Steve Martin with Deborah Solomon
December 2, 2010 3:45 PM   Subscribe

"Artists beware." Deborah Solomon's interview with Steve Martin at the 92nd Street Y was interrupted by a Y representative with a note telling her to talk more about his film career and less about art and his new book, "An Object of Beauty." Some are blaming Steve, some are blaming Deborah. Either way, everyone gets a refund.
posted by Avenger50 (100 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm really disappointed in the Y for doing this. What a shallow audience. Steve Martin is totally right!
posted by ReeMonster at 3:49 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Some are blaming Steve. Some are blaming Deborah. Is anyone blaming the Y representative?
posted by The World Famous at 3:50 PM on December 2, 2010 [11 favorites]


this is the very definition of a dick move.
posted by liza at 3:55 PM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Play the old stuff!"
posted by Artw at 3:55 PM on December 2, 2010 [15 favorites]


Interesting side-effect of real-time feedback on internet broadcasts. Hard to imagine the audience actively heckling during a live performance "do the wild and crazy guy bit!" (alternatively "dance monkey, DANCE!").

I guess blaming the audience would be the obvious answer, 92nd Street Y seems like a better party to blame though.

I got the impression that everyone that *wanted* a refund would get one. I wouldn't ask for one, and would feel like a schmuck for doing so.

I would say more things about it, but the NPR link is full of thoughtful observations about the situation.
posted by el io at 3:56 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow. That's terrible.
posted by brundlefly at 3:56 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is anyone blaming the Y representative?

If you follow things Steve Martin replied to on twitter through the first link, apparently Steve Martin blames the Y.
posted by immlass at 3:56 PM on December 2, 2010


Well, excuuuuuse me!
posted by Joe Beese at 3:57 PM on December 2, 2010 [34 favorites]


Solomon started out as an art writer and critic. Martin is also known to be a very serious art collector. The book is set on the artworld. And WTF? They discussed art???
posted by R. Mutt at 3:59 PM on December 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


My (nearly) free sub to Entertainment Weekly told me that Steve Martin is a master of his craft and tells a detailed story in the art world.
My free sub to Modern Painters pretty much called him a hack who doesn't know a thing about the art world and fills his book with inaccurate proclamations about Art.

So, there you go.
posted by graventy at 3:59 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


This Steve Martin FPP is not funny. I want my $5 back.
posted by Knappster at 4:00 PM on December 2, 2010 [11 favorites]


There's something vaguely horrifying about that "Steve Martin Isn’t A Wild and Crazy Guy Anymore" headline. "Dance, monkey, dance!" indeed.
posted by Artw at 4:01 PM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


At first I was kinda on the pissed off audience's side. I thought to myself, Self, what if you went to see Motorhead, you're all charged up and ready to go, and then Lemmy walks out on stage and sits down on a fold-out chair and starts lecturing about art? Wouldn't you be disappointed? Wouldn't you want your money back? And then I realized that I would actually pay like five hundred dollars to see that.

So -- sorry, Steve. Not your real fans, I suppose.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:01 PM on December 2, 2010 [25 favorites]


(cough, cough) Modern Painters? (cough, cough).
posted by R. Mutt at 4:03 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


They're not necessarily a bunch of boors -- as I understand it, Martin and Solomon spoke at length and in depth about Martin's book despite the fact that it had been released less than a week before. Hardly anyone in the audience was familiar with the material that they were dedicating the bulk of the talk to. A better interviewer wouldn't let the conversation linger so long on such a narrow topic. I mean, you don't need to ask the guy to do stand-up, but try to talk about a wider variety of material, at least.

(And it doesn't help that the event wasn't exactly billed as an art symposium -- the description of the talk focuses on Martin's acting career, and only gives a brief mention to his novel.)
posted by Rhaomi at 4:04 PM on December 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Is this the thread where we talk about Novocaine?
posted by griphus at 4:05 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


(cough, cough) Modern Painters? (cough, cough).

