We Liked Your Earlier, Funnier Interviews Better

object_of_beauty.jpgSteve Martin isn't the same wild and crazy guy he used to be, according to Manhattan's 92nd Street Y. The New York Times reports that the Y offered to refund all 900 attendees their $50 entrance fee to an interview of Martin by Times writer Deborah Solomon. Why? Because they talked about his new book, Object of Beauty, and about art. Martin has been collecting art in a studious and intelligent manner for decades. According to the story, the Y sent up a note asking for less art talk, apparently responding to emails from those watching a remote broadcast. This is odd, because the 92nd St Y is known for bringing damned intellectuals together to talk about damned intellectual stuff. Go figure. Martin noted in Twitter,
So the 92nd St. Y has determined that the course of its interviews should be dictated in real time by its audience's emails. Artists beware.
Extra points for identifying the headline's paraphrase. Update: A number of people who say they attended the event, including some commenters on this post, explain that the problem wasn't Solomon and Martin talking about art and the new book, but Solomon making a hash of her role as interviewer. Martin Schneider wrote in with a link to his lengthy analysis of the evening, which concludes with a fascinating paragraph that encapsulates the broad issue of spectatorship and reporting:
A counter-narrative has arisen that is in complete conflict with this picture of events, a narrative that serves Solomon and Martin's agenda. It would be a disgrace to let that counter-narrative become the final word on this fiasco. Do not believe it.


  1. And Dennis Hopper got really into art in his old age too. How dare people known for crazy antics get all mature on us.

  2. Paraphrase would have to be Carlson and Tucker whining to Jon Stewart that he is so much funnier on his show.

  3. Wow. I wonder if the 92nd St. Y will give me my money back for some horrible student performance art I sat through back in ’94?

  4. Weird, watching Steve Martin being serious must surely be much more impressive than watching him being funny, considering what an astounding comedic talent he has.

    And Dennis Hopper was into art his whole life, the conscious parts of it anyways, as far as I know.

  5. Oh for Christ’s sake, I’m the only person on this blog who still quotes “Stardust Memories”? Way to make me feel old. You kids get offa my lawn!

    1. Hey, just ’cause you beat me to the punch doesn’t mean that I didn’t get it!

      (God bless the local repertory theater back in the early eighties.)

  6. This sucks. Why couldn’t the audience appreciate him as a person who is both intelligent and funny? They really are complementary characteristics after all…

    Oh, and the headline is paraphrasing a quote from Stardust Memories and referring to disappointed comedy fans critiquing of Woody Allen’s later more serious works. Sorry that wasn’t funny.

  7. I don’t have any strong opinion on this, but Steve Martin is known for being a wild and crazy (funny) guy.

    Why should we really care about his opinions on art?

    1. @ Lobster – Why should we really care about his opinions on art?

      You shouldn’t. But you should at least show enough courtesy and respect to let him /express/ those opinions, rather than demanding he entertain you in the way you’re comfortable with.

      In some respects, it depends how this was billed. If the Y set it up as “FUNNYMAN STEVE MARTIN OPINES ON ART! COME FOR A LAUGH!”, then yeah – what actually happened would be legitamately disappointing and confusing. If, on the other hand, they pitched it as “Steve martin will be talking about his new novel and discussing his significant art collection” then members of the audience could well still be confused and diappointed, but it’d only because of any baggage they bought with them.

      1. In some respects, it depends how this was billed.

        Yeah, I’d be interested to see the promotional materials for this event. Sounds like a fairly big deal: 900 attendees at $50 a head means 45 grand in receipts. Not a bad haul for one person interviewing another at the Y.

        I imagine there would be several people who maybe misunderstood the thing as an opportunity to see Steve Martin performing in some sense. Maybe those people were understandably vexed if they felt misled about the planned content of the program. And certainly they’re within their rights to bitch about it via Twitter or email or whatever.

        But whether the Y dropped the ball in not giving a clearer description of the nature of the interview to the audience, or in not giving Martin and Solomon clearer guidelines on the expected scope of the interview, where they really screwed up was in attempting a little “damage control” by passing the note up to Solomon and Martin in the middle of the interview. What an incredibly rude, insulting thing to do. You’d think New Yorkers would be a little more sophisticated and save their obnoxiousness for strangers on the crosswalk. Certainly the audience wasn’t hissing or throwing rotten fruit. The Y screwed up big.

        1. @Donald and Jon,

          “In some respects, it depends how this was billed.”

          “Yeah, I’d be interested to see the promotional materials for this event.”

