Andrea Martin has gotten a lot of mileage out of fake leopard fur. The fabric of choice of her signature persona--the inimitable Edith Prickley of the cult-classic television series "SCTV"--it helped her win fame and a following.
But there's more to this writer-comic-actress than false fluff and faux pas. While best known from her TV shtick, she's also a longtime stage trouper who's appeared at such prestigious theaters as the New York Shakespeare Festival and the Mark Taper Forum.
The winner of a 1991 Tony award for her role in "My Favorite Year" on Broadway, Martin is slated to appear there again next season in the Livent production of "Candide," directed by Harold Prince.
Meanwhile, she's decided to go "Nude Nude Totally Nude" in her first one-person show, which opens at the Canon Theatre tonight.
The title isn't literal, of course, but it's definitely a metaphor. "I've hidden behind characters for so long that the challenge was to see if I could be onstage without characters, without glasses, coats and wigs and feel that I was enough," says the surprisingly quiet Martin, 49, seated on patio furniture outside the North Hollywood offices of one of her show's producers.
"I was compelled by where I was in my life," she continues. "I needed to express myself without anybody else's agenda, in a way that I hadn't ever before, which was really exposing the truth."
In "Nude Nude Totally Nude," Martin speaks to the audience as herself while reviving some of her favorite "SCTV" characters, including a sex therapist with a tic, a talk show host in the throes of menopause and Ethel Merman. She combines these sketches with interludes in which she talks about her own life, including her search for ethnic identity and an affair with a much younger man.
Yet Martin is savvy enough to know what a sand trap first-person storytelling can be. "It wasn't enough for it to be confessional," she says. "The temptation is to say that whatever you feel is worth people paying to see it, and that's not true."
Fortunately, her comic's instinct saves her. "Andrea is just a naturally comic personality," says "Nude" director Walter Bobbie, who's known Martin for 16 years. "I've never seen her do a false moment. I don't think she knows how to lie."
The trick is really no trick at all. "Here's what I found in the writing: Whenever I told something that wasn't the exact truth, that was a manipulation, it would never work," Martin says. "It was only when I told exactly what the truth was that it was funny."
The truth can set you free, of course, or it can be a real pain. "The intention is to be truthful, but my observations in life naturally go toward the irreverent and comedic," Martin says. "So no matter how painful the subject, I was always turning it around to shed some light on it by the comedy I saw in it.
"I've never told stories from a depressing place because that's not naturally how I live my life," she says. "I need to twist it around to save myself."
One difficult topic in "Nude" proved to be the matter of Martin's ethnic heritage. "It was difficult for me to talk about examining my Armenian roots," she says. "I didn't think I knew enough to be a spokesperson. But I went back to Armenia [in 1991] and came back as a born-again Armenian."
Her curiosity was piqued by a hazy awareness of her family's history. Both her maternal and paternal grandparents had emigrated from Armenia to America in the 1920s. "They changed their name and took the name Martin because my grandfather saw it on the side of the truck," she says. "He also took the truck."
Yet growing up in Portland, Maine, she knew little about the country from which her grandparents had come. "We were so assimilated that I didn't celebrate where I was from or my roots," says Martin, who is one of three children born to a grocer-restaurateur and his wife. "I celebrated it through food, but not anything else."
Early on, Martin discovered her affinity for the stage and spent her high school years doing summer stock with local troupes.
She majored in drama at Emerson College and headed for New York as soon as she graduated. "I got my Equity card in three weeks and did Lucy in 'You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown' in 1970," says Martin. "Then I fell in love with [the show's] Linus and went to Toronto and did theater there."
In Toronto in the '70s, Martin became part of a creative community that included many talents who were destined to go on to considerable success. "I did 'Godspell' first, with Victor Garber, Gilda Radner and Martin Short," she recalls. 'Then out of 'Godspell' came other theater."
When the Second City TV series "SCTV" came along in 1977, Martin's career changed, seemingly overnight. As she became known for such characters as the gibberish-speaking cleaning woman Pirini Schlerosi and the sometimes scabrous station manager Edith Prickley, Martin honed her writing and performing skills, winning two Emmy awards for her efforts.