Hey, it was free! And it has lots of pretty pictures that I can glance at or over-analyze to my heart's content!
posted by graventy at 4:06 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Martin should have gone all Newport Folk Festival on them and whipped out an easel on stage.
posted by Artw at 4:06 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Movies? Art? Book? Y didn't anyone someone ask him about his web site.
posted by Israel Tucker at 4:09 PM on December 2, 2010


Never underestimate the stupidity of the American public. Seriously.
posted by tommasz at 4:10 PM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wasn't there, but by some accounts Solomon was basically drowning in her interview, lost in the minutiae of a book that almost no one in the audience had gotten to read yet, and the staffmember was basically trying to throw her a life preserver to get things back on track. I don't really know what to believe.

Could basically have been handled more elegantly by pretty much every single human being involved.
posted by hermitosis at 4:11 PM on December 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well, if anyone had looked at his tour rider they would have known there'd be trouble of some sort a'comin'...
posted by twsf at 4:14 PM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


So the Y advertised the Steve Martin event as "Steve Martin! He's a movie star!" and Steve Martin and Deborah Solomon were there to talk about his book and his fairly banal opinions about art (my impression, from reading and hearing what he has to say about art, and then seeing some of the paintings that Martin has lent to museums, is that he has a fantastic natural eye--some of the Winslow Homers he has are just gorgeous--and, of course, a big bankroll, so he thinks that makes him more of an expert than he is).

I blame the Y. Not the audience--if I buy a ticket to "Steve Martin, the movie star" night, and I get Steve Martin, the rich old WASP who likes to talk about art, I would be quite bummed out.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:14 PM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also after Bringing Down the House, I'd pay $50 to avoid hearing Martin talk about his film work. He hasn't been a credible person to discuss comedy with in over a decade.
posted by hermitosis at 4:15 PM on December 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Solomon was basically drowning in her interview..

Sounds about right.
posted by R. Mutt at 4:15 PM on December 2, 2010


Martin says the Y knew what they were getting. Personally I would have been hoping for a chance to hear him talk about bluegrass.
posted by immlass at 4:19 PM on December 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


I don't think anyone looks particularly good here, but my sympathies are with the Y. Solomon has always seemed weaselly to me (i.e., see the debacle about her fabricated Questions pieces). As for Martin--the "blaming Deborah" link sums it up for me: he's smart, but over-rehearsed, like a precocious child trying to earn the attention and affection of accomplished but distant parents.

Sounds like a painful evening for everyone, no matter whose side you take.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:24 PM on December 2, 2010


I'd like to hear more of Steve Martin talking tech and whether he solved his time zone problem on his smart phone.
posted by jaimev at 4:24 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


The only thing worse than a actor talking the meaning of art is an actor talking politics.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:26 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


A while back, maybe 6 or 7 years ago, I saw Hall & Oates at some suburban summerfest free music in the park type show. They insisted on only playing new stuff. It was one of the most awkward shows I've ever seen. Say what you will about artistic integrity, and defying easy expectations, but without those people in the crowd who want to hear Sara Smile, you wouldn't be on that stage. So suck it up and play Maneater you smug bastards.
posted by billyfleetwood at 4:26 PM on December 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


Martin should have gone all Newport Folk Festival on them and whipped out an easel on stage.

an electric easel.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 4:26 PM on December 2, 2010 [10 favorites]


Poor interviewers are my pet peeve, along with poor panel moderators. If you can't keep a discussion moving forward and staying on topic, you have no business being on that stage.
posted by Aquaman at 4:28 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


an electric easel.

PAINT IT FUCKING LOUD
posted by mykescipark at 4:29 PM on December 2, 2010 [18 favorites]


Should I ever talk at the 92nd Street Y I will be carrying a piece of paper on which are written the words "Fuck you!", so I can pull it out and make the appropriate reply.
posted by Artw at 4:29 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have not read enough about this to really understand the situation at all, but I will side with Steve Martin because of this. I will always side with Steve martin because of that.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:38 PM on December 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


by some accounts Solomon was basically drowning in her interview, lost in the minutiae of a book that almost no one in the audience had gotten to read yet, and the staffmember was basically trying to throw her a life preserver to get things back on track.

Yeah, folks need to read the "blaming Deborah" link in full before passing judgment:

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 about the art world, An Object of Beauty. 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. That did not stop Solomon....Later, Solomon wanted to relate a complicated sequence late in the book in which a character dons Joseph Beuys's "Felt Suit."


