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Martin Short Gave the Pabst Theater His All For "Laugh It Up Milwaukee"

Jan. 19, 2014
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martin short piano
Photo credit: Benjamin Wick
Saturday’s long-anticipated Pablove Benefit Concert wasn’t the only event that was taking place in Milwaukee’s downtown for the sake of combating childhood cancer. As five of the city’s finest bands of past and present rocked the Turner Hall Ballroom, an audience that trended a few decades older packed the Pabst Theater. While the benefit lacked in regional reunions, it overflowed in laughter—and even featured some musical numbers along the way—as comic legend and “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Martin Short shared side-splitting anecdotes and reprised his most famous roles (costumes and all) as the “Laugh It Up Milwaukee” guest of honor.

This marked the fourth “Laugh It Up Milwaukee” program—which benefits the MACC Fund and the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center—in as many years, but the first away from the Jewish Community Center. Despite the change in venue, the same emcee, WTMJ anchor Vince Vitrano, led things off. After some weather-related material and obligatory acknowledgments, Vitrano give way to JCC executive director Mark Shapiro, who kept his speech short—both in length and with the height-related barbs directed at Vitrano—before introducing the guest of honor.

After a video montage chronicled numerous stops from his memorable TV and film career, Short bounded out to a piano-accompanied ditty in which he begged the audience to love and need him. With the energetic pace (especially for a man of 63) set, the Tony Award winner thanked the crowded theater, saying, “It’s a thrill to be in Milwaukee. Actually, it’s more of obligation,” before making city-specific remarks like Mayor Tom Barrett having “Michelle Obama arms” and asking if Chris Christie had anything to do with the St. Paul bridge construction.

When his monologue drifted to his first film, Three Amigos, he walked out into the audience to enlist a trio of men to come on stage and re-enact the famed “Three Amigos Salute”—thrusts, coughs and all. “You’d tell me if you had a stroke, right?” Short asked, as a West Bend native lagged behind the two other fill-in amigos. Shortly after, the Canadian-born headliner simultaneously tickled the ivories and massaged American egos when he played a song he’d written about Osama Bin Laden’s death, entitled “Bastard In The Sand” (set to the melody of Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind”) before ducking away for one of many costume changes.

Alternating between four wigs on the piano and various impersonations in his repertoire, Short dusted off his Jackie Rogers Jr. character he’d made famous during his brief “SNL” run, and proceeded to interview celebs like Katharine Hepburn and Liz Taylor (whom he also played). As he put on the last curly wig, he transitioned into Step Brother to Jesus, a song from his Broadway play “Fame Becomes Me” that was punctuated with goofy dance moves that went over even better when Short stripped down to a flesh-colored body suit with rippling muscles and genitals drawn on with a marker.

The characters kept coming. “SCTV” and “SNL” favorite Ed Grimley hiked up his pants and stood atop a grand piano to sing about the Pabst Theater. Short channeled know it all lawyer Nathan Thurm and, later, gave a pop culture PowerPoint as scene-stealing Father of the Bride wedding planner Frank Eggelhoffer, with no shortage of Kim Kardashian criticism and Donald Trump torpedoing. But the highlight of the evening came with Short reviving talk show host Jiminy Glick and welcoming his special interviewee.

Mayor Barrett and his aforementioned first lady biceps took a seat beside Short’s crass and corpulent character and accepted a donut from Glick before subjecting himself to the host’s nutty line of questioning. When Glick called the lifelong Milwaukee resident “a regular Magellan,” Barrett responded, “I sometimes visit the suburbs… but I get into trouble when I go out there” to perhaps the biggest laugh of the night.

After removing his fat-suit, the spry humorist wrapped up a satisfying night of giving with a song about famous Canadians (set to Neil Diamond’s “Coming To America”), kind remarks about the MACC fund and the parting pun, “It’s better to have loved a Short then to have never loved a tall.”


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