92nd St Y's Apology Not Enough for Steve Martin

Sunday, December 05, 2010 - 03:02 PM

Maybe he should've just worn an arrow through his head, or danced like a pharaoh.

Whatever Steve Martin did while on-stage at the 92nd Street Y, it clearly wasn't interesting enough for some patrons. Last Monday, Martin sat down for a chat with Deborah Solomon of The New York Times.  The discussion was about art -- in light of his Martin's book set in the art world -- but according to Sol Adler, the executive director of the Y, the institution "received numerous complaints from audience members about how the interview was conducted."

The Y management sought to mollify these (clearly quite powerful, if easily bored) patrons in spectacular fashion: it offered refunds, in the form of gift certificates, to every one of the hundreds of people who had turned up. Based on the available data, that would be a $45,000 apology.

On Friday, Adler issued another apology, not to its patrons but to Martin and Solomon:

"We realize now that offering a refund, especially without consulting with our guests who graciously gave of their time, was disrespectful. We have learned our lesson, and this will not happen again."

What the Y probably didn't anticipate was just how peeved Martin himself would be by the whole episode, and that he'd manage to commandeer prime real estate, on the NYT's op-ed page, to argue his position. He conceded that his discussion with Solomon may have been boring initially, but said the Y was truly at fault by caving in to impatient viewers:

"When I arrived for Monday’s talk, I was informed that it would be telecast on closed-circuit TV across the country. What I wasn’t told was that the viewers were going to be encouraged to send in e-mails during the discussion; what I didn’t expect was that the Y would take the temperature of those e-mailed reactions, and then respond to them by sending a staff member onstage, mid-conversation, with a note that said, “Discuss Steve’s career.”

This was as jarring and disheartening as a cellphone jangle during an Act V soliloquy. I did not know who had sent this note nor that it was in response to those e-mails. Regardless, it was hard to get on track, any track, after the note’s arrival, and finally, when I answered submitted questions that had been selected by the people in charge, I knew I would have rather died onstage with art talk than with the predictable questions that had been chosen for me."

Martin also noted that he and Solomon had done the event for free; what his op-ed didn't mention is that he has a new novel to promote and stood to benefit from the event. But his message, while aimed at the Y, could be intended for other programmers of high culture as well: "But I can’t help wondering what we might have said if we hadn’t been stopped. Maybe we were just around the corner from something thrilling. Isn’t that the nature of a live conversation? It halts, it stutters, it doubles back, it soars," wrote Martin.


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Comments [3]

David Harris from CT

I was there. (I plead guilty to the charge of ‘philistine’ not having heard of Deborah Solomon before). My recollection: within one minute of the start of the interview, I whispered to my wife how dreadful this moderator was. At T + 5, Steve Martin’s hands shook as he picked up and then put down a coffee cup without drinking. At T + 10, Mr. Martin’s squirming had spread into the audience (and oh, did he know it) as it became apparent how embarrassingly unprepared and un-funny Ms. Solomon was. In fact, Deborah Solomon demonstrated a truly rare ability – she managed to turn an hour of conversation with one of the funniest people on the planet into an uncomfortable and misdirected bore. It would seem exceedingly difficult to die onstage with Steve Martin but Ms. Solomon found a way. To Mr. Martin’s credit and professionalism, his recognition of this bomb was mercifully ended early. A buzz kill and a shame.

Dec. 06 2010 02:01 PM
Caroline from Brooklyn

That's not what really happened. Read the first person accounts. Let's not ruin responsible journalism too.

Dec. 06 2010 12:46 PM
jik from Sydney

The New Yorker has a 80min (video) discussion with Steve on iTunes. Highly recommended.

Dec. 06 2010 03:58 AM

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