Martin Schneider writes:
It was a curious scene Monday night at 92Y. Steve Martin and Deborah Solomon, who is responsible for the "Questions For" feature in The New York Times Magazine, were slated to entertain a mostly filled Kaufmann Concert Hall (and, via simulcast, many other viewers at synagogues around the country) with an hour or so of lively chat.
It took only a few minutes for Solomon to alienate the audience thoroughly.
Solomon's strategy was to treat the event like a book report, covering, almost chapter by chapter, Martin's new novel about the art world, An Object of Beauty. As Martin pointed out, it was wise to assume that the percentage of spectators who had read the book, published only a few days earlier, was "zero," making in-depth discussion of the characters' foibles something less than the optimal plan. That did not stop Solomon.
92Y's status as a specifically Jewish center of culture is usually best left unmentioned during events (it is a thoroughly ecumenical center), so it seemed a breach of decorum to praise Martin for making positive characters of the Nathansons, a Jewish art-dealer couple in the book, while reserving his satirical barbs for a gentile couple named Boggs. Later, Solomon wanted to relate a complicated sequence late in the book in which a character dons Joseph Beuys's "Felt Suit."
It was about at this point that 92Y, to its credit, attempted to steer the discourse to more fruitful terrain. A young lady strode onstage and handed Solomon a card: "Ask him about his career." Cue thunderous applause.
For his part, Martin, always the consummately professional entertainer, understood immediately that Solomon had lost the audience, and poked fun at her (apparently they are friendly offstage). When, a bit later, the same young lady handed Solomon the audience Q&A cards, Martin deadpanned, "Go back to the book."
To be honest, I'm not the biggest Steve Martin fan. There's little doubt that he's ridiculously talented, works hard, has a keen intelligence, and has succeeded in a variety of fields in addition to comedic acting, including fiction and banjo music. Credit to him for all that. Generally, however, his comedy seems somewhat overrehearsed and "cold" to me, and cast of mind in other arenas strike me as a bit whitebread.
Still, the man is good, as evidenced, for instance, by his "leaked"/hilarious tour rider, which he released over the summer. It's a testament to his skills that even I, a skeptic, found myself emailing that link to my friends—it was that brilliantly executed.
So, long story short, the event was a bit of a dud, but that shouldn't reflect poorly on Steve Martin or 92Y.
Update: 92Y has offered to refund ticketholders. Classy move.
Hello! We're a small band of culture writers, editors, and artists based in New York and Los Angeles. Emdashes, which spent its formative years as a New Yorker fan blog, is our collection of conversations—mostly civilized—about magazines, movies, design, punctuation, and other things that stir us.
Want to know more about the people who contribute to Emdashes, and the secret meanings behind our column titles? All about us.
We welcome tips, questions, comments, and corrections, and are always on the lookout for ardent, obsessive contributors. Click here to email us.
We host occasional book giveaways. Publishers, please email us for our postal address.
Looking for The New Yorker magazine? Kudos on your classy taste. Here's how to contact The New Yorker.
Emdashes, founded in 2004, is written and drawn by Emily Gordon, Martin Schneider, Pollux, Jonathan Taylor, and Benjamin Chambers, as well as occasional guest contributors. All posts before October 2008 are by Emily Gordon.