Judging solely by the comments it received here, reactions to the reactions to Steve Martin’s recent “boring” performance at the 92nd Street Y were decidedly mixed, ranging from sympathy for the artiste forced to pander to the mouth-breathing public, to the argument that, well, a celebrity has a certain obligation to talk about himself if he’s using his name to sell tickets. For his part, Martin is still mostly upset over the way the venue handled it, writing in a Sunday op-ed piece for the New York Times that giving interviewer Deborah Solomon a note mid-show asking them to stop talking so narrowly about the art world and segue instead into a broader discussion of Martin’s career “as jarring and disheartening as a cellphone jangle during an Act V soliloquy.” He then goes on to say that, once he obliged by submitting to a more Steve Martin-centric line of questioning, he “knew I would have rather died onstage with art talk than with the predictable questions that had been chosen for me,” which probably won’t help his case with folks who feel Martin has gotten a bit windy and ungraciously self-serious lately.
But Martin does concede that things weren’t going all that well: “Was I boring? Yes, I might have been.” He acknowledges that maybe he might have helped matters by reading a few pages from his recently released novel, An Object Of Beauty, which could have provided some context for the discussion and Solomon’s exclusively specific line of questioning. He also admitted he could sense the growing discomfort, saying, “I have been performing a long time, and I can tell when the audience’s attention is straying…. My mind was already churning like a weather front; at that moment, if I could have sung my novel to a Broadway beat I would have.” And maybe he was just getting ready to do that—but then, the impudent interruption of that note:
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. We might have found a small nugget, something off topic or unexpected. If the e-mailers could have lived with “I am unamused” for just a little longer, or had given us some understanding based on past performance, or even a little old-fashioned respect, something worthwhile, unusual or calamitous might have emerged. Who knows, maybe I would have ended up singing my novel.
Right, or maybe instead of doing that, at the tail end of that discussion he and Solomon might have finally used his new novel as an entry point for a broader digression into his creative process, his evolution as a writer, the origins of his literary aspirations and how they grew from his comedy career, and the challenges of being a comic actor branching outward into more serious art forms and balancing that newfound passion with the inherent expectations of his persona, thereby promoting his book and covering its very specific themes while still satisfying a larger audience that paid $50 to see an interview with Steve Martin. Or maybe not. Thanks to that note, we’ll just never know.