Gayle Anderson

A three-way transatlantic conference call is a nerve-wracking proposition in itself, but when the other two people on the line are comedy legends, Martin Short and Steve Martin, it definitely raises the angst ante. Turns out there was no need to worry though. They double-teamed our conversation like complete pros and I was treated to some top quality backchat and banter.

The duo are promoting their upcoming tour of The Funniest Show In Town At The Moment which kicks off at the SSE Hydro, Glasgow on Monday. It's a first performance here for Short and a eagerly-awaited return for Martin.

"I can't wait to get back to Scotland," he admits. "I first came to Edinburgh when I was 21. There was a big rugby match on and I remember thinking – boy, these people can sure party! I came back four years later to appear at the Fringe. I can remember playing my banjo in the coffee shops. Happy times. I have Scottish blood, Irish blood, English blood – which is pretty good for a person who has no blood."

Part stand-up comedy and part variety show, the two-hour set also features musical accompaniment from Martin’s bluegrass band, Steep Canyon Rangers. Glasgow has a particular soft spot for banjo-playing comedians. Has he ever jammed with the Big Yin, I wonder?

"I have and it was wonderful. Listen, I thought I was famous until I walked down a Scottish street with Billy Connolly. It took on a holy aspect. It was like going for a stroll with an apostle."

The double act is a late career choice for Martin, 74 and Short, 69. They've been close friends since 1986, however, when they first met on the set of cowboy comedy, Three Amigos!

"It was a pretty instant bond," Short recalls."I think if you're a comedian and someone makes you laugh then they have a fast-track to your heart. We laughed throughout that movie and were determined not to lose touch as people so often do after filming. Myself, Steve and Chevy Chase organised The Amigo-ettes dinners where ourselves and our wives would all meet up regularly. One of the ingredients in our show – something we've never worked on or set out to do – is that the audience really believe that these two men on stage are close friends who enjoy each others' company. "

"The audience invest more in a show where there's an obvious bond between the people on stage," Martin offers. There have been comedy teams who have actually hated each other like Abbott and Costello or Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. They survived until word got out that they hated each other. I think when you saw both those acts you laughed at their timing and their gags but I don't think you ever felt warmth. Also, previous double acts generally had a funny one and a straight one. We don't have that. In fact, I don't think of us as a double act at all. I think of us as, two guys on stage together who used to have their own shows."

"That's it! "Short says."That's the title of our next tour, right there." Martin's deep, rumbling chuckle reverberates down the line and it's infectious.

Veterans of Saturday Night Live, they've both gone on to carve hugely successful careers in Hollywood. The rent is clearly covered, so what's tempted them away from the comforts of a luxury movie trailer to life on the road?

"It's the buzz of doing live shows," Martin explains. "It's unlike anything else. When we have to consider cutting the number of shows we're doing for one reason or another, it always makes us a little sad because we genuinely love touring. I don't want to say it gives meaning to our lives, but it kinda does – work-wise, at least. It's that connection with the audience. Making them feel part of the show. Giving them lots of laughs and ensuring that they leave feeling entertained. We love seeing some younger faces in our audiences these days too. They started coming along after watching our previous show on Netflix."

That Netflix special, An Evening You Will Forget For The Rest Of Your Lives garnered four Emmy nominations and was described by Rolling Stone magazine as 'wryly hip'. Is that also a fair description of the new show?

"Over to you, Marty," Martin drawls. Their interview routine is apparently as slick and seamless as their show.

"We're both wryly hip and hip-ply wry this time around and I also like a glass of rye when we finish. That's the funny answer. The truthful one is that we don't analyse things too much. We leave that to others. I think we just go out there and give a representation of what we find funny and entertaining. Happily, that's connected with the audience to the point that I think we now have a show that's pretty much wall-to-wall laughs."

"We have a section in this show which we both know is extremely old-fashioned," Martin confesses. "But we just look at it and go, 'Well, are the audience laughing and do we both think it's funny?' If we wanted to be known as hip then we definitely wouldn't do that bit."

They also keep things pretty current with a playful pop at Hollywood and the fickle nature of celebrity culture. Did Martin pick up any new material when he and Chris Rock presented the opening monologue at this year's Oscars?

"I think I became the butt of that material," he jokes. "We'll incorporate hot names in our show if we can do something that's appropriate and not too mean. We've actually taken jokes out because in retrospect we thought, 'maybe that's a little too much.' Forty years ago, I'd have delivered the meanest material without question but I seem to have developed empathy."

The pair relentlessly roast each other throughout the show. It's all done with obvious affection, but how do they know just how far to take it?

"I think two good friends, whatever business they're in, like to wind each other up. Their friendship survives because they know that they'll never go over that line, because you just don't," Short says.

"Hang on, there's an over-the-line? I'm trying to think where that might be," Martin fires back. "Yeah, OK, I guess there is one," he grudgingly concedes.

Both self-confessed perfectionists, do they allow this sort of ad-lib on tour or do they prefer everything tightly-scripted?

"We definitely ad-lib where and when it's appropriate," Martin offers. "Ad libs are dangerous things though because they can become selfish. If you forget about the audience and end up just laughing at your own joke, then it's exclusive. Our perfect show is when we do our set perfectly and maybe something unusual or funny happens. If anything accidental does happen that gets big laughs then it's definitely included the next night."

They work very gradually to create the shows and their collaborations are generally done remotely.

"We usually communicate via FaceTime or Skype, " Martin says. "We team up our computers so that we can both make changes to the script. We're planning to work today for example once we finish this call. It's actually better than being in person because I don't have to buy him lunch."

They're going to be spending even more time in each others' company soon, however, as it's just been announced that they're the stars of a new murder-mystery comedy from US streaming service, Hulu.

"It's called, Only Murders In The Building," Short reveals. "It's about these two neighbours in a New York apartment block who discover a mutual love of crime shows. They decide it would be interesting to try to solve crimes but then realise that they're too old and tired to travel so they only investigate – yep, you've guessed it –murders in their own building. It's going to be lots of fun."

Both men sound happy, relaxed and thoroughly enjoying life. Do they feel they're doing some of their best work?

Martin sighs deeply. "You know, whenever I hear an older person say, 'I'm doing my best work right now,' I just look at them and say, 'No, you're not!' So I'm nervous about saying that about myself. But I do genuinely think I'm doing some of my best stuff at the moment so why don't you just go ahead and say it? Let's get this over with."

"Please allow me, " Short volunteers. "Steve, as you know, I'm very familiar with your work and you're definitely not doing your best right now. I mean, someone had to tell you. I assumed you knew."

Martin lets out an even deeper comedy sigh. "Marty, do you remember we were discussing that line...?"

Steve Martin & Martin Short. Monday, March 9 2020 at 6.30 pm. SSE Hydro, Glasgow