On the Superhuman Andrea Martin

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Today is the birthday of the lovely and hilarious Andrea Martin (b. 1947). It’s been so exciting to see her emerge as a Broadway star in recent years, but of course I’ll always revere her most for her work of 30 years ago…

As in most sketch comedy ensembles (especially back then) the ladies of SCTV had to do an inordinate amount of heavy lifting, there being only two of them (Martin and Catherine O’Hara). And while guys do love to dominate, there do have to be SOME female characters, unless your sketch is set in a men’s prison or something (or, as in Monty Python, the men do drag). Martin and O’Hara divided them all amongst themselves. Usually O’Hara took the babe roles, and Martin (though she’s not any less attractive than O’Hara) would take the crazy old ladies, severe looking academics, thick-accented foreigners, and of course many female celebrities (especially the ones with prominent proboscises, i.e., Barbara Streisand, Liza Minnelli, etc). Her keystone role on the show was Edith Prickley (see above), but she had a million memorable moments in other characters besides. A particular favorite of mine was a parody of Evita called Indira, with Martin as Indira Gandhi. 

The interesting thing about the SCTV cast was that they managed to find a single voice, a house style. One thing that every single player in the cast would radiate in almost every performances was doubt and insecurity. There’s no way to put into words why it was so funny, but their eyes would get all shifty and they would looks sort of “caught”. Martin was especially skilled at this “deer caught in the headlights” quality. She also had (has, of course) an interesting ability to play characters who were really smart…or really stupid.

I am delighted to discover today that I can add her to my list of really cool people who are from Portland, Maine (the others include John Ford, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and the 19th century humorist Artmeus Ward). She went to Emerson College, then moved to Toronto, where she wound up in that legendary 1972 production of Godspell where she met many of her future SCTV cast mates. Oh and she’s in the excellent 1974 horror movie Black Christmas. 

Here she is in the on-the-money SCTV soap opera parody “The Days of the Week” with Dave Thomas as a psycho:

 To find out more about  the variety arts (including television variety)consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc

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