If that's accurate, Solomon's strategy for handling the interview was a bad one, and the lesson here isn't "Americans feel entitled to force stars to keep answering stupid stardom-related questions" but "Americans get pissed when someone is badly handling a potentially awesome interview they've paid money to see." Until we get video of the first part of the interview we won't really be able to judge honestly for ourselves.
posted by mediareport at 4:40 PM on December 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


To be fair, were I in the audience my Q&A question would have been "Old duded skeeving on younger chicks, good or bad? Your work seems confusing on this point."
posted by Artw at 4:48 PM on December 2, 2010


Well, excuuuuuse me!

Don't know if this is still the case but back in the day (specifically when he made the movie Roxanne up in BC), the word was Martin had it written into his contract that any crew member who used that line with him in any sort of discussion would be immediately fired.

The flip of this is, I've heard from people who've actually met Steve Martin that he's a genuinely kind and thoughtful guy.

I think the real problem here is that, novelist or not, he's trading on his fame as a comic to get the spotlight. That is, other-writer-who-is-not-Steve-Martin-but-who-has-written-books-of-"equal"-quality, would likely not have got himself an interview at the "Y" in the first place.
posted by philip-random at 4:58 PM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


To be fair, were I in the audience my Q&A question would have been "Old duded skeeving on younger chicks, good or bad? Your work seems confusing on this point."

The biographical critic in me says "APPARENTLY A-OK!"
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:59 PM on December 2, 2010


Don't know if this is still the case but back in the day (specifically when he made the movie Roxanne up in BC), the word was Martin had it written into his contract that any crew member who used that line with him in any sort of discussion would be immediately fired.

I call bullshit here.

Y'know what was a good book/movie? Shopgirl.

Where is my picture of Garcia and Martin jamming banjos?
posted by fixedgear at 5:01 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's a comment posted on the 92Y blog from an audience member that I find quite convincing/persuasive... At the very least, it proves to me that this isn't the right time to repeat tired arguments about the stupidity of the American public. The crowd at the 92Y isn't exactly composed of "unwashed masses".

I am compelled to comment about the Steve Martin event last night hosted by Deborah Solomon. A potentially exciting and insightful evening with a comedic and show business legend was incredibly disappointing. 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. It seems exceedingly difficult to die onstage with Steve Martin but Ms. Solomon found a way. After 15 minutes of asking stilted questions followed by reading passages from Mr. Martin’s book, it was apparent how embarrassingly unprepared and un-funny Ms. Solomon was. The audience was squirming and Mr. Martin knew it. To his credit and professionalism, his recognition of this bomb was mercifully ended early. Her utter inability to change direction, even after being interrupted by a staff member only highlighted the mistake in having her as the moderator. We are frequent patrons of the Y and have enjoyed the bulk of the programming. However, last night ought to serve as a warning to the Programming staff to pay attention to the appropriateness of the moderator and the chemistry with the guest. My guess is Steve Martin will not be returning anytime soon to the Y. A buzz kill and a shame.
posted by BobbyVan at 5:08 PM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I haven't read this particular book, I admit, but why does there seem to be an assumption in this thread that Steve Martin is a lousy or perhaps mediocre writer whose work in that field is not worth talking about? None of what I know of his writing would imply this -- "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" does not get regular performances all over the place because of his name, but because it is a very good play, for example.
posted by kyrademon at 5:18 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Direct link to the comment BobbyVan quoted.
posted by mediareport at 5:22 PM on December 2, 2010


the description of the talk focuses on Martin's acting career, and only gives a brief mention to his novel

I disagree; it's mostly about his writing. The blurb describes him as a "writer, actor and performer." It lists five of his movies and notes that he also wrote the screenplays. It mentions his Emmy Awards for his television writing, his play, two previous books, and his new book.

Plus, he just released a new novel, which most people who'd pay $50 to see him talk are probably aware of. They're also likely aware of this thing called a book tour.
posted by kirkaracha at 5:24 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Where is my picture of Garcia and Martin jamming banjos?

Garcia and Martin, jamming banjos.
posted by mikelieman at 5:25 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


There are a number of similar comments from audience members on the NPR blog piece also.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:25 PM on December 2, 2010


It's interesting; a 'concept' interview, at an art and culture venue, about a relevant piece of art literature, draws calls for less culture and philosophy and more history.

