Comedian Steve Martin tells jokes. He acts funny in movies. He also writes books. He plays the banjo. He’s an art collector. All of those facets make up the diamond of the man — but not in the stern glare from the 92nd Street Y in New York City. The 92nd Street Y wanted Steve Martin to be one thing, and one thing only: Funny.
The 92nd Street Y prides itself on being a cultural touchstone:
Founded in 1874 as the Young Men’s Hebrew Association where Jewish men could find harmony and good fellowship, 92nd Street Y today has evolved into a world-renowned community and cultural center; an organization of exhilarating vitality and remarkable diversity; a proudly Jewish institution that reaches out to people of every race, ethnicity, religion, age and economic class.
Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication between the 92nd Street Y and Steve Martin — because refunds were issued to those who paid $50.00USD to see Mr. Martin in person:
But Sol Adler, the Y’s executive director, saw it differently. “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 St. Y,” he wrote in an e-mail to ticket holders. “We planned for a more comprehensive discussion and we, too, were disappointed with the evening. We will be mailing you a $50 certificate for each ticket you purchased to last night’s event. The gift certificate can be used toward future 92Y events, pending availability.”
Ouch! That’s quite a cruel and public — and unnecessary! — bitch slap from the 92nd Street Y to Mr. Martin’s craggy face.
I guess Steve wanted to talk about art and his new book, and the 92nd Street Y wanted Steve to talk about his funny acting career and get laughs to entertain a paying audience.
Here is Steve’s version of the event:
When I arrived for Monday’s talk, I was informed that it would be telecast on closed-circuit TV across the country. What I wasn’t told was that the viewers were going to be encouraged to send in e-mails during the discussion; what 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 that said, “Discuss Steve’s career.”
This was as jarring and disheartening as a cellphone jangle during an Act V soliloquy. I did not know who had sent this note nor that it was in response to those e-mails. Regardless, it was hard to get on track, any track, after the note’s arrival, and finally, when I answered submitted questions that had been selected by the people in charge, I knew I would have rather died onstage with art talk than with the predictable questions that had been chosen for me. Since that night, the Y has graciously apologized for its hastiness — and I am pleased to say that I look forward to returning there soon, especially to play basketball.
We’re with Steve on this one. Today, when you hire Steve Martin, you’re getting the man, not a performing dog who does tricks when the audience gets snippy and impatient. If you want Steve Martin’s “Wild and Crazy Guy!” stand-up comedy routine, then pay him for that persona, and provide him the arrow-through-the-head prop, and tailor a new all-white suit, and make sure your “intellectual” 92nd Street Y audience knows you’re paying for the funny and not the genuine mind of the man.