Martin Short on comedy, tragedy and his new memoir 'I Must Say'

Hamilton's Martin Short reflects on a long career in his memoir 'I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend.

New memoir covers time in SCTV, Saturday Night Live and how Ed Grimley helped his marriage

Canadian actor and comedian Martin Short poses for a photograph for his new book "I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend" in Toronto on Friday, November 7, 2014. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Martin Short says the reason he found the strength to keep going after his wife's death is simple: "We go on."

"Whatever we think it's going to be, the sun will come up and you have to eat lunch," he said in a recent interview. "It's just life. We are all going to perish. I think we all naturally, understandably, live in denial of that."

Short, 64, reflects on both comedy and tragedy in his new memoir "I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend." The book details his journey to the top, from his early years as a member of Toronto's Second City improv troupe to the set of "Saturday Night Live" and to the big screen in films including "Father of the Bride."

He writes that the death of his beloved wife of 30 years, Nancy Dolman, in 2010 is "by far the most awful thing I've been through." But he says he found strength for the sake of his three adult children. The night before Nancy died, Short told his youngest son Henry, "This will make you stronger. This will make you more determined."

"If I had no children, maybe I could have said, 'You know what? That's it for a public life,"' Short said. "But I have three kids, so they look to you to see what's the next step. 'Do we still have a family? Are we still a united front?' It's up to papa to make sure."

Short recalled throwing himself into work in the time after his wife's death. In a notorious episode of the "Today" show in March 2012, host Kathie Lee Gifford asked Short about his "great" marriage, apparently unaware Nancy had died.

He addresses the incident in his book, saying he has never felt any malice toward Gifford for the gaffe. "Besides, Kathie Lee wasn't wrong," he writes. "Nan and I did have one of the greatest marriages in show business."

While growing up in Hamilton, Ont., Short's four older siblings and both parents were constantly cracking jokes: "It was trickle-down funny," he said.

But his youth was marked by loss as well. When Short was 12, his eldest brother David died in a car accident. Then when he was 17, his mother died of cancer, and two years later, his father died of complications from a stroke.

Short said writing about painful memories wasn't necessarily "cathartic."

"I remember everything. I've lived with everything. So there were no surprises," he said. "What you don't know when you start is how open you're going to be: what you're going to tell, what you're not going to tell, what you feel comfortable telling.

"As you write it, you start to realize that it can't be a bunch of anecdotes about funny things that happened when I met Richard Burton. It has to have a little depth and understanding. That's why you write the book, because you gained wisdom in life and maybe you can give some of that wisdom to other people."

He recalled that in his early days, he quickly learned he had to know how to do everything — act, sing, dance, be funny — in order to succeed. Short eventually landed at Second City before joining the cast of SCTV in 1982.

The atmosphere at SCTV was harmonious because his castmates Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin, among others, were so talented, he said.

"Usually the people who aren't the talented ones are the ones who become the most temperamental," said Short. "SCTV was that good. They didn't need to throw tantrums."

In 1984 he joined "Saturday Night Live," where his excitable man-child character Ed Grimley became a standout. He reveals in the book that spiky-haired Ed was not only beloved to fans, but also had a special place in his marriage.

"If we were having a fight and I wasn't backing down, she'd say, 'I don't want to talk to you anymore, I want to talk to Ed,"' he recalled, before adopting Ed's gushing voice: "'Oh Miss Nancy, can you believe how stubborn he is? He's so self-absorbed and desperate and doesn't appreciate how beautiful you are, I must say."'

These days Short is still a sought-after film and stage actor. He has a role in Paul Thomas Anderson's upcoming film "Inherent Vice," and will replace Nathan Lane in "It's Only a Play" on Broadway in January.

But for all his success, Short acknowledged he has never had a long-running sitcom or a box-office smash (apart from the "Father of the Bride" movies). He said that's never bothered him much, however.

"Well, you weren't thrilled when your film 'Innerspace' didn't go through the roof, but I've never been drawn toward negative energy. So you take it in, you go 'hmm,' but then you go for a swim or something," he said.

"It didn't make sense to wring your hands too long. I mean, prick me and I bleed, but then I put a bandage on."