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This conversation is too intellectual for you? Well excuuuuuuuuuuuuse me!

Posted by Jesse Singal  December 3, 2010 05:55 PM

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martin.jpgI really got a kick out of this story from Wednesday's Times, which reported on the fallout from a discussion between Steve Martin and Deborah Solomon at the 92nd Street Y in New York. Apparently, neither the Y nor some members of the audience were pleased with the fact that the conversation mostly covered the art world (the subject of Martin's new novel):

Midway through the conversation, a Y representative handed Ms. Solomon a note asking her to talk more about Mr. Martin’s career and, implicitly, less about the art world[.]

According to Mr. Martin, 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.”

It was, he said, “a little like an actor responding in Act III to an audience’s texts to ‘shorten the soliloquies.’ ”

The Y ended up sending an apology and a refund to everyone in attendance, which is a silly bit of overreaction and defensiveness from what is supposed to be an institution dedicated in part to intellectual discourse. Unless I'm missing something, the event description didn't make any specific claims about what Martin and Solomon would discuss, so why all the complaining?

Part of the reason this is such a great story is that it highlights the difference between Martin's popular public persona — the guy with the fake arrow through his head who is most famous for the semi-meaningless catch phrase "Excuuuuuuuuse me!" — and Martin the man. He happens to be an extremely erudite guy, a true polymath who excels at everything from stand-up comedy to fiction writing to playing the banjo. This is readily apparent to anyone who has listened to one of his albums or seen him perform.

Take this bit from "A Wild and Crazy Guy:"

It's so hard to believe in anything anymore, you know what I mean? It's like, religion, you can't really take it seriously, because it seems so mythological, and it seems so arbitrary. And then, on the other hand, science, you know, is just pure empiricism, and by virtue of its method, it excludes metaphysics. I guess I wouldn't believe in anything if it weren't for my lucky astrology mood watch.

So no, I don't think it's valid to complain that you went to see Steve Martin and there was too much intellectualism afoot.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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