Gowns, tuxes, & a banjo open a sparkling Hancher

Audience+members+mingle+at+a+gala+at+Hancher+Auditorium+on+the+evening+of+Saturday%2C+Sep.+24%2C+2016.+Hancher+hosted+an+opening+show+featuring+Steve+Martin+and+Martin+Short.+both+popular+actors%2C+writers%2C+and+comedians.+%28The+Daily+Iowan%2FOlivia+Sun%29

Audience members mingle at a gala at Hancher Auditorium on the evening of Saturday, Sep. 24, 2016. Hancher hosted an opening show featuring Steve Martin and Martin Short. both popular actors, writers, and comedians. (The Daily Iowan/Olivia Sun)

By Tessa Solomon

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Steve Martin and Martin Short ushered in Hancher’s opening season on Sept. 24 with a raucous evening of searing stand-up, raunchy puppeteering, and banjo-picking. 

At Hancher’s gala event, the sold-out crowd packed the lobby in their evening finest. Men clad in tuxedos complete with colorful cummerbunds trailed through Hancher’s halls beside women draped in floor-sweeping gowns.

The building’s interior, made up of speckled iridescent floors, snowy walls inlaid with gentle skylights, and chrome detailing, complemented the crowd’s regalia.

“Tonight, we’re starting a new history book for Hancher,” Executive Director Charles Swanson said on stage before the show. “Not only new but a beautiful history book.”

As the stage lights dimmed, a suspended projector displayed a reel showing some of the most iconic moments from Short’s and Martin’s careers — the two on horseback with Chevy Chase in ¡Three Amigos!, a shoulder-shimmying Martin performing his “Two Wild and Crazy Guys” skit on “Saturday Night Live,” Short performing a series of his signature sketches. It set the scene for a show that would serve both as homage to their long careers and a celebration of their present pursuits.

Audience members at a gala at Hancher Auditorium on the evening of Saturday, Sep. 24, 2016. Hancher hosted an opening show featuring Steve Martin and Martin Short. both popular actors, writers, and comedians. (The Daily Iowan/Olivia Sun)
Audience members at a gala at Hancher Auditorium on the evening of Saturday, Sep. 24, 2016. Hancher hosted an opening show featuring Steve Martin and Martin Short. both popular actors, writers, and comedians. (The Daily Iowan/Olivia Sun)

“I’m so happy to be in Iowa City,” Martin said. “The Amana Colonies were a little too fast-paced for me.”

From Hancher’s bathrooms to the audience, not much was safe from playful jesting; at one point, a volunteer was pulled onstage and roasted for his ill-prepared outfit of jeans and a T-shirt. The hosts reserved the evening’s sharpest barbs for one another, though.

“You know what I love most about hanging with Martin Short? No paparazzi,” Martin said of the less-famous Short. In response, Short described an unsettlingly large collection of self-portraits that Martin has in his mansion.

They shared cringe-inducing anecdotes from their days on movie sets and nights at star-studded cocktail parties rubbing elbows with the likes of Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.

“After about 15 seconds of knowing me, I had pissed off Sinatra,” Short said, still embarrassed by the run-in with his idol. Nestled in plush armchairs, their banter reflected the ease of a decades-long chemistry. 

“We go together like Ellen DeGeneres and a vest,” Martin said.

Martin’s dry one-liners offset Short’s manic body comedy — at times he was either sprawled across the piano, displaying rainbow socks or prancing across the stage in a white jump suit.

The star of the night, though, was the music. The Steep Canyon Rangers roused the crowd with foot-stomping bluegrass segments, flanking lead man Martin, who played away on banjo.  His fingers swift on the strings, his skill — which helped him win the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album in 2010 — were undeniable.

After the show, those who abstained from the complimentary champagne began trickling out, but whispers in the breeze advised against a quick departure.

“Don’t leave quite yet,” an employee patrolling the parking lot said. “It’s about to start.”

With a shriek, a single trail of white light shot into the night sky, bursting into a golden firework. The sky overhead became illuminated by a brilliant display that rivaled the Fourth of July.

Leaving the auditorium, a solemn sense of what this night must represent for Hancher lingered in the mind. That is, until a parting zing by Martin sprang to the fore.

“If you take away anything from tonight’s show,” Martin said, “we’ll call the cops.”

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