Crowd Gets Refund Because Steve Martin No Longer Wants To Be Funny

The lectures and other events at NYC’s 92nd St Y are a varied lot and can range from intellectually stimulating to downright hilarious — and can be, on rare occasions, both. And that’s what many in the audience to see comedian/actor/author/banjo-player Steve Martin were expecting.

But what the crowd got was a discussion of the art world and his brand new novel that apparently didn’t raise so much as a chuckle from those in attendance.


Part of the problem was that [host Deborah Solomon] narrowly focused on An Object Of Beauty for the majority of the discussion, despite it only being released a few days prior, making it near-impossible for those who hadn’t read it yet to follow along.

As the audience in the auditorium and online grew restless, a note was passed to the host to liven things up with some questions from the audience, a move to which the intellectual genius behind “King Tut” took umbrage:
“So the 92nd St. Y has determined that the course of its interviews should be dictated in real time by its audience’s emails. Artists beware,” he Tweeted after the event.

Even with the small bit of audience interaction, many were left just plain bored. So to make nice with their ticket-buyers, the 92nd St Y has offered refunds of the $50 tickets. In an e-mail, the organization wrote that it had “planned for a more comprehensive discussion and we, too, were disappointed with the evening.”

Ms. Solomon expressed her own disappointment with the Y, telling the NY Times, “I think the Y, which is supposedly a champion of the arts, has behaved very crassly and is reinforcing the most philistine aspects of a culture that values celebrity and award shows over art.”

Comedian Conversation Falls Flat at 92nd Street Y [NY Times]
Tickets refunded for “boring” Steve Martin show []


Edit Your Comment

  1. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    Steve Martin is a celebrity before he’s an “artist” (in many people’s minds, I imagine), so the audience was right in expecting a discussion on award shows instead of art.


    • Baccus83 says:

      Steve Martin has been writing novels and plays for more than a decade. He’s also an avid art collector and musician. There is no reason, other than people’s own willful ignorance, that anybody should have expected an interview with Steve Martin to be about his comedy career, which basically peaked in the 70s.

      • pinkbunnyslippers says:

        Sorry, but when I hear the name Steve Martin, “avid art collector” and “playwright” don’t automatically spring to mind. If they do for you, then I’m glad to hear you’re more enlightened than the other 99.96% of us who associate his name with his comedy career.

      • KyleOrton says:

        Steve Martin’s art collecting and writing don’t justify a $50 ticket price. There are a lot of artists who are very poor and do interviews and book readings for no money at all. In terms of his art, he’s closer to these people. In terms of comedy, he’s worthy of $50+ tickets.

  2. Jerry Vandesic says:

    If I were Martin or Solomon I would certainly take offense. Sounds like the managment at the Y is in the wrong here.

    • TheMonkeyKing says:

      How so? They provide the venue and confirm the artist(s) and speakers.

      James Lipton is a good example of a host. He stays on point and measure the interviewee and the audience. If he feels either are sliding away, he finds ways to bring them back.

      Since we are all about blaming people, I suggest we blame Deborah Solomon because she lost the crowd. If I pay $50 to see someone I want to know what i am paying for.

  3. ChuckECheese says:

    No junk, no soul.

  4. Gravitational Eddy says:

    So, the show sucked, didn’t it?

    After all that, they asked the host Debbie, “what up?”
    And she was like “all you mofo’s don’t know shit!” “Lusers”
    And they were all like “shaddup bitch, we want funny!”
    And he was all like “why am I here?” (whisper,whisper) “Oh yeah.”
    And then they were all like “BOOOOOO gimme my money back bitches!

  5. Norvy says:


    $50 credits to another show.

    • sonneillon says:

      That’s as good as can be reasonably expected. It wasn’t that the show was canceled, merely that it sucked.

  6. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    The best performance I ever saw there was by a bunch of really smart, very good looking editors for a really hip website. I think Steve Martin was just pissed he couldn’t top that act.

