Ned Nederlander. Franck. Jiminy Glick.
These popular fictional characters were given life through the creative mind and talent of Martin Short.
And then there’s Ed Grimley… Martin Short’s first breakthrough character.
let alone how it all relates to the nerves and presumptions we all wrestle with in struggling to say something profound.
According to Martin Short in his memoir “I Must Say: My Life As A Humble Comedy Legend,” he originally had no professional interest in all the things we now know him to be famous for. This included avoiding opportunities to take part in improv comedy, as he’d hoped to be more of a theatrical performer and singer.
All of that changed when by necessity he took a job at Second City in Toronto. The troupe was midway through its season, and Short was replacing John Candy (who had just departed for other things). This included taking on Candy’s role in a sketch where a male executive interviews two candidates for a job – a smart woman and an idiotic man.
John Candy had originally played the part as a bashful, nervous, sweet-faced soul who was heartbreakingly aware of how out of his depth he was. Martin had no intention of even trying to duplicate that, being in awe of Candy’s talent. Instead, he began to patch together an awkward set of characteristics and wardrobe that would come to be known (at least offstage) as “Ed.” According to Martin Short:
The audience seemed to like Ed from the outset. Catherine (O’Hara), as prim job applicant Barbara O’Leary, confidently rattled off to the interviewer all the degrees that she held—a bachelor of mathematics from McGill, a masters in business administration from Columbia, and so on.
As she did so, Ed, in full view of the audience, would register increasing panic, his smile turning into a grimace, his breaths deepening, his eyes cast downward, his whole body palpitating. This silent meltdown always got a big laugh, the biggest in the sketch, which was an utter revelation to me.
Part of my trepidation about improvisational comedy was that I thought I would have to come up with funny lines all the time, on the spot. What I discovered, through Ed, was that I simply needed to commit: to not worry about jokes. The reaction seemed to get the biggest laughs, not the action. I didn’t need to be a stand-up comedian delivering punch lines. If I just sincerely devoted myself to Ed’s panic with every fiber of my being, the audience would commit to him.
I can relate to that… can you?
There was this pressure to deliver “something” – punchlines with power that would make everyone nod their head or write down what I’d said as affirmation that I was giving them something. I’d even learned I could create fill-in-the-blank outlines to facilitate this, sort of like my own little applause sign that would force them to play along on my terms.
Then… something changed.
I couldn’t keep up that pace, trying to “top” myself from last time. I wondered if ministry was less about dropping zingers and more about fully committing myself to the person of Jesus Christ… less about being a character, and more about letting Him form my character.
I simply needed to commit: to not worry about saying something profound.
It’s the clear-yet-complicated concept Rick Lawrence brilliantly reintroduces us to in Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry: “Aren’t we supposed to be focusing on Jesus?”
Like Martin Short’s take on Ed Grimley, what if it’s our reactions to the “stage” of life that our “audience” is most interested in? What if that’s where the biggest ministry will happen?
Might I humbly encourage you today to drop the punchlines and pick up your cross?
that the audience would commit to Him, too.
What do you think?