          Even sadder – it wasn’t complaints from anyone who actually attended the Y; but rather from emails sent by people who were watching a telecast of the event across the country (who paid substantially less than $50/head)…

          The Barrington Stage Company, one of the telecasters, advertised the show in this manner:

          “Martin will discuss life, art and writing in his interview on Monday: Live from NY’s 92Y: Steve Martin with Deborah Solomon. As Cultural Pittsfield was kind to point out – tickets in NYC are $50! Watch the interview simulcast live at BSC for just $10!”

          I just wrote the 92nd st. Y an email voicing my disappointment in their handling of this situation; Instead of voicing your opinion here, I suggest letting them know directly how you feel (politely, please).


    2. Why should we really care about his opinions on art?

      Heaven forbid anyone have a little complexity.

    3. Lobster, is there some law stating that people can only be competent or interesting in a single field of endeavor?

      “Sorry, Mister Franklin, we don’t want to hear about your inventions, your books, or your ambassadorship in France, just about running a print shop.”

    4. Because he wrote a well received fiction book about a woman making her way up through the modern art world that just recently released and this interview was about that book.

  8. i’m confused…

    he’s not the artist of the artwork he’s collecting and being interviewed about, right?

    the audience wanted to hear an interview about HIS art – about the art he produces as an artist. seems like the point he wanted to make is lost in his attempt at being funny and clever – fail. it’s about as funny and clever as those shameless pink panther cash-ins.

  9. Er- he just published a book set in the art world, and was interviewed by Deborah Solomon (Art journalist for the Times)… what the heck did they expect them to talk about- the weather?!

  10. Imagine if someone passed such a note to any of the yapping head “entertainment reporters” during their interview of the “Vampires Diaries” latest cast addition:

    “Please change the subject from his hair regime to a discussion of Picasso’s work as framed by the Second World War.”

  11. Steve Martin is famously unfunny and straight when he is not on stage or in character. He also takes art very seriously. This has been known for years. I think it was one of the Smothers Brothers who said…

    “Being with Steve Martin is like being alone, but lonelier.”

    If you read his book about his journey as a standup comedian, you learn that he is a painstaking craftsman rather than a spontaneous performer. His wild and crazy antics were all carefully orchestrated, and were often used as a jarring counterpoint to his intellectual alter ego.

  12. I bet you these same people would be upset if they showed up to see him in concert, only to find out that he was playing his bluegrass music.

    Steve Martin is a genius. I’m not sure if this is true or not, but I heard that if he was asked for autographs, he would pull out a business card and hand it to them. The card said “This card certifies that you have met Steve Martin, and he was a really nice guy”.

    I walk by Good Morning America on my way to work, and Steve Martin was playing there. I guess he was doing a kids song that day, because there were little kids everywhere. I saw a kid with a piece of paper that looked like Steve Martin had written the kid an excuse from school and signed it at the bottom.

  13. “Forget your set list. Folks are tweeting that they’d prefer Justin Bieber covers” – Note passed to Bob Dylan midway thru set at 92nd St. Y

  14. Hey, they were just following Steve’s grandmother’s advice to criticize things they don’t know about. Next the 9th St Y will be offering free knee removals, oblongercize classes, and exciting yawning festivals.

      1. This wasn’t the YMCA, it was the YMHA. Different.

        Ha! That’s hilarious. The image in my head was of the New York intelligentsia sitting in folding chairs in a basketball court, with the odor of pool chlorine hanging over everything. I was thinking how cool it was that a YMCA would host such a highbrow event.

        So, this YMHA is a place for young Jewish men to cruise for gay sex?

  15. >> the audience wanted to hear an interview about HIS art

    An interview is not a comedy sketch, nor is it just about the interviewee’s accomplishments. We already know about those. The best interviews often are windows into the opinions and interests of the subject, helping to flesh out the artist as a human being and letting us get to know them in a more nuanced way.

    Anyone even remotely familiar with Steve Martin knows he has many other passions besides comedy and I for one would have been absolutely fine to listen to his opinions on art–something he’s truly interested in–rather than hear yet another by the numbers interview on how he came up with the idea of putting an arrow through his head in 1975.

  16. Think about it this way: If Steve were doing a stand-up routine to a packed house, and getting crickets noises instead of laughs, would not the little voice in his head suggest he change direction to try and salvage the show? Give the audience “what they paid for”, so to speak?

    I don’t see anything wrong with actually LISTENING to the audience. Especially one which paid $45,000. If you want to talk about stuff NO ONE but the interviewer cares about, then meet for coffee… and buy the coffee yourself.

    Sure Steve’s a tad annoyed at the interruption, but he should also be grateful that, having not realized it himself, someone had the balls to tell him he was boring his audience to death. That at least gave him the opportunity (and the article does NOT say whether or not he TOOK that opportunity) to steer the ship away from that really big iceberg.