  7. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I can accept that in a setting such as this, you can’t please everyone – there are people who would like nothing more than to hear him discuss his early days, and people who want to ask him 60 Pink Panther questions.

    But what I’m seeing is that the host of the discussion unwisely chose to focus on a subject that had limited scope and was simply not relevant to most of the audience, since the book she was discussing had only been out for a few days. I haven’t even read it yet, and as most people have things to do, or jobs that pay the salary that affords them the opportunity to see Steve Martin at $50 a pop, it was unreasonable for the host to start discussing (and hello, spoiler alert!) the book that most of the audience had not read.

    I definitely don’t see it as any kind of infringement upon the arts, nor is it crass for the forum to refund the ticket cost. These people did not get what they paid for; they paid for a comprehensive and varied lecture and discussion with Steve Martin; what they got was a limited, fairly irrelevent (for the audience) discussion about Steve Martin’s book.

    • the Persistent Sound of Sensationalism says:


      Haven’t read it? I hadn’t heard of it until this article. I did read Born Standing Up, which is a great book. Having read that, I can hardly blame Steve Martin for being a little annoyed.

    • GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

      A friend of mine saw John Lequizamo perform, but it just happened to be after Spalding Gray’s death, and instead of his usual routine, he told me he performed a “homage” type act to Spalding, which wasn’t nearly as funny as his usual act, and he was a little bummed.

    • coren says:

      I think that the host and Steve went in planning one thing (since he is on a promotional tour for his book) and the Y promised another, and that’s where the disconnect happened. I’d guess they never clarified what would happen at this other than “well Steve Martin is gonna be there” and just assumed something

  8. Black Bellamy says:

    Ms. Solomon sounds a little stuck up. Oh how philistine! lolz @ sophisto twit

  9. chiieddy says:

    He’s been going around promoting his new art book and his novels. The Y should have known he’s on a promotional tour and what he’s promoting and advertised it correctly.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Right. It’s okay to promote a book, read a little from it, or whatnot, but that’s something that should be one slice of the conversation, not the entire premise. The book, at that point, had only been out for a few days. If people wanted to go to a book signing and in-depth discussion of the book, and not hit on the movies or the award shows or his personal life, there were other (and less expensive) ways of doing that.

    • Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

      Right…because a majority of his career he was known for not being funny and promoting books. I guess you could say Steve should have know what the Y is known for before taking the gig.

      • Baccus83 says:

        Dude, just because YOU know Steve Martin as the actor / comedian from the 70’s and 80’s, doesn’t mean he isn’t very well known and respected as a novelist and playwright. He is.

        • Framling says:

          Not to mention a Grammy-award-winning banjo player. Steve Martin isn’t going to limit himself to doing what he’s know for doing.

      • coren says:

        Whether or not he’s known for anything, if they book him when he’s on a tour promoting something, they should have an expectation that he’ll be discussing that, or clarified what would be covered.

  10. topcad says:

    I always thought Steve Martin was a “Jerk”.
    bahdump bump. cymbal crash.

  11. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    For context, let’s take a look at the description on the 92nd Street Y website:

    Steve Martin is a celebrated writer, actor and performer. His film credits include Father of the Bride, Parenthood and The Spanish Prisoner, as well as Roxanne, L.A. Story and Bowfinger, for which he also wrote the screenplays. He’s won Emmy Awards for his television writing and two Grammy Awards for comedy albums. In addition to a play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, he has written a best-selling collection of comic pieces, Pure Drivel and a best-selling novella, Shopgirl. His most recent novel is An Object of Beauty: A Novel

    It lists his many works across many genres, but nowhere on that page does it ever list an agenda or set topic. The audience was perfectly reasonable to expect a more varied list of topics as the man’s career has spanned several decades and across several mediums.

    • DragonThermo says:

      If that’s true, then it is the Y who did not publicize the event properly. The Jerk and the sophisto twit probably intended it to be a serious discussion about the Jerk’s new serious book. The audience probably thought they were going to see a wild and crazy guy/banjo player.

      It would be like going to an event to see the Rolling Stones but when you get there it turns out to be a panel discussion on Quantitative Easing. I don’t blame the audience for feeling cheated.

