What advice would you give the younger you?
I’d probably say just calm down. Don’t worry so much, the way you tend to in your twenties. When young actors ask for advice, I tell them to treat it like a business. You lower the awning of the fruit stand at the beginning of the day and you do the best that you can, and at the end of the day you reel it back up and go to dinner. Somehow if you understand it’s a long-term business, it eases you into not beating yourself up. That’s a tendency of a lot of younger people—they’re pretty hard on themselves.
What drove you as a young man?
I wanted to be successful. I was kind of a top feeder in the sense that even when I was in school I was drawn to the smartest people in class. I wanted to be more like them. What were they doing to be that smart? Later, when I’d work with people who were impressive, I’d think, “Gee, that guy’s my new role model.”
What’s your philosophy of life?
Have as many laughs as you can. Surround yourself with people who are going to inspire you with their positive outlooks, and try to cut out the deadbeats. Just cut them away.
Is comedy as hard as everybody says?
I don’t think it’s as hard as being a Chilean coal miner, but it’s exact. It’s like making a very complicated recipe. You somehow have to make it absurd but real and not too dry. And of course the end result is subjective. Some people like what you do and some people don’t, and you have to please yourself. It’s complicated and hard to get it right.
You lost a brother and your parents at a young age. Later, your wife of 30 years died. How does a man handle loss?
You have to respect the fact that no solution is realized in a day. I remember the first Thanksgiving after my wife died: I’m with my three kids and we’re at the table and trying to do the same Thanksgiving thing, and we kind of look at each other and I said, “OK, let’s say what it is. Thanksgiving this year isn’t going to be what it was, but it will be, eventually.” The mark of the man is to figure out how to regain strength and move on the way the person you lost would want you to.
What should every man know about money?
It’s there to be spent. I like picking up checks and things. I know from any woman I’ve ever talked to that there’s nothing less sexy than a cheap man.
How should a man handle getting older?
I think you just accept it. I’ve always felt that with men you can’t do cosmetic surgery because nobody says, “Who’s that 34-year-old dude?” They say, “Who’s that 64-year-old who’s been in a fire?”
What role does religion play in your life now?
No role. I’m not a big fan of organized religion. It’s caused a lot of despair and prejudice throughout the world. Some people in aspects of organized religion do wonderful work, but overall I’m not a fan. Even at 13 I used to think, “Wait a second, I’m Catholic, so I talk to the priest, the priest talks to God, God tells him to forgive me, then the priest tells me. How do you avoid the middleman in this?”
How should a man handle regret?
I think you try to avoid it. Most people are doing the best they can. What I loved about the Catholic church—what I’ve always loved about the Catholic church—is the word forgiveness and the idea that you can be sincerely sorry and take communion and feel, “OK, right this second is the first second of the rest of my life.” I like that. You can learn from your history, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the word regret.
What do you want your legacy to be?
My father used to say, “You know, Marty, the key to life is to do the decent thing.” I’d like to be remembered as someone who tried to do the decent thing. Mainly that comes down to how you treat people. If you take out your frustration on people, that’s not doing the decent thing. If you treat someone differently because they’re worth more money—that’s not doing the decent thing.
Martin Short’s latest movie is Inherent Vice, and his memoir, I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend, is out now.