Category: banjo actors

Inside the banjo players' studio: Ed Helms and Steve Martin talk frailing, fingering and timing

This Sunday, Steve Martin headlines the final night of the Bluegrass Situation, a four-night festival curated by fellow actor and fellow banjo enthusiast Ed Helms. If it’s anything like the concert Martin did at the same festival last year, you can expect Helms to get on stage with Martin for at least one number and partake in… you know… banjos that duel.

Martin and Helms sat down for a conversation about their mutual bluegrass obsession, much of which appears in a story in today’s Times. As a bonus, here is some more of their dialogue, including everything you wanted to know about the clawhammer style but were afraid to ask. 

Los Angeles Times: As actors and musicians, do you find there’s anything at all that transfers intuitively from one discipline to the other? Can musical timing inform comedic timing, or vice versa?

Ed Helms: Well, I’ve been told my banjo playing is hilarious. I don’t know how to take that.

Steve Martin: Well, I think that comedic timing is a mystery, and musical timing is not. It’s exactly timing. It’s just timing.

So musical timing is a little more scientific in some way?

Martin: I don’t know. You could make an argument both ways, I guess. You could argue that off-timing in comedy is… Who has off-timing in comedy? Bill Murray has off-timing. And so does Christopher Walken. He’s not a comedian, but he has off-time readings.

Helms: Or Christopher Guest.

Martin: Yeah. But off-timing in music, too, can work. But everybody has to agree!

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