      • RandomHookup says:

        I found the same event listing and it’s a poor job of setting expectations. If you are going to keep to a very narrow topic (and it’s true that this is often the case with well-known artists who have a lot they can talk about), then you need to tell everyone something about the content. Steve’s background is a little too broad for the organizers to assume that it will be okay to talk only about his newly released book without informing the audience beforehand (especially when you are charging $50 for the pleasure).

  12. skapig says:

    This was clearly part of a book tour. My guess is that they were contractually obligated to stay on particular topics, naturally focusing on the book for the sake of raising interest. It might have been billed as something that it wasn’t, but I that’s not something I can determine. Heaven forbid people suck it up and enjoy some intellectual discussion though. Comedians tend to have some pretty interesting things to say outside of their comedy routines.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      RTFA, no one was forced/told what the topics would be. The host was asked to be the host, and the host chose the topics to discuss based on Martin’s new book.

      You’ve been RTFA’d!

  13. Mom says:

    I don’t know where I stand on this. Anyone who’s followed Steve Martin in recent years would know that he’s just not that funny anymore, nor does he seem to want to be. Interesting, mostly, but funny, not so much. But it sounds like the evening was dreadful. The promotional materials the Y put out certainly don’t seem to reflect the actual content of the show, and $50 seems a bit much for what the audience got. So, I seem to have talked myself into thinking the Y was right for offering refunds.

  14. Beeker26 says:

    +1 for the use of the word “philistine”. Unfortunately she also gets a -1000 for the use of the word “philistine” in this particular context.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I give her – 2000 for saying “I had no idea that the Y programmers wanted me to talk to Steve instead on what it’s like to host the Oscars or appear in ‘It’s Complicated’ with Alec Baldwin.”

      She makes the audience sound dumb. The audience probably wanted something more serious than “what kind of cheese do you like?” and way less stuffy than an hours-long discussion about the art world. I’m sure one or two of them enjoyed it, but it seems to me that the majority of the audience was looking for personal observations and a little glimpse into his life.

  15. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    I don’t really know how book tours work, but if he was really interested in promoting his BOOK only, wouldn’t he have chosen to do it at say, a big barnes and noble in the city? Not charged $$ to see him, had sort of a quasi-intimate discussion of his book? Honestly, when I see something going at the Y and it is charging a fee, I look at that as “entertainment”, not me sitting around listening to an author talk about his book – in fact, I’d actually be pretty pissed too if I just paid $50 for that, celebrity or not.

    When “He’s Just Not That Into You” came out, I went to go see the authors (don’t judge me) in a Nordstrom and it was free, they talked about it to a wide group of people, and didn’t get huffy when god forbid the audience wanted to ask some questions.

    Am I completely off base here?

  16. humphrmi says:

    I have a friend who has been writing professionally for a few years, before that he was a musician. With the release of his latest book he invited me to an event in (both of) our hometown, Chicago. Wife and I went, and he had a band doing songs related to his book (it is a Beatles mashup), and his own presentation which was both intelligent and funny. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening, and even though attendees got free autographed copies (included in the price of the event) I would have bought his book based on the event alone.

    My point, and I do have one, is that stuck-up entertainers-turned-writers don’t have to turn their backs on their entertainment background just because they write a book. Steve Martin doesn’t have to yell “Let’s get small” to get a laugh anymore – he has proven that he can do hi-brow comedy. So I suspect that some folks expected a mix of that and intellectual discussion. Boring your audience doesn’t sell books.

  17. redskull says:

    When a person gets their start in show business by wearing an arrow through their head, it’s gonna be tough to shed that image and be accepted as a serious artiste.

  18. jbandsma says:

    Sorry, I’ve never found Martin funny in the first place.

  19. mandy_Reeves says:

    that’s like when you buy tickets to see Bill Cosby. You think you will get to hear all is old stuff about his kids, his brother Russell or whatever. Instead he lectures everyone on how black people today give black people a bad name and politics and whatever.