While the refunding is tacky, at the least, it demonstrates that art and culture at the Y are only permitted to be highly conservative. Where would art and culture be without failures or experiments that didn't do what the audience dictated or expected?
posted by mrmod at 5:27 PM on December 2, 2010


how embarrassingly unprepared and un-funny Ms. Solomon was.

Not sure why she was expected to be "funny" in talking about a book that really isn't funny, even in the way that "comedies of manners" are generally funny?

It's quite a good book qua book--it's sort of like an updated Louis Auchincloss novel about rich WASPs--but it's not funny and I don't think is meant to be funny. Also, it doesn't have anything particularly groundbreaking to say about art, in my opinion.

That said, it sounds like Solomon did a terrible job of interviewing Martin about his book, in addition to whatever other expectations the audience may have had. Reading passages from the book aloud is doom--if anyone's going to read bits from the book, it should be the author, not the interviewer.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:27 PM on December 2, 2010


thanks, mediareport... forgot to include link in my comment.
posted by BobbyVan at 5:28 PM on December 2, 2010


Folks should remember that Martin asked for Solomon - described by the NYT as "a longtime friend" - to do the interviewing. That was probably the first mistake.
posted by mediareport at 5:31 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Questions about Deborah Solomon's interviewing skills aren't new (and Ira Glass has some particularly harsh words for her).
posted by BobbyVan at 5:32 PM on December 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


That is, other-writer-who-is-not-Steve-Martin-but-who-has-written-books-of-"equal"-quality, would likely not have got himself an interview at the "Y" in the first place.

I have personally seen much less accomplished novelists (who were known only for being novelists) interviewed at the Y. Here's their current mainstage reading series--it's not all superstars.

As a novelist, Steve Martin is a good craftsman who gets some interesting ideas and who sometimes astonishes me with dialogue so vivid I hear it in my head when I read it. And then other times he is overly wordy and confusing. I could say the same for many other people whose fame only comes from their novels.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:34 PM on December 2, 2010


If you think Martin cashed in on his comedy cred to join the art crowd on dubious aesthetic grounds (my opinion), you would have been paying attention and would not have paid fifty bucks to go see him.

If you take him seriously, and that is perfectly OK; there are far worse writers who have weaseled their way into serious fiction through non-literary pathways...well, then, you may have been disappointed, but not bamboozled, however the interview happened to have turned out.

If you paid fifty bucks to see him doing an act that he stopped doing thirty years ago, well, what are you doing in New York? Move back to Akron. (Nothing personal. I like Akron and enjoyed my first cup of coffee in Akron, a decent city with a nice Giant Tire.)
posted by kozad at 5:37 PM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


The NPR comments are worth sorting through for the responses from folks who were there, including a link to these tweets from Joseph Galarneau, Newsweek's chief operating officer:

Incredible sight: interview w/ witty & charming @SteveMartinToGo botched by boorish & blundering NYT writer @92Y. Audience almost hissing. 9:12 PM Nov 29th via Twitter for iPhone

@koblin I was @ 92Y. Wasn't issue of Solomon not pandering to People mag crowd. She was boorish, blundering, unperceptive & obscure.
posted by mediareport at 5:40 PM on December 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


That's an awful lot of money to pay to see Steve Martin when he's basically using it to promote his book. Obviously there was some miscommunication going on between the Y's agenda (if they were using this event for fundraising) and the journalist and Martin.

I would probably fall under the "art ignorant" category, but I recently paid $50 (which is a lot for me at the moment) to see a musician and I would have been really disappointed if he hadn't played some of his old songs. In fact, I checked that he was going to play old songs instead of just promoting his new CD and refusing to do more than that.

I would be pleased at a refund, frankly, if I were in that situation. I want to hear Steve Martin talk about his career, actually. He's so funny and bright about acting and movies. I don't really care about his views on art or writing --- I don't enjoy either of those from him and I'm not familiar with them. But I am familiar with that funny movie he did with Queen Latifah and I would like to hear about it.

I think it's everybody's fault. I'm sort of surprised that Martin isn't more understanding of people who came to see him. Not all of us enjoy or understand art discussions.
posted by anniecat at 5:41 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


anniecat, the folks who were there are saying they weren't upset at the art discussion focus at all. They're upset that Solomon was such a crappy interviewer.
posted by mediareport at 5:42 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


suck it up and play Maneater you smug bastards.

