On Monday night, a sold-out crowd at the 92nd Street Y paid $50 a pop to watch Steve Martin talk with NY Times columnist Deborah Solomon about his new novel, which concerns an "ambitious young art dealer" in NYC. Anyone willing to pay $50 to watch Martin chitchat probably knows that he's an avid art collector, but the Times reports that when the conversation lingered too long on boring old art, a "Y representative" handed Solomon a note asking her to cut the artsy fartsy crap and talk about Martin's movie career. For fifty bucks, couldn't he at least do some of that "wild and crazy guys" stuff from SNL? Dance, monkey! But now everybody's offended, and Solomon dropped the "ph"-bomb!
"The Y never told me what they wanted," Solomon tells the Times. "Frankly, you would think that an audience in New York, at the 92nd Street Y, would be interested in hearing about art and artists. I had no idea that the Y programmers wanted me to talk to Steve instead on what it’s like to host the Oscars or appear in It’s Complicated with Alec Baldwin. I think the Y, which is supposedly a champion of the arts, has behaved very crassly and is reinforcing the most philistine aspects of a culture that values celebrity and award shows over art." Call us lowbrow, but we would have loved to hear Martin dish on working up close and personal with Mr. Alec Baldwin. We bet he smells like roasted almonds and peppercorn! And what about that race for a taxi with Kevin Bacon in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles? Did they have to do a lot of takes to get that right?
The Y has offered full refunds to all 900 audience members in attendance, and says viewers watching the interview by closed-circuit television from across the country sent e-mails to the Y complaining "that the evening was not going the way they wished, meaning we were discussing art." Solomon read the note out loud, and Martin described the experience as "a little like an actor responding in Act III to an audience’s texts to 'shorten the soliloquies.' " (Tweeting from the event, Newsweek's COO Joseph Galarneau reports that the "audience almost hissing." And later: "Wasn't issue of Solomon not pandering to People mag crowd. She was boorish, blundering, unperceptive & obscure.")
After it was all over, the Y's director sent an e-mail all ticket holders apologizing for an event which "did not meet the standard of excellence that you have come to expect." Martin calls that reaction "discourteous," adding, "As for the Y’s standard of excellence, it can’t be that high because this is the second time I’ve appeared there." (On his Twitter, he's a little less funny, a little more indignant.)
The critical reaction to Solomon is pretty negative. Martin Schneider at Em Dashes says, "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... 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." And an audience member commenting on the Y's blog was even harsher: "Ms. Solomon demonstrated a truly rare ability - she turned an hour of conversation with one of the funniest people on the planet into an uncomfortable and misdirected bore."