It was hard not to get a case of happy feet Thursday evening at the 43rd AFI Life Achievement Award gala for Steve Martin at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
In fact, the wild and crazy spirit of the evening recalled the raucous atmosphere of Martin’s old stand-up comedy shows. The star-studded crowd whooped its appreciation with a standing ovation as the 69-year-old actor/writer/songwriter/playwright was introduced on stage with his 1978 novelty hit “King Tut.”
Interspersed with terrific clips from his stand-up days and his numerous feature films, including 1979’s “The Jerk,” 1987’s “Roxanne” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles, 1988’s “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and 1991’s “L.A Story,” were thoughtful and funny interviews with Martin about his career, as well as testimonials from Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and Ron Howard discussing the modern-day Renaissance man’s comedy genius.
And a who’s who of comedy took the stage to have some fun with Martin.
Amy Poehler conducted an auction of Martin, with his good friend and “Three Amigos” and “Father of the Bride” costar Martin Short winning the comic actor for a bid of $51.
Tina Fey, who worked with Martin when he guest-hosted “Saturday Night Live” and in the film “Baby Mama,” discussed the advice he gave her over the years: “If you are going to pick up Marty Short, remember to support the neck.”
She said she was thrilled that Martin had married a younger, smarter and thinner version of herself as the camera panned to Martin’s wife, writer Anne Stringfield, who indeed looked like she could be Fey’s younger sister.
As a 16-year-old, comedian Sarah Silverman recalled, “I didn’t just love Steve. I wanted to be him. You are my inspiration.”
“I have spent the majority of my life doing a pale imitation of Steve Martin, and I resent him for that,” said Steve Carell, adding that Martin is “my Chaplin. I desperately wanted to be him. Steve Martin impacted me in a deep and lasting way. I owe everything to him.”
The legendary Carl Reiner, who directed Martin in 1979’s “The Jerk,” 1982’s “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” 1983’s “The Man with Two Brains” and 1984’s “All of Me,” said he was thrilled to participate in the evening. “I’m so happy I can stand up,” noted the 93-year-old. “I’m the oldest person in this room.”
Short delivered a brilliant comedy routine. “I’m going to make this quick, because my Uber is waiting -- and you know how testy Randy Quaid can be.”
Alluding to Martin’s early career working in a magic shop at Disneyland he quipped. “Steve Martin started as a young boy turning tricks at Disneyland.” And he offered this unknown fact about the AFI honoree: “Steve uses the same stunt double as Angela Lansbury.”
And then Short became serious. “Steve is an unmitigated genius, pure and simple,” he said. “He’s the definition of a good guy.”
Two banjo players came out to accompany Short as he sang the haunting, “Friend of Mine,” written by Martin and Edie Brickell:
“You've been a friend of mine
For such a long, long time
Made me laugh and seen me cry
Called me to say hi”
Diane Keaton, who appeared as Martin’s wife in the two “Father of the Bride” comedies, also offered her rendition of the song a cappella.
Comedy icon Mel Brooks, who won the AFI honor two years ago, presented Martin with the award. “Good is good and Steve is good,” he said.
Martin was thoughtful, thankful and, of course, funny in his acceptance.
“Tonight is especially meaningful to me, because when I was a kid, I used to get all dressed up and play AFI Life Achievement Award,” he said.
Martin closed his speech with this quote from Jack Benny: “I really don’t deserve this award. But I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either.”
The AFI Life Achievement Award gala will be telecast June 13 on TBS with an encore presentation July 30 on TCM.