Change Maneater to "Rocking In The Free World" and make bastards singular and you are quoting the catcalls I heard when seeing Neil Young perform Greendale from beginning to end.
posted by bonefish at 5:48 PM on December 2, 2010


Um, kozad, that giant tire is on I-94 in Allen Park, Michigan, not Akron.
posted by Oriole Adams at 6:04 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


He should have just brought his banjo and put a stop to all the BS.
posted by PuppyCat at 6:21 PM on December 2, 2010


If Solomon's smug interviews in the New York Times are any gauge, the people who actually paid cash money to watch her "interview" Martin don't deserve refunds.
posted by blucevalo at 6:26 PM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


That's an awful lot of money to pay to see Steve Martin when he's basically using it to promote his book.

Hear, hear.
posted by Superfrankenstein at 6:28 PM on December 2, 2010


Did Solomon get to make up the questions afterwards, like she does in her NYT column?

I loved her book on Joseph Cornell, but those columns!
posted by Ideefixe at 6:49 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Steve Martin Pink Panther Forgiven Status : UNFORGIVEN
posted by fullerine at 6:54 PM on December 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


When my sister was in high school, my parents decided to lease a new car for my mom, thus freeing up her old town car for the kid to get around. My dad saw this as an opportunity to display his wit in that most public form of conveyance, the vanity license plate. He is a Steve Martin fan, and in a brave attempt at homage, decided to order the following plate:

XQQQQME

My sister had to field that one her entire senior year, the brave soul.
posted by pedmands at 6:58 PM on December 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Paint me shocked, anyone who has ever read Solomon's shallow drivel in the NYT knows damned well that she couldn't interview a paper bag in a compelling fashion, much less a living, breathing human.
posted by dbiedny at 7:11 PM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


anyone who has ever read Solomon's shallow drivel in the NYT knows damned well that she couldn't interview a paper bag in a compelling fashion, much less a living, breathing human

Well, anyone except Steve Martin, who had his people book them as a double act.

You can't blame that one on the Y.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:16 PM on December 2, 2010


Steve is such a well rounded and interesting guy that it would be really difficult to fuck up an interview with him unless one was, you know, scared shitless, intimidated and starstruck.

I used to think his banjo playing was a part of his comedy schtick. Man, was I wrong about that. This reminds me that I need to check out his kinda recent album.
posted by snsranch at 7:26 PM on December 2, 2010


That's an awful lot of money to pay to see Steve Martin when he's basically using it to promote his book.

This is pretty much the MO of the 92nd St. Y. They're (mainly/most famously) a cultural venue which sells tickets to readings, lecture series, and events such as this. Yes, most of the time when they get a huge celebrity, said celebrity is promoting something and is otherwise on a book tour. You could probably even wait a few days and catch them for free at Barnes & Noble or the like. Nobody who pays to see a lecture or panel at the Y is unaware of this.

The idea is that you can line up in the cold all day outside B&N in hopes that you'll get in to the Steve Martin signing, or you can pay $50 for the knowledge that you WILL be getting in. Though I guess even that doesn't guarantee that the interview will be interesting.
posted by Sara C. at 7:32 PM on December 2, 2010


Martin's own tweets are kinda angry right now. Yikes!
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:35 PM on December 2, 2010


Oh, shoot, I just linked to his Twitter page, not to the specific tweets I meant. The ones I meant are the ones from 9:30 p.m. EST and onward.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:36 PM on December 2, 2010


So will viewer refunds be given for My Blue Heaven?
posted by blueberry at 7:47 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Things I Wouldn't Pay to Hear Steve Martin Discussing;

The social history of the steamer trunk
Grease from ambergris
Meshach, Shadrach and Abed-nego
The wily pamplemousse
Spores of West Africa
The Velveteen Tapir
Mores of the Art Dealers of the Upper West Side

What? Oh, well, never mind then.
posted by newdaddy at 8:19 PM on December 2, 2010


I was at this event.

