Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Thursday, October 06, 2005

Dr. Martin lectures at Princeton
The Trentonian
Tickling the Ivy: Steve Martin wows Princeton writing class
ALEX RICHMOND,Staff writer

PRINCETON -- What is the sound of one person not laughing? Or, why is it that in a packed auditorium -- in this case, the wood-paneled, idyllic McCosh Hall at Princeton University -- filled with people laughing, it’s the one person that isn’t laughing that stands out?

Freshman Sam Reible seems like the average Princeton student. He stands about six feet tall, was neatly dressed in a blue and white rugby shirt and jeans, and has the distinction of being the only person not to laugh, not even once, at Steve Martin’s lecture yesterday afternoon.

"[Martin’s] brilliant. He’s funny. I can’t believe he’s here," said the bespectacled student.

Deadpan, of course. What gives?

Martin, the award-winning writer, performer, playwright, host of the Academy Awards, and that guy who wore an arrow through his head, came to campus to read his writing to a packed house of creative writing students and professors.

Distinguished professor of humanities Joyce Carol Oates introduced Martin, and called his best-selling novella "Shopgirl" an "intimate, sympathetic portrait" and "a powerfully sustaining work of prose."

When Martin’s play, "Picasso and the Lapin Agile," came to campus last year, tickets for the run were sold out after opening night. The play, about Picasso and Einstein meeting as young men before they had achieved greatness, includes an exchange about why a joke about a pie baked in the shape of the letter "e" is funny. Picasso tells it, then Einstein explains that the reason why it is funny is that the letter "e" is the perfect choice. A rundown of why every other letter in the alphabet fails is next.

Then she took a moment to allow the audience members with OCD to identify themselves by applauding, then shared a tip: to avoid anxiety, simply think of something that makes you even more anxious. What she thought of to relieve herself of the anxiety of public speaking, she didn’t say.

"Shopgirl" will make its motion-picture debut this month. Martin’s first collection of short stories, "Cruel Shoes," still has a rabid fanbase.

Martin said that, over the years, his writing has progressed in three stages.

"It started out with comedy, then it got serious, then it got turgid. So that’s what order I’ll read in today."

After noting that his many pages of notes were double-spaced, he started off with "Cruel Shoes." Then, after noting that he was "all out of time," he skipped to an essay that was published by the New Yorker in the early 90s, "Side Effects," which includes the gem, "After taking this medication, you may feel yourself feeling lost of vague. This would be a good time to write a screenplay."

He introduced another set of essays by saying, "I didn’t mean them to turn out this way, but these later pieces had a lot of cynical romantic thoughts." He read dialogue from his play "Wasps;" "In the beginning of something, the end is foretold. We met in an elevator going down."

Two armed guards present worked hard at suppressing their laughter, and brilliantly failed at the line, "Son, whatever you do in life, I’ll be there to shame you."


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