  17. one day in 1994 I was passing a very popular hipster joint cafe in LA, they had a magazine stand around the corner, I think it’s still there – saw about a star every two days in this area – I stopped to flick over mags, and there was this weird dude in bicycle shorts and a windbreaker, I looked over a couple times and caught him glaring with near hatred at me and others reading magazines, like he was harbouring some deep seated anger at these ‘loafers’ (it was a saturday morning), or like we were browsing porn (we weren’t) – it was Steve Martin, and I swear, I never felt like a stranger was disgusted with me like this ever. About ten minutes later, I was driving away, and there he was on his bike, helmet and all, and riding away with his neck craned forward, like he was still angry, at life. Until that day, I was a fan, after that, I realized he has an ego problem, and if you review his career and choices, I think you’ll agree. This self-important ‘artist’ can not leave behind the reasons people know his name in the first place, and expect us to love his love of art or the freakin banjo. It reminds me of that BillyBob Thornton thing that went down on Canadian radio last year: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJWS6qyy7bw

    1. Steve Martin? Don’t know the man, but he looked at me funny once in the street — at least I’m pretty sure it was him — and on this seconds-long contact carried enough comprehension bandwidth for me to conclude that he is a poseur, and a fraud, and personally evil, and probably smells bad. Though I didn’t personally smell him — that look on about the features, especially the slight curl of the lip, would never appear on a man who smelled the least bit good.

      I’d like to type more opinions on the internal characteristics of others based on chance meetings, physiognomy, etc., but the dude next to me at this internet cafe just turned the back of his shoulder toward me and now I have to kill him.

  18. Definitely agree with those saying this it the Y’s fault. I mean seriously, I don’t care who it is, you don’t pay $50 to hear someone being interviewed about their book set in the art world.

    Personally, I would have very much been interested in the interview, Steve Martin’s opinions about art, and all that. I wouldn’t have paid $50 to attend, though – but I would pay $50 (or more) to see a show by him.

    To be cynical, I suspect the Y promoted this in a deliberately confusing way. It probably wasn’t necessary – in NYC I bet you could fill all the seats with people who genuinely wanted to hear him speak about his book and about art, no tricks required. But they might not have been able to get away with charging $50 for it. So they banked on Steve Martin’s name and hoped people would think he was doing comedy, or an “Inside the Actor’s Studio” style interview.

    Something tells me Steve Martin himself wouldn’t be happy knowing people paid $50 to watch an interview with him. I suppose he must have known, though.

  19. Let me put this all in perspective:

    1) This is being done in connection with a NON-COMEDY BOOK Steve Martin wrote.
    2) He is an art collector. A serious one. And has great taste.

    And now here is the big one:
    3) Somehow—in the great scheme of things—if you identify yourself as “comedian” and then dare to do something “non-comedy” the world lashes back at you. This has happened to Woody Allen, Dave Chapelle, Richard Belzer, Bill Murray, Adam Sandler and others: Comedy has the unique distinction of being such a degrading position in the world of creative arts that ANY attempt to show/do anything beyond being funny is treated with pariah-like disdain.

    The 92nd Street Y really comes off like a bunch of a-holes here. And FWIW, they have been on some tear in recent years to be “edgier” and book folks for odd reasons. Odd-ball comedy shows mixed with high-brow. Not a bad idea, but this incident just is pathetic.


  20. Also, Woody Allen should only make funny movies until Congress passes a law that states he can do otherwise.

  21. Dear Steve,

    Can I call you Steve? Just remember what I always say, “There are no second acts in American life as long as the 92nd Street Y has anything to say about it.” Usually, that last bit gets left out of the quotation books for some reason. The current state of my own career is a good example of this. I currently reside in small plot in Rockville, Maryland and am kept from pursuing a second act by a large slab of granite (probably put there by audience members from the 92nd Street Y) that says:

    “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”

    I had the 92nd Street Y in mind when I wrote that. True story.

    Affectionately yours,

    F. Scott Fitzgerald

  22. Excuuuuuuuuuuse ME. Everyone seems to be getting this story completely wrong. I WAS THERE. We were angry at Deborah Solomon, NOT Steve Martin. She was an AWFUL interviewer and he looked genuinely pained by her line of questioning throughout the evening. At times she was downright belligerent. On more than one occasion he had to say to her “I don’t know how to respond to that.” THAT is why the direction was changed and applauded, at least from my perspective. It was out of respect for him. Don’t just take my word for it, here is the COO of Newsweek who was also there:


    Why Martin is defending Solomon is beyond me. If they have a history and she was making attempts at “humor” then it was lost on the audience and it LOOKED lost on Martin too. I wish the 92nd St Y would post video of the event. It would clear everything up. I cannot state enough that it was Solomon who ruined the evening. Was it too much to offer refunds to everyone? Maybe, but in the history of customer service, it’s unbelievable that a non-profit cultural and community center is being attacked for responding to complaints.