I lay this 100% at Solomon's feet. She was HORRIBLE. I can go into detail if people want, but it was this awful interviewer, at odds with the audience, wasting (and I can only think of the word "wasting" in this context) a conversation with a smart, funny man by making it all about her, and then turning on the audience as she led the thing down into a deeper and deeper rathole.
posted by jscott at 8:21 PM on December 2, 2010 [10 favorites]


Not sure why she was expected to be "funny" in talking about a book that really isn't funny, even in the way that "comedies of manners" are generally funny?

Good interviews, even those about serious subjects, often elicit moments of laughter from the audience. This is particularly true in an hour long live format. The idea behind an interview is, at some level, to be informative and entertaining. In fact, it is very difficult to be informative without some entertainment as people pay much better attention when they are not sleeping. Is being funny requisite to be entertaining? It is not. But I am hard pressed to think of any good hour long interview that does not at least have a few knowing chuckles from the audience. It's not "Be Wild And Crazy!" it's about understanding the dynamics of a room and working with your audience. One of the first things most speakers are taught is that it's crucial to get the audience on your side very early on in an interview and there are very few methods as effective as inciting laughter. So, yes. She was expected to be funny, or at least to give Martin opportunities to be funny. It is part and parcel of the job of a good interviewer.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:22 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Steve Martin could read the phone book and I'd pay to see it.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:34 PM on December 2, 2010


I can go into detail if people want

Yes, please. (I'd like to know what went down, from someone who - unlike NPR's Linda Holmes - was actually there)
posted by Auden at 8:37 PM on December 2, 2010


Yeah, the more we hear from folks who were there the better. Because Linda Holmes' rant against "the entitlement of the incurious" is beginning to look an awful lot like completely misinformed and insulting garbage. She doesn't even *consider* the possibility that Solomon might have been the problem, instead leaping to broad generalizations about what the people in the crowd were expecting, if not demanding, and calling out their "ridiculous, risk-averse, and...deeply chicken-hearted behavior."

That's quite a revealing little phrase. Is there anything more "chicken-hearted" than insulting large numbers of people in print without talking to any of them first?
posted by mediareport at 8:57 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This article from above captures the first third of the evening perfectly:
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 about the art world, An Object of Beauty. 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. That did not stop Solomon.

92Y's status as a specifically Jewish center of culture is usually best left unmentioned during events (it is a thoroughly ecumenical center), so it seemed a breach of decorum to praise Martin for making positive characters of the Nathansons, a Jewish art-dealer couple in the book, while reserving his satirical barbs for a gentile couple named Boggs. Later, Solomon wanted to relate a complicated sequence late in the book in which a character dons Joseph Beuys's "Felt Suit."
Well, almost perfectly - her tone of voice and cutting martin off added even more pathos and badness to the situation.

So, basically, at this point, the evening is a dog and oh well. It happens. She sucks, a shame we paid $50 a head for this, Steve Martin is still The Man and guess we'll catch him the next time he makes an appearance.

When someone walked on stage with a card at that moment, I think that it was both astounding, and horrible.

Astounding because it's just the sort of fantasy you might have, to walk up and go "oh, come on, people, let's try again". But, I mean, you don't act on that fantasy, you just grumble and grouse.

But the 92Y people obviously panicked and sent someone up there, who stops the interview dead to give Solomon a card.

Since Solomon had already shown herself to be a self-obsessed, timing-poor, uninteresting interviewer, the outcome from then on was clear.

A GOOD interview would have been floored by that. Imagine you're on stage and someone literally gives you the equivalent of the hook, a voice-from-on-high going "this is going terribly, do something" and EVERYONE SEES IT. Since she wasn't, she assumed (like some of the press writing) that this was the audience demanding to hear more about the Oscars and The Jerk. No! The audience wanted her to stop sucking.

But dropping the card (twice! someone came on stage twice to hand her a card!) didn't make her suck less, it made her suck more.

So I drop it all on Solomon, but the 92Y people gave her a bit of a push, too. I mean, fake a technical difficulty, make a light go out, call it and give a dressing down backstage while you "fix the difficulty". They made it even worse.

That's my take.

