An Object at Rest



At his book signing in Barnes & Noble’s flagship Union Square store on Tuesday night, it was obvious that Steve Martin’s fan base spans a wide and impressive gamut of the population, crossing many demographics (most notably in the age category). But even though people were ostensibly there to listen to Mr. Martin read a passage from his newest book, An Object of Beauty, a novel set in the contemporary Manhattan art gallery scene, you got the feeling he could still persuade the entire audience to leave the building with him and follow him down the street aimlessly if he so desired, as he sometimes did to end his shows in the final stages of his stand-up comedy days. Before reading a short passage from the novel, he joked that his writers would be out to answer questions afterwards. Most questions were not about the novel, but about the many other aspects of his career—Martin, of course, is a god among stand-up comedy fans and comedians, an extremely successful television and film actor, an SNL alum, a Grammy-winning recording artist, and an accomplished author and playwright. But he seemed to take the off-subject questions in stride and lightheartedly, appreciating those about his novel, but accommodatingly and wittily answering those regarding the other facets of his career. When he was asked, “What do you think changed in your persona from your first movie, The Jerk, to An Object of Beauty?,” he replied plainly, “Everything!”

An art patron for his entire adult life, Mr. Martin told of his first foray into art collecting, when he purchased an Ed Ruscha photograph of the Hollywood sign in 1968 for $125. Later, when he was fed up with LA, he symbolically sold it to an art dealer for a five-hundred-dollar profit and thought to himself, “I love this art stuff!”

Martin was famously silent about his stand-up days until 2007, when he released his memoir Born Standing Up. It seems to have been a therapeutic move, for both himself and his fans, who always wanted to know why he had moved on from stand-up. He was still clear that he has no desire to return to that area of performance, but he has apparently come to terms with talking more openly about it. He explained how in his stand-up days his writing improved vastly after being given a single critique: “This is the punch line, and it would be good if you put it at the end.”

Though he joked that he had only committed to signing four copies of the book, Mr. Martin graciously signed copies of the novel for the hundreds of fans in attendance, fulfilling a promise not to leave until everyone who had a book to be signed was taken care of. The last question of the evening referenced an interview he had given about writing and how large a role personal confidence plays in the process. The questioner had obviously been inspired by his answer, and Mr. Martin had a hard time recalling his thoughts at the time, saying, “Well… you see… the thing is… I don’t even know what I was talking about.”  After stumbling through a rambling answer that never properly gained its footing, he ended with, “Anyway, what?”