Steve Martin Returns To Stand-up After Losing Bet To Jerry Seinfeld

Comedian/actor Steve Martin gave his first stand-up comedy performance in more than 35 years at New York’s Beacon Theatre last night, February 18. The audience was surprised when Martin stepped out on stage as the warm-up act at Jerry Seinfeld’s new monthly show at the Manhattan venue. It marked the first time the funnyman has hit the stage to deliver his gut-busting routine since 1981.

As Entertainment Weekly notes, Martin has performed onstage in the last 35 years, including hosting the Oscars three times, but in 1981, he quit at the height of his stand-up career. He addressed his departure from the comedy circuit in his 2007 book Born Standing Up.

“I was not self-destructive, though I almost destroyed myself. In the end, I turned away from stand-up with a tired swivel of my head and never looked back, until now. A few years ago, I began researching and recalling the details of this crucial part of my professional life—which inevitably touches upon my personal life—and was reminded why I did stand-up and why I walked away.”

More recently, Martin discussed quitting stand-up 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.”

“My act was conceptual. Once the concept was stated, and everybody understood it, it was done. There was no way to live on in that persona. I had to take that fabulous luck of not being remembered as that, exclusively. You know, I didn’t announce that I was stopping. I just stopped.”

Martin got his start in the 1960s as a writer for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and later as a frequent guest on The Tonight Show. In the mid-1970s, Martin made frequent appearances as a stand-up comedian on various shows including The Gong Show, The Muppet Show, and Saturday Night Live. SNL’s viewership increased by a million anytime he made guest appearances. Steve has appeared on 27 Saturday Night Live shows and has served as guest-host 15 times. Martin has earned numerous honors for his work as an actor, comedian, and author, including an Emmy, Grammy, and American Comedy awards. In 2013, he was awarded an Honorary Academy Award at the Academy’s 5th Annual Governors Awards.

Vulture reports that Martin seemed a bit nervous initially when he hit that stage at the Beacon Theatre, and he began his 10-minute set by revealing how hitting the stage after over two decades was due to him losing a bet to Jerry Seinfeld.

“I’m here tonight because of that old showbiz saying: Never lose a bet to Jerry,” he told the audience.

The publication also posted a transcription of three of Martin’s jokes:

  • “Thank you. Jerry couldn’t make it tonight … Have a safe ride home! Actually, I’m here tonight because of that old showbiz saying: Never lose a bet to Jerry.”
  • “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. [Pause] “And I could not find [pause] one employee [pause] to wash my hands.”
  • “By the way, I apologize for the ticket prices. [Pause.] I know it seems expensive, because there is like one guy, two guys, and a couple of mics, but it’s not that way. There are like four sound people, and two lighting people, and [pause] drivers, and wardrobe people, and catering, and someone to walk Jerry’s Fitbit around. [Pause.] A celebrity look-alike, in case Steve doesn’t feel like going on. Steve says hi, by the way.”

The Guardian’s thorough review of Martin’s return to stage revealed that “Martin did then play a bit of banjo, and his 10-minute set ended with Seinfeld walking on stage with a guitar case to usher his friend off the stage.”

Steve Martin, who mostly performs as a musician now, is currently touring with his bluegrass band, which includes eight dates with fellow comedian Martin Short.

[Related: Maya Rudolph, Martin Short To Debut Sketch Comedy Show In May On NBC]

[Images courtesy Emma McIntyre/Getty Images]