Wednesday, July 17, 2024

RIP Martin Mull, 80, Comic and Musical Genius, Started on “Mary Hartman”


I am sorry to hear Martin Mull has passed away at age 80, too soon! He was a comic genius from a generation of humorists and musicians we will never see again.

Of course, I first saw him on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” in 1975 as Garth Gimble. Garth was an odious domestic abuser, and the audience really wanted him killed off. That’s how snarky Martin Mull was, that Garth was impaled on a Christmas tree. It was appropriately hilarious.

Mull was so good that they brought him back as Barth Gimble host of the local talk show, “Fernwood 2Night.” The legendary Fred Willard played Jerry Hubbard, his Ed McMahon, and the pair was magic. Barth and Jerry eventually left Fernwood and had another talk show called “American 2 Night.” They were such sublime satirists they were spun off into their own talk show separate from “Mary Hartman.” If you were addicted to this stuff, as I was, there was nothing better.

Martin Mull was like Steve Martin in that he played the guitar (Steve had his banjo) and recorded wildly popular comedy albums and toured as a sit down comic. He decorated his stage with used “fabulous furniture from Goodwill. I think I listened to his album, “I’m Everyone I Ever Loved,” a thousand times. When Mull finally appeared in a movie — “FM” — it was very exciting. We felt like he made it, and deserved it. Fred Willard and I used to talk about Martin Mull all the time. He was a legend.

In later years, Martin turned up on TV shows like “Roseanne,” but I always felt like his wings were clipped. He wasn’t subversive anymore, he just doing the Hollywood thing. But the affection for his heyday never ended. Whenever he turned up in a “regular” show, I thought he was winking at his old fans like it was inside joke. When he finally was in “Veep,” where he was nominated for an Emmy Award, it felt like vindication.

“Genius, great sadness,” writes Steve Martin on Twitter. He posted the video below, “Normal,” from 1974. RIP Martin Mull.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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