  20. Excuse My Ambition Deficit Disorder says:

    Mr. Martin seems to be getting a bigger chip on his shoulder as he ages. I recently saw him in an interview and people were laughing, but not because what he said was funny. They were doing this more along the lines of his condescending remarks to the host took them off guard and they were not sure how to react. Plus, the sign that said “applause”…

    Most public speakers like to engage their target audience, and change on the fly if the audience is drifting away. Apparently Steve is his own best audience and as long as he is entertained…screw the paying audience.

    I blame the OP and when I say the OP I mean Steve and when I say Steve I mean Twitter…

  21. tresser says:

    missed opportunity for Steve to channel Andy Kaufman and read The Great Gatsby to the audience.

    • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

      Or maybe that was the point entirely? Just not a direct plagiarism of Kaufman’s work?

  22. DanKelley98 says:

    Love Steve Martin. But he certainly was either very naive, misinformed over what the crowd was expecting, or didn’t give a crap.

  23. El_Fez says:

    Steve Martin has decided he doesn’t want to be funny? How odd, since I decided that he was no longer funny a decade ago.

    Nice to see we’re all on the same page now.

  24. TooManyHobbies says:

    Apparently these people haven’t been paying attention. I would have expected exactly what they got.

  25. rdclark says:

    Venues and bookers have an obligation to understand and anticipate audience expectations. If a singer who usually tours with a backing band is appearing by himself, the show is labeled “solo acoustic” or whatever. If a musician is appearing as a lecturer to talk about bicycle commuting, it’s advertised as a lecture.

    When Martin toured behind his banjo album, the shows were clearly labeled “Steve Martin: An Evening of Bluegrass and Banjo.”

    So if this lecture was properly labeled, the audience is at fault. If it wasn’t, the venue/promoter is at fault. If it was supposed to be one thing according to the contract between Martin and the promoter, and turned out to be something else, then it’s the artist’s fault.


  26. vastrightwing says:

    This reminds me of when I walked out on a George Carlin performance. I paid money thinking that I’d be entertained. Instead, I received a lecture on how horrible the republicans were and anyone who believed their lies. He was on a rant and frankly, I didn’t pay to listen to him rant for 30 mins or more. I finally left after 30 mins when I figured he wasn’t there to deliver a comedy show. I didn’t bother to ask for my money back because I figured I would not. So I never went to see him perform again. So thanks George for ruining my night out.

    I applaud the management of the venue to give the patrons credit for a performance that was disappointing to many who attended.

    • lucky13 says:

      I recall watching a cable show of Carlin’s about 20 years ago and we were all dumbfounded at how not only was it not funny but downright obnoxious – basically just an angry rant with none of the comedic insight Carlin was known for. Turned out he had just completed rehab after quitting drugs, so I can understand why he was cranky. He did redeem himself later on by finding his funny bone again, but I still think he crossed a line with that special and a lot of his fans never forgave him for it.

    • halfcuban says:

      Are you fucking kidding me? Had you absolutely no familiarity with George Carlin at all? Or did you expect him to do the 10 things you can’t say on TV again?

      People will always complain about comedians and performers who don’t play or do the material they want to hear, but you aren’t paying to hear him recite something you heard but to see him do a show of whatever the hell he wants to do. Now sometimes artists bill their shows as “Greatest Hits” or a specific album or period or something, but otherwise, what you get is whatever they want to give to you. If you’re not willing to take that chance listen to the album or watch the video at home.

      As Siouxsie Sioux once said “Shut up. You’ll take what we give you and like it.”

  27. ElizabethD says:

    This SO could have been avoided by better management.

    Note to event planners everywhere: Get absolute clarity IN ADVANCE from your guest host as to the substance of the upcoming interview or panel. Communicate that substance in your promotional materials to prospective audience members. A TITLE is helpful (the 92nd St Y site listing for this event included neither a title nor a hint of content for the Martin event). That way you have managed expectations as much as possible, possible thinning the herd of celebrity stalkers who want guffaws and gossip and attracting more serious-minded art aficionados.

