Thursday, December 09, 2010

A Comedist "Dylan Goes Electric"

Steve Martin has written his first novel, "An Object of Beauty," that is set in the contemporary art world, something he knows quite a bit about. Since his wild and crazy days as a meteoric rising star in the 70s comedy scene, Steve Martin has become a serious member of the arts community. So, with the launching of his novel, a public interview was arranged at the 92nd Street Y in New York, a place where such events often take place. He was interviewed by Deborah Solomon, also someone with deep knowledge of contemporary art, and the two began to have a thoughtful conversation about the theory and culture of the current art scene.

There was an audience revolt. Tickets were $50 and those who bought them were angry that they weren't treated to any of Martin's comic antics, but rather a philosophical conversation. Sensing the crowd's displeasure, notes were passed to Solomon to ask Martin about his past, about his comedy. She refused and they continued their conversational trajectory. Afterward, responding to complaints, the Y sent out refunds and apologized that the event was not up to their usual standard of excellence. Steve Martin replied with an op/ed in the Times that is clearly miffed by the apology and the reception.

The question here today is who has a right to be upset. The audience members shelled out a good chunk of change and did not get what they expected, although they certainly got something of value. They came for an A and ended up with a really good B. Is it bait and switch? Just because it's Steve Martin does not entail that it will be comedy. Were they too shallow in their expectations? Steve Martin has a following that made him what he is. Does he owe them what they expect every time he appears in public? He is not only a clown, but a very smart person with other interests, does he have to put out a warning that this will be serious every time he wants to be taken seriously? This was in support of a book project, should the audience members have been expected to do their homework and assume responsibility for figuring out what they were likely to be discussing? Is it a problem that people can't be interested in something deep that is not merely amusing?