Primetime Glick

by Michael Abernethy


Filipino Senator Francisco Tatad once said of the press coverage of the presidential election won by Corazon Aquino, “If you want unverified gossip passed on as truth, it is there. If you want a person’s private fault reported as public fact, it is there, too. If you want the most inconsequential nonsense blown up into an earthshaking event, you will find no shortage of it.” Senator Tatad might just as well have been referring to Jiminy Glick, gossip columnist extraordiniare.

Glick, host of Comedy Central’s Primetime Glick is the master of misinformation. The distinctions among gossip, innuendo, and half-truths are not clear, and Glick apparently has little need to determine in which category his reporting falls. And yet, his inability to report information accurately stems not from an intentional desire to mislead his viewers, but from his state of constant confusion:

cover art

Primetime Glick

Creator: Martin Short
Cast: Jiminy Glick (Martin Short)
Regular airtime: Wednesday, 10:30 PM EST

(Comedy Central)

Glick: Once, on the Warner Bros. lot, I interviewed the great silent film star Buster Keaton on the eve of his upcoming movie, Batman. Halfway through, he informed me that I had him confused with another actor. And only then did I realize I was actually in the presence of the equally great Diane Keaton. Boy, was my face red.

The obvious question is how could a man who can’t distinguish between Michael, Buster, and Diane Keaton get his own talk show? Well, it helps if you have a reputation for comic invention and a couple of series under your belt. A reputation like, oh, Martin Short’s, for instance. Actually, Glick is actor Martin Short in extremely convincing makeup and fat suit. With Primetime Glick, Short uses his latest comic creation to skewer the genre of the television talk show and the nitwits who too often host them. Short is no stranger to the genre, having hosted his own short-lived talk show just a few years ago. The Martin Short Show received generally favorable reviews and was occasionally fun, but it was lost in a tidal wave of celebrity led talks shows and quickly disappeared. Now Short has another shot at the genre, and shoot he does. He’s smart enough to realize that another Rosie-Donny and Marie-Roseanne lookalike would fail as well. So, enter Jiminy Glick, an entertainment reporter with a terrible memory and a knack for amusing his guests with a stream-of-consciousness interview style.

Despite Glick’s obvious shortcomings, he apparently has no problems in lining up stars to interview, having already played host to Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Rob Lowe, Nathan Lane, and a variety of Hollywood’s funniest and hippest. Last spring, Sally Field complained publicly to Rosie that she hated doing interviews, having to talk about herself and answer the same questions over and over again. Undoubtedly, many stars feel that way, and the longer the career, the more tedious the questions must become. However, on Primetime Glick, celebrities can be assured their experience will be anything but typical and the questions anything but ordinary. Take for example, Glick’s interview with Damon Wayans, during which Glick mentioned Wayan’s film, Major Payne:

Glick: You were wonderful. You played a major and you were mean to the children (laughs). And he was disciplining the children… And again, I just saw the one scene, but I can imagine it was a wonderful film. I really believe in disciplining children. Do you believe in disciplining children?

Of course, the guests are in on the joke, that it’s really Martin Short in a fat suit and his questions are designed to elicit laughter as opposed to serious responses. And they are more than willing to play along. Conan O’Brien stormed off the show after Glick answered his cellphone during O’Brien’s faux-poignant recollection of his childhood insecurities. Kathy Lee Gifford threatened Glick with a videotape of a wild menage a trois that she, Glick, and his wife Dixie shared when they were all single. The general idea seems to be, “Come on the show; we’ll laugh, act goofy, occasionally stick to the script, and have a good time.” It’s a formula that works, because both host and guest appear to be having genuine fun. It’s like watching someone have a “giggle fit”; before you know it, you’re chuckling too, even if you don’t quite understand what was so damn funny in the first place.

Much of the reason for Primetime Glick‘s success is the fact that Short doesn’t overplay the role. In the past, I have found many of Short’s comic creations, such as Ed Grimley, to be so farcical, hyperactive, and broad that the humor is lost. Such over-the-top performing is ideal for the stage, and Short’s 1999 Tony Award, for Little Me, is a testament to how effective he can be in a large playing space. But such mania doesn’t fit well into the confines of the television screen. It draws attention away from the script instead of focusing attention on it, and it eclipses other performers. With Jiminy Glick, however, Short seems to have learned how to control his character, instead of letting the character control him. Glick lacks the frenzied volatility of previous Short incarnations. As a result, the mania comes in the dialogue, and we are able to focus our attention on the dynamic exchanges between host and guests.

Primetime Glick does more than celebrity interviews in its quest to resemble and then skewer other talk shows. Short characters such as Jackie Rogers, Jr., and his Bette Davis impersonation do make occasional appearances, with the Rogers character taking the role of the behind the scenes producer (a la Freddie De Cordova of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show) and the Davis character representing Mrs. Miller, the crusty old broad who used to sit in the audience of Merv Griffin’s show and interject her two cents when she felt the need. Also making regular appearances are Glick’s wife, Dixie (an amusing Jan Hooks), and his second banana/bandleader, harp player Adrian Van Voorhees (Michael McKean). Primetime Glick also features sketches between interviews, much like Leno and O’Donnell’s shows. One featured Short as John Malkovich in a parody of Malcolm in the Middle, Malkovich in the Middle. Fidgeting and speaking in a placid tone, Short’s Malkovich was a masterful impersonation.

All this adds up to a very full half-hour of comedy. Primetime Glick makes a point of packing too much into each show. In one episode, there is an opening monologue, two interviews, usually two to three short sketches, and a closing vignette with Glick and one of his guests in a steam room. Clearly, the goal is to make Primetime Glick‘s format resemble those of The Tonight Show and The Late Show, but those shows have considerably more time to develop their skits and still allow talk with guests. With less time to devote to each section of the show, Primetime rushes through everything. Often, guests have little time to do anything other than laugh at Glick’s antics before they are hustled off the set. Clever concepts that could become models of comic timing if allowed to ease to a climax are given two to three minutes to introduce their situation, develop it, and then get to the punch-line. The obvious solution would be to extend the show’s length. However, with Short’s hyperactive personality, there is always the possibility that he would only use the opportunity to introduce even more underdeveloped characters and sketches.

It is conceivable that this is Short’s goal, to leave viewers wanting more. After all, isn’t that what most celebrity talk shows do—give you a taste of the latest movie, a hasty glimpse of a star or singer, to leave you wanting more, so that you will see the flick or buy the CD? Glick’s guests don’t come on the show to hawk anything, so he leaves you wanting more of the one commodity he does have to sell—himself. And now, after two decades of prancing across our television screens, Martin Short finally has a character worth buying.

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//Mixed media