Dinner was awesome, though; ate at a place called "Square Meal" a block over; top quality food. A+++++.
posted by jscott at 8:58 PM on December 2, 2010 [13 favorites]


As a postscript: I've been to two other 92Y events (Chip Kidd interviewing Neil Gaiman, Terry Gross interviewing Jon Stewart). Both were top notch.
posted by jscott at 9:01 PM on December 2, 2010


Having seen Martin in concert at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest this year, I say he has every damn reason in the world to still talk about comedy, just not comedy and film together. Comedy and bluegrass is another story entirely. He was a riot.
posted by raysmj at 9:52 PM on December 2, 2010


SteveMartinToGo
I am offering to erase my signature from signed books at 92nd St. Y.

SteveMartinToGo
Trusting wife said she was not expecting “book chat” in the middle of love-making ordeal.

SteveMartinToGo
Made love to wife. She demanded refund.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:32 PM on December 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Say what you will about artistic integrity, and defying easy expectations, but without those people in the crowd who want to hear Sara Smile

I saw them in 1983 and they didn't play Sara Smile. We sneer at artists who refuse to take risks, then demand setlist guarantees.
posted by paulina961 at 6:19 AM on December 3, 2010


So has anyone who was at the event come out to say they thought Solomon was okay? I only ask because it seems like Steve Martin didn't see the problem, so I'm curious if there were any audience members who were happy enough with the way the interview was going. There's usually a range of opinions about these things after all... But so far I haven't seen anything offering the other side.
posted by mdn at 6:54 AM on December 3, 2010


Here is a comprehensive demolishing of the notion that non-cultured rubes in the audience are to blame... from someone who was present at the event.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:24 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


The thing I am most shocked about is the speed at which the refund was offered. The Y is a nonprofit organization and by all accounts I've heard, subject to the same tarpits of bureaucracy that any other nonprofit is. The fact that the refund thing was decided overnight basically tells me that the decision was made in a total state of panic.

They are in a bad position. If they'd just sat back and offered refunds to everyone who asked for one -- even if that turned out to be a lot of people -- they'd have dealt with some bad word-of-mouth, but nothing like this. By rushing to throw Solomon (and by proxy, Martin) under the bus, they've actually alienated MORE potential audience members, as well as the stars and artists that they court for their events.

Fortunately, no one will remember this in a month.
posted by hermitosis at 7:26 AM on December 3, 2010


hermitosis: I couldn't disagree with you more. I wasn't there, but it seems that the only people who were present who think the event went well were Deborah Solomon and perhaps Steve Martin (who is Deborah's friend).

Rather, it's much more reasonable to suppose that the refunds were offered so that members of the audience -- who had been alienated by what was by all accounts an utter failure to engage them by the moderator -- would be willing to pay $50 in the future to attend a 92Y talk.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:35 AM on December 3, 2010


More important question: Who's paying $50 to go see talks that usually end up free online in some form or another anyway?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:27 AM on December 3, 2010


I read Deborah Solomon's hideous Q&As in the Sunday Times sort of like Bud Cort went to funerals in Harold and Maude. She is revoltingly fascinating. And now, to stage a suicide.
posted by Skot at 8:45 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


More important question: Who's paying $50 to go see talks that usually end up free online in some form or another anyway?

...and has two thumbs? THIS guy.

Do you browse youtube for party footage instead of going to parties? Or, less flip: as part of being a living person, going out, having a great meal and going to a lecture/event where you can contribute via asking questions (writing them on a card) and get an autograph and meet the speaker, you can have a good time doing so, talking with others, and so on. I had a great conversation with a family who'd attended the Martin/Solomon talk and who apparently hadn't seen each other in a while because they all thought I was one of the cousins.

To some people, the value of "I was in the room when JFK was speaking" is greater than "I saw a recording of JFK speaking."
posted by jscott at 8:56 AM on December 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


What can you say when the ducks walk in?
posted by ovvl at 8:57 AM on December 3, 2010


More important question: Who's paying $50 to go see talks that usually end up free online in some form or another anyway?

I am, occasionally. For some of the reasons Sara C. mentioned.

Also, I saw a discussion (it was free) with the actors from The Kids Are All Right this week (Lisa Cholodenko did not make it, bummer!) and being able to see their body language and how they reacted while another actor was speaking was interesting and presumably would not have been captured on video b/c the close up would have been on the actor speaking.
posted by mlis at 9:08 AM on December 3, 2010


More important question: Who's paying $50 to go see talks that usually end up free online in some form or another anyway?

