed “the Jewish Nobel”, is presented to “a role model for young Jews through his/her commitment to Jewish values, the Jewish People and to the State of Israel,” according to the Foundation.
The Prize operates as a partnership between the private Genesis Prize Foundation, Prime Minister’s Office of the State of Israel, and the Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI).
Martin Short has thrilled audiences for nearly fifty-years on stage, screen and just about everything else. A Tony Award winner for Neil Simon’s Little Me; one of three notable ‘amigos,’ and progenitor of such greats as Ed Grimley and Jiminy Glick, Short is visiting Israel for the first time. He sat down with The Media Line’s Felice Friedson after rehearsal…
The Media Line: Martin Short, thank you so much for joining The Media Line today; it’s great to have you here with me.
When word got out that you were coming to Israel to emcee Robert Kraft receiving the Genesis Prize, rumors spread that Tom Brady is retiring and you would be at quarterback for the Patriots this fall. True?
Martin Short: It’s true. It’s absolutely true. They just said it’s time to get rid of that old hack, so they’re getting rid of Tom Brady.
TML: I guess everyone is going to know what the headline is in the morning.
Martin Short: Fine, good news.
TML: It’s your first trip to Israel. With all due respect to the Genesis Foundation and Mr. Kraft, why now? Why make your first trip at this time?
Martin Short: Because I was asked to present this award and I’d never been to Israel, so it seemed like doubly exciting experience.
TML: And so far?
Martin Short: Unbelievably beautiful! Really, just everything. You can’t even imagine it unless you’re here. I’ve only spent time in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv or any other city, but just absolutely spectacular. I mean, you spent your whole life hearing the word Jerusalem and now you’re here.
TML: One aspect of this year’s Genesis Prize is standing up to anti-Semitism, to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions –BDS Movement), and hate speech. What’s the takeaway that Martin Short wants to leave concerning this prize?
Martin Short: I would like to make it a great evening for everyone who has generously volunteered, emotionally and financially for this organization. It’s a remarkable organization and I think that tragically anti-Semitism is not on the decline, especially in Europe it’s on the rise and so this must be continuously fought. You know, I’m friends with Steven Spielberg and I went to an early screening of Schindler’s List and I said: “Steven, why do you feel it’s necessary to make this film right now?” And he said: “Because anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe like it never was before.”
TML: How do you take tough subjects like anti-Semitism and add humor?
Martin Short: I don’t think you do. You don’t. You section out the evening and when the evening gets sincere about things that are not to be joked about, then you do it sincerely.
TML: Did you always want to be a funny man?
Martin Short: No, I wanted to be a singer. I wanted to be Frank Sinatra, but I ended up in comedy. Once you’re in comedy, you can’t do both. You know what I mean? It’s like when you go to the monkey cage at the zoo, you don’t want them to be reflective. You want them to flip around, like monkeys.
TML: Middle East is often called a “tough neighborhood.” In a Vanity Fair article awhile back, Larry David called Martin Short “the funniest guy” he knows. Nora Ephron was recalled as saying “Martin Short is simply the best person. Period.” And Lorne Michaels called you “well-adjusted and nice.” Will they be cloning you anytime soon?
Martin Short: I hope so, for America and for the world.
TML: Your characters are comic masterpieces and you’re nearly 50 years in business. Huge numbers of fans have isolated one or another, perhaps sharing your alter egos. I realize the “Genesis” of your character, (with apologies to the Genesis Foundation), is highly personal but what would you like residents of this very complicated, contentious region to take away from your work?
Martin Short: Oh, I don’t care. It’s up to them. You know, comedy is very subjective. Doesn’t make anyone wrong. Some people love the Three Stooges, some people hate the Three Stooges. Some people love Charlie Chaplin, some people find him boring. No one’s wrong. It’s just their taste. So, if people like [MS character] Frank, some people don’t like Frank, some people might like some other character, Jiminy Glick. I don’t know, it’s up to them.
TML: Well, Martin, I should mention that when I told my husband that I was going to interview ‘The Three Amigos guy,’ he said, “Wow…Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman.”
Martin Short: Yeah, that’s the new Three Amigos.
TML: In America, we’ve had a big problem in terms of issues like fake news. So again, how do use comedy in terms of some of those issues?
Martin Short: Well, in America, the comedy kind of comes from the White House at this point. The fake news term is a made-up term. Fake news is a term that the president of the United States uses when there is an article that he doesn’t like. He’ll deny something that they just hit the button and there it is on tape saying the same thing. So, this term has never existed until the fake president. Listen, I don’t know about your country but can you imagine not knowing whether the leader of your country, what he’s saying is truthful or not. Look, all politicians exaggerate, bend the truth, but to do that with the truth is very unique.
TML: Who’s funnier: Donald Trump or Justin Trudeau?
Martin Short: Oh, Donald Trump. Justin Trudeau is a rock star.
TML: How do you think your characters would fare in the Middle East, if they were real?
Martin Short: Oh, I don’t think they’d do well. Well, I don’t know. You know the Middle East better than I. I don’t know how they’d do.
TML: Well, do you think that Israeli women would swipe at Ed Grimley?
Martin Short: If they were desperate. If they were very desperate and extremely lonely.
TML: What would you tell a young person striving to be a comedian today?
Martin Short: The one thing I’ve learned is to not take it personally, to take show business like a business and not like be defeated when you don’t get something. But that’s easy to say at my age. I think that anyone that wants to be an actor or a comedian or anything, just keep doing it. You do get better the more you do anything, it’s not just show business, it’s something else. I’d like to think that I’m a better actor at the age of 69 than I was at the age of 29. That’s just because I keep doing it. So, just keep doing it.
TML: Martin, thank you.