Joke's on Steve Martin after a gig so dull the crowd got a refund

By David Usborne
Friday 03 December 2010 01:00

Steve Martin, the actor and author, is not used to being called a flop, but how else do you describe the fallout from his appearance this week at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan for a sell-out, hour-long conversation with Deborah Solomon, a writer for the New York Times Sunday magazine? It seems they didn't exactly scintillate.

Two things about the night would indicate that it did not go particularly well. First, there was the appearance on stage halfway through of a young lady in the employ of the Y with a note for Ms Solomon suggesting that she get off the subject of art, which had thus far consumed them. The implication was pretty obvious. Could you talk – please! – about Mr Martin and his, you know, celebrity life.

The other clue is that ,since the event, the Y has contacted every member of the audience, apologised if their boredom thresholds were breached, and even offered a refund of their money.

The latter is especially surprising since few large cultural institutions in New York are more high-brow than the 92nd Street Y. It was presumably for that reason that Martin and Solomon, who are friends, assumed that largely restricting their conversation to the art world and artists would be perfectly reasonable. Mr Martin is, after all, a notable collector and art is the main theme of his latest novel, released two weeks ago, An Object of Beauty.

It seems not. Even regulars of the Y want a little gossip. It would not have done any harm, it seems, if Ms Solomon had ventured into the territory of Mr Martin's experience co-hosting the Oscars with Alec Baldwin or perfecting his faux French accent to play Clouseau in The Pink Panther remakes.

"We acknowledge that last night's event with Steve Martin did not meet the standard of excellence that you have come to expect from 92nd Street Y," the message by the Y's executive director, Sol Adler, began. "We planned for a more comprehensive discussion and we, too, were disappointed with the evening." Everybody who 'endured' the pair will receive $50 credit towards future Y events.

None of this brouhaha has pleased Mr Martin or Ms Solomon. According to the former, the Y buckled and sent the note on to the stage after receiving emailed complaints from people who were watching the event live in remote venues across the US. "So the 92nd Street Y has determined that the course of its interviews should be dictated in real time by its audience's emails," Mr Martin noted tartly on his Twitter feed. "Artists beware." He told The New York Times he was "appalled" to discover refunds had been offered, adding that being told to change tack was "a little like an actor responding in Act III to an audience's texts to 'shorten the soliloquies'."

Meanwhile Ms Solomon said: "The Y never told me what they wanted." Her most startling moment may have been when she elected to read the note about changing the topic from art out loud and the audience suddenly broke into applause. "Steve, we blew it," she said on stage in a brave attempt at humour.

Mr Martin tried the same strategy. After question cards were then collected from the audience and, indeed, revealed an overwhelming curiosity about him and his life, he turned back to Ms Solomon and said: "Go back to the book".

Don't worry Steve, you're not alone...

Sarah Silverman

Hotly-tipped as "the funniest woman alive" by Rolling Stone magazine, the American comedian's jokes about rape and abortion caused uncomfortable silences at a star-studded gig at the Hammersmith Apollo, London in 2008.

Patrick McGuinness

'Paddy' McGuinness's innuendo-laden set stunned the Queen and her 3,000-strong audience at last year's Royal Variety Performance. Gags about sexuality were said to have drawn a "muted reaction" from the conservative crowd.

Russell Brand

Members of Brand's showbiz audience took serious offence at his jokes when he hosted the 2008 MTV Awards. One dubbed him "a shit" live on air when he poked fun at singers the Jonas Brothers. The audience at home was said to be more appreciative.

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