After I see a band live, the next day, I always watch the footage people record and post to YouTube the next few days. Stage presence and being surrounded by an audience as equally admiring of the performer (or interviewee, in this case) is something that can be conveyed in video about as well as smell. Martin is one of the greatest comedians alive and if I had it, I would've spent to $50 to hear him speak candidly about endangered sea otters, let alone a piece of fiction he was responsible for.
posted by griphus at 9:17 AM on December 3, 2010


griphus: "Martin is one of the greatest comedians alive and if I had it, I would've spent to $50 to hear him speak candidly about endangered sea otters, let alone a piece of fiction he was responsible for."

There's a qualitative difference between seeing a performance or viewing a work of art and listening to an (apparently underqualified) person talk to a person about their work of art. The former is the experience of the artist's creativity in itself, and for that, they should be compensated so they can continue eating. Chefs and waiters should be compensated for making a nice dinner because they've produced a sensory product that I enjoy, that comes with raw material costs, etc. The 92nd Street Y should find ways to recoup costs if fundraising is ineffective.

But 50 bucks to watch an interview - one which was apparently a lot worse than, say, Steve Martin's interview about this book on Charlie Rose? Surely there are cheaper ways to meet interesting people.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:59 AM on December 3, 2010


I've never liked Solomon, and I like her less now. And if she's such a friend of Steve Martin's that he insisted on being interviewed by her, I think less of him.
posted by languagehat at 10:59 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Tom Scocca has a brilliant piece in Slate on the 92Y kerfuffle.

Deborah Solomon criticizing the 92nd Street Y crowd for its vulgar interests is the pot calling the kettle a stupid pot that just wishes it were a kettle. It's Michael Bloomberg calling someone a thin-skinned little tyrant, or Albert Haynesworth complaining that someone is fat and out of shape. It's Heidi Montag making fun of someone for having fake breasts. Deborah Solomon can't understand why people don't want to talk about the book.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:15 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Actually, the description of his book sounds really interesting, and I'll read it as soon as I get a chance.

Also, regarding the Steve Martin: comedian or writer debate, I don't think his dancing gets enough credit. Not kidding: watch 'Pennies from Heaven' again.
posted by ovvl at 11:30 AM on December 3, 2010


But 50 bucks to watch an interview - one which was apparently a lot worse than, say, Steve Martin's interview about this book on Charlie Rose? Surely there are cheaper ways to meet interesting people.

FWIW, entertainment prices are inflated in New York compared to the rest of the country. In a city where it can cost over $100 to see a hit play or see a band at Madison Square Garden, $50 to see what looks like it will be an entertaining evening with Steve Martin doesn't look that bad.

On the other hand, you can also see a lot of great stuff for cheap/free if you're willing to endure inconvenience or restrict yourself to unknown performers.
posted by Sara C. at 11:31 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I saw this article in the NYTimes first, and only realized reading this thread that it was the same Deborah Solomon from their Sunday Magazine. It's really gratifying to know that I'm not alone in having problems with her style. In previous years, whenever I clicked on the "Questions for..." feature in the Sunday Mag, I'd be baffled at how bad it was - short, stilted interviews with weird, apropos-of-nothing questions - and wonder why on earth the Times published it at all.

I've since learned to just avoid the feature altogether; but if "Questions" is any indication of her overall skill, I can absolutely believe she was the cause of problems with the 92nd Street Y evening.
posted by missix at 11:48 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Here is a comprehensive demolishing of the notion that non-cultured rubes in the audience are to blame... from someone who was present at the event.

From the comments: "So two rich assholes put on a crappy interview for their wealthy audience and someone’s monocle popped out. Who give a shit?"
posted by kirkaracha at 4:19 PM on December 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Steve Martin has written an Op-Ed for the New York Times with his opinion on the whole situation:

The Art of Interruption (Registration Required)

As I mentioned before, he seems to have a blind spot to Solomon sucking as an interviewer, but he also drops some other relevant information: his appearance at the 92Y was for free, he found out his appearance was being simulcast backstage just before it began (which angered him) and he felt the card telling them to change the interview was stupid. He knew things were going downhill, but he's been onstage before and was obviously working to move things in a better direction with his answers and conversation, and the whole thing was stopped dead.
posted by jscott at 11:44 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


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