  23. If you look at the short bio for Deborah Solomon in that posting, you will see that Solomon is described as an art critic. That alone should be a hint that she is likely to discuss art with Steve Martin, over any other possible topic.

    Of course, the Y could have been clearer by saying, at the top of the announcement, something along the lines of: “Deborah Solomon discusses art with Steve Martin, who has recently written a novel about an artist’s struggle in the art world.”

  24. This is kind of like Patrick Stewart playing King Lear and seeing someone in the front row wearing a Starfleet uniform.

  25. I like Steve Martin. I have enjoyed his comedy. I have read some of his books. But even I have to face that his best days as a comedian and movie-star are disappearing from view.

    If I were to see him speak nowadays, I would hope that he would drone on and on about his latest book, rather than plug “Father of the Bride 4″.

  26. He’s still funny. He recently wrote a hilarious “shouts and murmurs” piece for the New Yorker.

    Must he wear an arrow through his head his whole life?

  27. Maybe it’s just me, but at this point I expect that if it’s not a broadly-telegraphed BARRELOLAFFSCOMEDY, Martin’s going to be aiming towards cerebral as all hell. It’s certainly the way he’s been behaving for the last twenty-some-odd years now, anyways.

    (Have these people never read “Cruel Shoes”?)

  28. I’m on the periphery of the entertainment industry and I hear a lot about public figures; I’ve also been watching Steve Martin for 35 years now. And here’s thing: from everything I have seen by and about Steve Martin, including his standup, his acting, his guesting, his writing (screenplays, plays, essays, etc.) from all of that, Steve Martin just hates people; he is contemptuous of them, universally.

    The audience at the Y picked up on that on one level or another. They didn’t NEED comedy, though that would have been nice, they needed genuine respect and engagement — and you don’t get that from Steve Martin.

    1. Steve Martin just hates people; he is contemptuous of them, universally.

      Well, that is not a fair assessment. If you have worked anywhere in the entertainment industry it’s pretty clear a lot of folks hate their audiences yet have built deep careers based on their fan-base. This is not unique to Steve Martin.

    2. “Steve Martin just hates people”

      This strikes me as somewhat of an oversimplification.

      I’d rephrase as “Steve Martin has a love/hate relationship with his own career, because his born gifts as an entertainer paid off so well and so early that he was never able to become the intellectual he wanted to be.”

      The resulting high/low tension runs through the whole body of work (Plimpton in “LA Story”, for god’s sake), and even powers it… at least for those who see such things.

  29. Jack, I was addressing Steve Martin only. And, yes, I certainly realize how many in that field do come to hate their audiences. But no-one seems to hate like Steve; it’s not just his audience he despises — most of his peers describe him one-on-one as humourless, arrogant, and cold.

    My two favourite performances of his are in “All of Me” and “Roxanne”, where he seemed to play real characters, instead of the repetitive contemptuous incarnation in almost all of his other movies.

    1. Can I ask you this: Do you realize how many author/artist events happen all over this globe, let alone NYC? Many of them are tedious and never live up to expectations. Why then in this case are refunds being offered? Was it really that bad that it warrants a public humiliation like this? This is really all crazy.

  30. I should get a refund for The Spanish Prisoner, but be asked to pay double for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

  31. Just yesterday I suffered through an interview w/ Mr. Martin on NPR – and after that experience I am inclined to agree that any trouble at this NYC interview was most likely caused NOT by Mr. Martin, but by the interviewer.

    On the NPR show he could barley get a word in as the host returned from every break with a long-winded list of accolades from Mr. Martins past, barely asking about his new book, or art, or anything interesting at all.. And every caller seemed compelled to introduce themselves as some kind awesomely multi-talented renaissance person, desperately seeking THE RIGHT DIRECTION; or some sort of guidance/blessing from Mr. Martin. It was all very strange, and I imagine that after dozens of such interviews he is at a loss for how to respond to the same stupid questions…

    As far as a refund for attendees of a $50 lecture in NYC, I say if you have decided to spend $50 on an event like that you don’t need that money back. I’ve got friends in NYC that I’ve seen spend $50 on 2 mediocre cocktails before dinner. How about if the Y donates that night’s proceeds to an art out-reach program or some other suitable charitable cause?

    Also, I suggest reading “Born Standing Up”, Mr. Martin’s autobiography, for those of you who might need a more balanced opinion of the man.

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