    Just sayin’: ounce of prevention etc.

  28. Jemish says:

    It was an interview style program though. If anyone is at fault it is the person asking the questions, not the person answering them.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      I have to agree. The person responsible for guiding the interview is the interviewer, not the interviewee. That’s not to say that sometimes it doesn’t get out of control or waaaaaay off topic. But a good interviewer will have techniques for handling that.

  29. teke367 says:

    So I can get my money back for all his films over the last 10+ years then?

    • pinkbunnyslippers says:

      You mean you didn’t thoroughly enjoy the likes of Bowfinger and my personal favorite, Bringing Down The House?

  30. XianZomby says:

    What’s Ms Solomon’s beef? Is she mad becasue the Y refunded patron’s money — reflecting poorly on her; so she says they “behaved very crassly and is reinforcing the most philistine aspects of a culture that values celebrity and award shows over art?” Is that her beef?

    I wouldn’t pay to hear Carrot Top do a speech on economics, and I wouldn’t pay to hear Steven Hawkings do a presentation on skateboarding.

    Comedy is art. Steve Martin is an artist, a comedian. I expect him to perform his art. And I expect the host to encourage the artist to perform his art. She failed to do that. He failed to perform.

  31. PhilFR says:

    Forget the comedy. Have Steve pull out the banjo!

  32. Darkneuro says:

    sounds like it was set up to support the book, but MAYBE wasn’t advertised that way…..

  33. cecilsaxon says:

    When I was in the first Gulf war Steve Martin came over and honest to goodness refused to do anything other than pitch his new movie and his new projects. He refused literally to do anything to entertain infantry men that had been stuck in the middle of no where for 8 months straight. Since that day I have bee an “Un-Fan” of Steve Martin. No class at all.

    A contrast- John Denver came to the DMZ (North/South Korean Border) and sang songs for us, just himself and his guitar for almost 3 hours in a pretty cold and miserable December. He was a real man and a real entertainer, not a pretender like Steve Martin.

  34. hhole says:

    wow…all these comments and no one went for the obvious Steve Martin response?

    “Well excuseeeeeee MEEEEEEE!!!”

    Damn…I am so old.

  35. CreekDog says:

    Heck, Steve Martin talking to Leo Laporte about tweeting was fairly entertaining. If the show was “boring” and Steve Martin is your guest –you screwed up. He’s one of the more engaging personalities to listen to. All the host needed to do was give him a variety of things to talk about that the audience could appreciate (not hard for Martin to do).

  36. nacoran says:

    “So the 92nd St. Y has determined that the course of its interviews should be dictated in real time by its audience’s emails. Artists beware,”

    That’s a step too far removed. If he was on top of his game he would have realized he was bombing and corrected on the fly.

  37. RandomHookup says:

    Here’s how the Y advertised it:

    Steve Martin with Deborah Solomon

    Date & Time: Mon, Nov 29, 2010, 9:15pm
    Steve Martin with Deborah Solomon

    Steve Martin is a celebrated writer, actor and performer. His film credits include Father of the Bride, Parenthood and The Spanish Prisoner, as well as Roxanne, L.A. Story and Bowfinger, for which he also wrote the screenplays. He’s won Emmy Awards for his television writing and two Grammy Awards for comedy albums. In addition to a play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, he has written a best-selling collection of comic pieces, Pure Drivel and a best-selling novella, Shopgirl. His most recent novel is An Object of Beauty: A Novel.

    Not much enlightenment there.

  38. Spiro_Agnew says:

    I think steve martin is a little too big for his britches. But maybe I was just looking at The Jerk poster.

  39. baristabrawl says:

    So he IS a douche.

  40. TampaShooters says:

    Was it billed as a comedy hour or discussion?

  41. FrugalFreak says:

    I think they wanted more Steve and less book advertising that they had to pay for. People generally hate paying for advertisments. When I think Steve Martin Tickets, I think Comedy. an example would be paying to see Ghandi talk about cooking or decorating.