Friday, December 3, 2010

Steve Martin is in the center of weird

I was looking at my Twitter today, and I noticed some odd tweets from Steve Martin. Stuff about how he'd be erasing his name from signed books and how he'd made love to his wife and she demanded a refund. Funny but weird, right?

Then I saw another tweet, with a link to an article. An NPR blog, actually, and that explained what happened. Earlier this week, Mr. Martin made an appearance at  the 92nd Street Y, which I gather is a real center for arts and culture; they have a regular interview series featuring many well-known figures. He has a new book out which is set against the backdrop of the arts scene - you know, paintings and stuff - and so the interviewer, Deborah Solomon - a journalist, a friend of his, and if not an arts "expert," she has written on the subject - talked with him about art.

In the middle of it, according to this blog and an article in the New York Times, someone passed a note to Ms. Solomon (right). The note said that people watching the interview online were sending emails demanding that the interviewer ask more questions about Mr. Martin's movie career. Ms. Solomon read it aloud, and the live audience cheered. She took some questions from the audience, and the interview wrapped up on time.

That's all a little surreal, but here's where it gets downright rude.

The 92nd Street Y (seen at left) sent a notice to everyone who'd bought a ticket (apparently they were $50 a pop) and basically apologized for the interview and offered them a credit towards a ticket to a different event.

That's just crazy. Let me make a few points:
  • The patrons of the 92nd Street Y are supposedly interested in arts and culture.
  • The interview was, theoretically, not advertised as a comedy show.
  • Any idiot can Google "Steve Martin" and find video clips, interviews, and print articles about his career.
  • Any moron scheduling an appearance with Mr. Martin now should know that he has a book to promote.
  • Ms. Solomon has since said that the organizers gave her no guidelines on topics of conversation.
Switching gears for just a moment, I'm a big fan of Harrison Ford's. I know all his stories. I've read all about his career. I know how he got the scar in real life, how Indiana Jones got the scar, how Jack Trainer got the scar in "Working Girl," and I can tell the story verbatim of how, after his first movie role (a bellhop in "Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round"), an executive called him into his office and said, "Kid," (he called him "kid"), "The first film role Tony Curtis had he was delivering a bag of groceries, a bag of groceries, and you took one look at him and you said, 'That guy's going to be a star.'" To which Harrison responded, "I thought you were supposed to think, "That's guy's a grocery delivery boy."

These things still come up every once in a while, but a lot of times, even when he has a new movie out, the interviewers will talk to him about his flying (he's a licensed airplane and helicopter pilot, if you hadn't heard), about his work with Conservation International, about his ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and you end up with great stuff like, "Moose are the El Dorado of ungulates" and the story of how he went to a store on behalf of a friend with a young child, and he asked a stockboy where the diapers were, and the kid sent him to the aisle that had the Depends.

Then there's Michael Palin of Monty Python fame. I tuned in to his "Around the World in 80 Days" expecting a bit of a lark, but it was a serious attempt to recreate the journey described in the Verne novel. It had moments of humor but it was also educational and enlightening and quite enjoyable. On the flip side, I went to a history lecture by another Python alum, Terry Jones, and expected a somewhat dry and trying-to-be-funny-but-embarrassingly-falling-short talk based on one of his books, and it was actually quite entertaining as well.

The point of these digressions is to show that an open-minded, intelligent person sitting quietly and listening to someone who interests them for one reason may find new reasons to admire and appreciate that someone. The same tired stories may not be boring exactly (Harrison could read the phone book to me and I'd be happy) but why not break new ground. That would be even more stimulating. The people who complained had no right to complain. They paid to see an interview with a talented, well-rounded, intelligent artist and that's what they got.

The 92nd Street Y was well within its rights and responsibilities to its patrons to quietly provide refunds or credits to patrons who demanded their money back or even to those who actively expressed some displeasure. I have no idea how many emails the Y received or from whom. It could have been six guys sitting together in a pub firing drunken volleys every three minutes from their iPhones. The cheer from the audience, by the way, is not so telling; a live audience will cheer at anything.

Instead, the Y chose to send a blanket email that assumed everyone was unhappy with the interview and wanted their money back. It was a slap in the face to Mr. Martin and Ms. Solomon. It sets a dangerous precedent for their lecture series - in future, should interviewers and special guests shy away from new territory and open discussion and focus only on old news and the standard stories the guests are famous for? And what if I, upon hearing the same old stories, complain vociferously that I wanted something new? Will I get a credit to see another speaker? What if I'm only in New York for a couple of days - will you refund the money to my charge card? Why charge people to see it at all? You can't please all of the people all of the time, so what's the use in even trying?

The 92nd Street Y owes Mr. Martin and Ms. Solomon public apologies. And  a credit to select another, more intelligent and discerning audience for their next interview.