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Steve Martin Would ‘Have Rather Died Onstage’ Than Taken ‘Predictable Questions’

The 92Y issued a formal apology and a $50 refund after Steve Martin's talk with Deborah Solomon on Monday, because he was doing all this boring art talk and not talking about himself and his long career in comedy. The Y claims that they were dealing with audience complaints and that the event did not meet the institution's "standard of excellence." But now Martin's hitting back with an op-ed in today's Times that claims he was so thrown off by a Y staff member sent onstage, mid-conversation, with a note that said, "Discuss Steve’s career," that he basically wanted to die.


"I wasn’t told was that the viewers were going to be encouraged to send in e-mails during the discussion; I didn’t expect was that the Y would take the temperature of those e-mailed reactions, and then respond to them by sending a staff member onstage, mid-conversation, with a note ... as jarring and disheartening as a cellphone jangle during an Act V soliloquy ... It was hard to get on track, any track, after the note’s arrival, and finally, when I answered submitted questions, I knew I would have rather died onstage with art talk than with the predictable questions that had been chosen for me."

Yikes! Martin says the Y has since apologized to him for being so harsh and he looks forward "to playing basketball" there soon, but he still has regrets about the talk. He wonders what could have been, if only that damn distracting note had not gotten in the way:


"I have no doubt that, in time, and with some cooperation from the audience, we would have achieved ignition. I have been performing a long time, and I can tell when the audience’s attention is straying. I do not need a note. 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. But I can’t help wondering what we might have said if we hadn’t been stopped."

And just in case the Times op-ed wasn't defensive enough, Martin is still tweeting about the incident: "CBS demands refund for my appearance on CBS Sunday Morning," he joked today.

We love Steve Martin — who doesn't love Steve Martin, besides the crowd at the 92Y on Monday? — but the nature of a live conversation is that you only get one shot. Had Martin actually sung his novel, there probably wouldn't have been this problem. And while it sounds like the Y was being particularly harsh, this op-ed reads like the equivalent of a text message received after you run into someone who fumbled the stop-and-chat: Your mind's already made up, and they're best off just trying again next time.

The Art of Interruption [NYT]

Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images