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Martin Short Hits His Talk-Show Stride as the Bumbling Jiminy Glick

TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

Martin Short is much more fun playing a talk show host than being one.

Although “The Martin Short Show” deservedly went splat after a brief, undistinguished life of largely mimicking other talk programs, his mocking new half-hour chat-up, “Primetime Glick,” is more than witty, it’s often sidesplitting.

In fact, Hollywood interviewer Jiminy Glick’s rounded sides may be the first to split. Appearing ready to burst, the double-sized, thickly made-up Short is at his creative, brazen best as this no-neck melon of soaring incompetence, grilling Bill Maher (he calls him Mare) and Steve Martin in last week’s premiere on Comedy Central, and tonight taking on Dennis Miller and Jerry Seinfeld. Prepare to wheeze.

Glick to Seinfeld: “I was a wonderful fan of yours when you did that wonderful show. What was it called? ‘Benson.’ ”

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As an inventor of outrageously bent characters from albino entertainer Jackie Rogers Jr. to pointy haired Ed Grimley, Short doesn’t push the envelope here, he chews it. The TV talk genre is ripe for ridicule, and Jiminy is not the first such venture for Short, who years ago authored a devastating sendup of a smug interviewer while performing in Canada with the golden farceurs of “SCTV.”

Jiminy is just about extraterrestrial, however. Short introduced him during his recent syndicated talk series, patterning him in part, he has said, after Skip E. Lowe, a colorful character who interviews stars, has-beens and never-beens on a show he hosts on public access television. Jiminy also could pass for any number of TV’s fatuous, star-stuck entertainment reporters. Put your ear to his, you hear the sea.

The writing here is sharp enough to give you paper cuts, for threading these half-hours are exquisitely tasteless sketches with Short bizarrely playing such celebs as John Malkovich and Tommy Lee Jones (as the first American pope). As Jiminy tonight, he also gathers small children around him to read them the heartwarming story of Sal Mineo being murdered by Felix and Oscar of “The Odd Couple.” Giving Jiminy support as always, meanwhile, is his harpist bandleader, the heavily rouged Adrien Van Voorhees (Michael McKean).

Interviews at the core of “Primetime Glick” are strictly unscripted, their crescendoing humor owed to Short’s impulsive nonsense and physical comedy, along with the good-natured ad-libbing of some of his subjects, who take his inanity in stride and send it right back while staying in character.

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Seinfeld: “You’re an overweight, frustrated, unsuccessful, stammering, stuttering, sweating . . . completely out-of-your-element individual.”

Glick: “Aren’t you kind.”

Seinfeld: “And yet you make it work.”

Does he ever.

* “Primetime Glick” can be seen Wednesday nights at 10:30 on Comedy Central. The network has rated it TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children).

*

Weighing In for Laughs

* Stars wear fat suits to get laughs. But some critics say it’s fun at the expense of overweight people. F7

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