If there’s one thing everyone could agree on at the American Film Institute’s tribute to Steve Martin, who received the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award, it that he’s one of the good guys. The multi-talented performer has done basically everything — stand-up, stadium tours, Saturday Night Live appearances, starring roles in movies, writing books and plays, playing bluegrass with several musicians — and by all accounts, he’s never been anything but the complete opposite of a jerk. But that didn’t stop a bevy of Martin’s pals, including Tina Fey, Martin Short, Dan Aykroyd, Carl Reiner, and Diane Keaton, from poking fun at the wild and crazy guy, ribbing him for everything from his physique to his love of the banjo.
The ceremony aired Saturday night on TBS, but unlike, say, your typical Comedy Central roast, the special didn’t threaten to devolve into a cringe-worthy mess. Famous person after famous person proclaimed their genuine admiration and affection for Martin, who teared up throughout and delivered his own heartfelt (and funny) speech at the end.
Of course, when you get a bunch of comedians in a room, there are bound to be some excellent one-liners. Here are some of the best, funniest lines from the tribute’s broadcast.
1. “Ohh. . .I’m picking out a Thermos for you. Not an ordinary Thermos for you.”-Jack Black
Black was there to perform “tonight’s anthem,” but rather than singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the Tenacious D frontman instead crooned “The Thermos Song” from Martin’s breakthrough comedy, 1979’s The Jerk. A marching band accompanied him as two flags (one emblazoned with a Thermos) waved alongside, setting the silly tone that would carry through the rest of the evening.
2. “I remember the first time I saw one of Steve’s movies. It was on the plane ride here today.”–Tina Fey
Fey and Martin have, of course, worked together plenty of times: on SNL and in the movie Baby Mama, most notably. Fey also shared pieces of “advice” Martin has given her over the years (“If you’re going to pick up Marty Short, remember to support the neck”) and thanked him for the ways he’s helped her over the years, including “marrying a woman who is the younger, thinner, smarter version of me, just to keep me hustling.” (Martin’s wife, New Yorker editor Anne Stringfield, handled that crack with aplomb.)
3. “[Martin] is a real person. A real, stiff, awkward, aloof person, but a person — stand-offish. It reminds me of that old saying: ‘You should never meet Steve Martin.'”-Sarah Silverman
All joking aside, Silverman revealed that after seeing Roxanne, her teenage infatuation with Martin was so strong that she actually wrote “I love Steve Martin” in a heart on her bedroom ceiling. Awww.
4. “Hello, I’m Women in Comedy’s Amy Poehler.”-Amy Poehler
And don’t you forget it. Poehler did an extended bit in which she auctioned Martin off to the highest bidder in order to raise funds for FIFA; the winner was Martin Short, who got his friend for the bargain price of $51.
5. “Born a poor black child, my ass! After working with Steve on Bringing Down the House, I can tell you Steve Martin is the whitest man in America. Have you seen him dance?”-Queen Latifah
It’s hard to argue with the Queen on this one.
6. “He’s such a fine musician that he’s the first man in history to inspire the phrase, ‘Hey everyone, quiet down, I’m trying to hear the banjo.'”-Conan O’Brien
Before reciting one of Martin’s written works, “A Public Apology,” O’Brien reminisced about his first time meeting the comedian while working for Saturday Night Live, and admonished the audience: “Keep in mind that if you fail to laugh at this piece, you are spitting on the man we are here to honor tonight!” Duly noted — and of course, it was hilarious.
7. “They say imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism. I have spent the majority of my life doing a pale imitation of Steve Martin, and I resent him for this.”-Steve Carell
Carell, who also paid homage to Martin as part of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007, revealed how his movies, including The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Crazy Stupid Love, were merely rip-offs of Martin flicks. (“Roxanne is pretty much Foxcatcher,” he quipped while pointing to his nose.)
8. “Someone as multifaceted as Steve should be a dick, and he isn’t!”-Ron Howard
Howard, who directed Martin in 1989’s Parenthood, was one of several celebs (including Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks) who paid tribute to the actor in pre-taped segments. But the filmmaker was the only one who repeatedly assured the audience that Martin is not, in fact, a dick.
9. “I have known Steve Martin for a long time. I knew him when his urologist thought it was still safe for him to wear white suits.”-Martin Short
Short and Martin have worked together dozens of times — in Three Amigos! and Father of the Bride, on SNL, and so on. Their decades of riffing off of one another was evident in Short’s mini-roast, one of the night’s funniest sets, which touched on Martin’s time working at Disneyland as a teen and their moments on set together. It ended with a touching rendition of Martin and Edie Brickell’s song “Friend of Mine,” a meditation on the power of friendship.
10. “I finally realized what a comic genius is. A comic genius is someone who decides never to go into comedy.”-Steve Martin
The man himself got the last word, ribbing everyone else in the room that night with grace and, as always, goofy humor.