Q&A: Martin Short, the new judge of Canada’s Got Talent, isn’t afraid to sound the gong

Q&A: Martin Short, the new judge of Canada’s Got Talent, isn’t afraid to sound the gong

Martin Short
Lately, you’ve had some chewy roles on Damages and Weeds. What made you want to be a judge on Canada’s Got Talent?
The show reminds me of my childhood. I used to watch Ed Sullivan, which was all jugglers, acrobats, singers and comedians. That was the heyday of television. Then, all of a sudden, there was just one show for the next 18 years—CSI—so I stopped watching TV. Eventually, I caught an episode of American Idol and thought, “Hey, this is kind of good.”

The Got Talent franchise can be harsher than American Idol: the judges sound a buzzer and light up a giant red X when they don’t like what they see onstage. Are you worried you’ll look like a jerk?
No, not really. It’s like asking a tennis referee if he feels bad calling a John McEnroe shot out. Well, no—those are the rules of tennis. But here it’s all meant in good fun. There’s sort of an unspoken rule that you don’t buzz little kids or 90-year-olds.

Even if they’re atrociously bad?
This isn’t about humiliating people or making a nine-year-old cry. It’s just a ­talent show. However, there was a singer the other night—this guy who had absolutely no talent—and I buzzed him, and he was really pissed off. He walked off the stage and wouldn’t talk to our host, Dina Pugliese. When that happens, I think back to all the performers I’ve known who have worked so hard to get better and have been so self-deprecating. This guy was so bad, and he thought he was so great. I don’t care so much about those people.

Have you and your co-judges, opera star Measha Brueggergosman and pianist Stephan Moccio, settled into roles—the nice judge, the mean judge and the like?
No. No one’s playing a role here. Just as Simon Cowell is not playing a role on American Idol. He’s playing himself. That’s why people like him. And Measha and Stephan are playing themselves. But I would say there’s an element of Canadianism at play in that we’re very polite.

Doesn’t that get a bit sycophantic?
It’s actually just sincere.

What has been your impression of Toronto’s contestants? Is there a particular brand of talent, or lack thereof, here?
Not really. I lived here for 15 years, and I have a cottage in Muskoka, so I’m here all the time and I think of myself as Torontonian. There are definitely more opportunities here than, say, in Juneau, Alaska, but the reality is that some people are talented and some aren’t, regardless of where they’re from.

You got your start here on SCTV in the late ’70s. How has show business changed since those days?
Reality TV makes everyone think they can be a star. They obsess about being a model, singer or rapper as opposed to a doctor or lawyer. That’s one of the reasons the rest of the world is soaring past us and we’re rapping about it.

Aren’t you embracing that frivolity by being a part of Canada’s Got Talent?
I love frivolity! I’ve spent my life in comedy. I have no shame or thoughts of “Oh, if only I’d been a dramatic actor.” All I’m saying is you have to keep perspective.

What’s next for you?
Steve Martin and I are doing concerts together where we combine our individual shows into one, which involves interviewing each other and reacting to each other and playing music. Also, I’m developing two Broadway shows and I’ve just done a pretty funny hour for CBC called I, Martin Short, Goes Home. Then there’s the retirement thing, which is appealing. Not that I plan to become suddenly reclusive, just maybe not work quite as hard.