The audience at New York’s Beacon Theatre got to observe a wild and crazy guy on Feb. 18. At Jerry Seinfeld’s new monthly show at the historic Manhattan venue, the warm-up act was a special guest named Steve Martin. It was Martin’s first time performing standup since 1981.
Martin has performed onstage in the last 35 years, of course, including comic material. He has hosted the Oscars three times and now tours with his bluegrass band, which this year includes eight dates with fellow funnyman Martin Short.
But in 1981, while glorified as one of the top stand-up comedians in the country, Martin quit. He addressed walking away from the mic in his 2007 book Born Standing Up — and then more recently on Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. “The audience could tire off so quickly,” Martin told Seinfeld. “I was essentially depressed. I couldn’t do the old material and I knew I could do new material.”
At the Beacon, Martin began his 10-minute set by quipping, “I’m here tonight because of that old showbiz saying: Never lose a bet to Jerry.”
According to a thorough recap of the Beacon show on Vulture by Jesse David Fox, Martin seemed nervous at first but hit his stride with a quintessential Martin-esque joke: “I’ll be honest with you, right off the top, because I’m a little upset with the Beacon Theatre. I was backstage and I used the restroom. And there was a sign that read, ‘Employees Must Wash Hands.’”
He paused. “And I could not find [pause] one employee [pause] to wash my hands.”
“Martin in his prime did comedy that made fun of comedy,” Fox wrote. “He told jokes that were unfunny, but he knew they were unfunny, and the audience knew he knew, and that’s what made them funny.”
Martin also played his banjo onstage, before being joined by Seinfeld. Whether the evening gave Martin, now at age 70, the urge for pulling the balloon animals out of his drawer, time will tell.