Like many a great thing, it all began with Beyoncé.
When Maya Rudolph once again channeled Queen Bey alongside fellow Saturday Night Live alum Martin Short (playing himself) for a screamingly funny bit during SNL’s 40th anniversary special last year, the pairing of two madcap comedy forces wasn’t just inspired, it was inspiring. “I don’t know if this is apocryphal,” Short recalls, “but someone told me that [NBC Chairman] Bob Greenblatt turned to Lorne Michaels during the skit and said, ‘Well, that’s a show we should be doing.’” In their new six-episode NBC series Maya & Marty, the headliners are out to create a partially live combo platter of celebrity guest stars, sketches and musical performances for an updated take on the variety show… with a few surprises in store.
When did Maya & Marty take shape?
Martin Short: It seems like it was about a week after the 40th anniversary show. It was that close.
Maya Rudolph: I always wanted to do this after SNL, and the more I told people, the more they said, “Oh, I don’t know.” I think people have a stigma about the word variety. They think it’s this old-fashioned thing, not realizing that they are enjoying variety on TV right now.
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You even did a variety special in 2014…
Rudolph: And it was so fun. I wanted to do something like that again and was looking for a way to do it right; then Lorne said, “I think you should do it with Marty.” I was like, “Oh, I’d be honored if he came on the show,” and Lorne went, “No…together.”
What did you guys think of that?
Short: My first reaction was if we did it in New York, I’d be interested. There is something about doing a show in L.A.; you always feel like you’re in Burbank [studios]. You can just feel the New York energy, and we’re doing it at 30 Rock, right next to Jimmy Fallon’s show. There is an infrastructure that Lorne has in that building that things just get done correctly.
Rudolph: Everything [about] Marty is part of my comic genetic makeup. It’s pretty amazing to be working with someone who has completely influenced me. And since we both come from that SNL family tree, we share a universal language.
You’re taping much of the show in front of a live audience. Are either of you worried about cracking up during skits together?
Rudolph: In the best possible sense. I think it’s more about knowing that it will be really fun to [be on stage] together.
How would you describe your chemistry?
Short: There was this ease when we worked together [on the SNL special]. Lorne said we had this incredible give-and-take, yet we never looked at each other—she was just staring out at the audience as Beyoncé. He said it was like we’d been doing this together a long time, yet we’d never done it. We instinctively know how to play together.
Rudolph: I have a hard time finding someone he doesn’t have chemistry with. He’s so charming and inviting and warm. He is such a team player.
What should we expect to see on the show?
Rudolph: It’s so top secret! If I told you, you might have to change your identity. [Laughs] Everything is still in the developmental stages.
Short: We’ve already done some stuff. I’ve shot Jiminy Glick interviewing Larry David and Paul Rudd. Maya and I play Anna Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld in New York. She’s pretaped something as Oprah.
Rudolph: What makes it more than a funny show is that it’s this fun environment for the great people we know and admire to come and perform. That is what I think people will get joy from.
Short: I think the show will [have] people around the watercooler going, “Did you see all the people who showed up last night?” It will be fast-paced. But we’ll also feature a number from a hot Broadway show or present a fabulous stand-up comic. It’s not just going to be pretaped stuff.
Is any of this scary for you?
Rudolph: In a good way. I’m excited to just try it all and see what happens.
Short: I did 20 concerts in April—this insanely grueling month, but it was all good for me. If you’re used to being in front of an audience, nothing is daunting.
Should we expect Beyoncé to meet Beyoncé in a future skit?
Rudolph: You’re going to have to ask the gods. I go wherever the wind takes me with that one. Whatever Beyoncé wants to do is fine by me! [Laughs]
Maya & Marty, Series Premiere, Tuesday, May 31, 10/9c, NBC.