Andrea Martin reflects on SCTV, anxiety in new memoir
Laura Kane, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, September 23, 2014 2:02PM EDT
TORONTO -- While writing her new collection of autobiographical essays "Lady Parts," Andrea Martin left the chapter on SCTV for last.
The comedy legend had already written thousands of words about her remarkable life -- exploring her secret battle with bulimia, her lifelong anxiety and self-doubt and her complex relationships with her parents.
But when it came to reflecting on the joyful period of her life that spawned one of the greatest sketch comedy shows of all time, she hesitated.
"I was really concerned I wasn't going to remember details," says the 67-year-old actress in an interview. "And why was I just going to write a broad, general, sweeping chapter that anybody could read if they went to Wikipedia? So it was a responsibility to actually give great anecdotes."
So, after much procrastination -- including polishing butter knives she hadn't used in decades and befriending geese in her High Park backyard -- Martin wrote an e-mail requesting memories from SCTV writers and actors including Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Joe Flaherty and Dave Thomas.
All responded in their own unique ways, but one theme stood out.
"The one common denominator was that we all remembered a general feeling, which was: We never, before or after, have had that kind of creative freedom," she says.
Martin's "Lady Parts" is out now. The memoir opens with an important revelation -- she is not Canadian, nor Jewish, as many assume. Martin grew up in Maine to Armenian parents; she visited Toronto in 1970, fell in love with the city and stayed.
Her first big break in Toronto was the now-legendary 1972 production of "Godspell," where she met Short, Levy and Gilda Radner. From there, she joined the talented cast of Second City, who later joined forces to create SCTV in 1976.
A whirlwind of energy and chatter, Martin doesn't appear to be the sort of person gripped by self-doubt. But in the book, she reveals she has struggled with overwhelming anxiety and insecurity for most of her life.
In fact, she believes she flourished at Second City in part because she didn't have time to second-guess herself on stage.
"I was always nervous about doing improv, always nervous before we would start it," she says. "But during it, it was fascinating. There was no filter. I could be as organically funny as I naturally am, without thinking, 'This isn't good.' There was nothing to stop the spontaneity."
Martin also opens up about her lengthy battle with bulimia in the memoir. Raised by parents who were loving but flawed -- her father controlling and critical, her mother narcissistic -- she developed deep body-image insecurities that stuck with her.
But the years with SCTV stand out as some of the happiest of her life. Martin recalls that they filmed the satirical series in an underground studio in Edmonton. The isolated environment helped foster a sense of unity and collaboration, she says.
"We had to rely on one another. There weren't distractions that actually make people competitive. When you're seeing on Twitter or Facebook, 'This person is better than the other,' it's difficult not to go there," she says. "When we were doing SCTV, there was nobody checking up on us. We just had each other."
Without a live audience, the test became whether or not they could make each other laugh. If she could crack Levy up, Martin knew she had written a hilarious sketch.
"Eugene is a very contemplative person. He's not really outgoing by nature and he's also very shy," she says. "So, whereas Marty would just blurt out with a laugh, Eugene would think about it. You'd be thinking to yourself, 'God, I wish he'd give me something right now. Do I have to wait for seven hours when he tells me it's funny?' So I guess hearing from Eugene was a great stamp of approval."
When SCTV wrapped in 1984, Thomas said something to Martin that she writes she'll never forget: that they might go in different directions, but they'll stay friends, and be at each other's weddings -- and funerals.
Sadly, Martin has lost several of her comedian peers too soon -- among them Radner, John Candy, and earlier this year, Harold Ramis.
"I'd like to say that it makes me be in the moment, and stay present, and be grateful for every moment, but of course, life doesn't happen that way," she says. "I just think what a tragic loss for the world -- really, great gifted comedic minds. I'd like to have seen where their careers could have taken them."
Martin recalled that Ramis, who suffered from an auto-immune illness that left him in a wheelchair, came to see her perform at Second City about a year ago. He got up to show her that he was learning to walk for his daughter's wedding.
"He stood up and showed me that he could walk with the help of someone. And that was my last image of Harold, a showman 'till the end, wanting to get applause. And a great gift for me that he would do that for me," she says.
Asked how she's seen comedy change over the decades, she says the 1970s and 1980s were a less politically correct time and she and her castmates could get away with more edgy humour. On the other hand, she says some comedy today seems too crass, too readily reliant on explicit language.
Martin says there's never been a shortage of female talent in comedy, listing Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller and Elaine May among her favourites. But she says there are more platforms for funny women like Tina Fey and Melissa McCarthy to showcase their abilities now. (Fey is quoted on the "Lady Parts" cover saying she wants to "marry" Martin after reading the book.)
She also says that when she turned 65 two years ago, much of her inner anxiety finally melted away. Martin realized she had a choice: continue to doubt herself and say no to opportunities, or start to say yes.
That doesn't mean aging has been easy: "I have to deal with skin tags. Oh God, that's depressing," she jokes. But luckily, because the two-time Tony winner has been playing elderly characters since her youth, she doesn't think she's been affected by ageism.
"I'm a character actress. If I was playing Ryan Gosling's love interest, yeah, then I think I'd be scared being 67," she says. "But I've been playing old lady parts since I was 23."
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