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  • Writer's pictureJeff Matthews

Weekend Edition: Wisdom of Solomon?

Easily the most-read section of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, besides the crossword puzzle, is the “Questions For…” column by Deborah Solomon.

I say this without a single statistic to validate the claim, but it’s the only thing I read every weekend in the Magazine. For some reason it just seems to pop out as you open the thing up. Besides, who wants to read the cover story about Mike Huckabee or whoever the politician-of-the-week happens to be? You can read Solomon’s column, feel like you’ve read the Magazine, put it in the recycle bin and move on with your day.

Solomon herself comes across as witty and direct, with an extra-liberal agenda. Not that there’s anything wrong with that—it just seems that every series of questions, whoever the person being interviewed, ends up with her insinuating how great it would be if Hillary became President.

The page is usually interesting, funny and sharp.

Not so was a recent “Times in the Air”—a New York Times television ‘magazine’ appearing on JetBlue TV sets in planes across the country—featuring an interview with comic Steve Martin.

Martin recently published a book about his stand-up comedy career, and for anybody interested in the process of creativity—how people create stuff, whether it’s great literature, great software, great companies or just great standup comedy—the book is fascinating.

So I watched the Steve Martin interview with some anticipation and much interest.

What I didn’t anticipate, however, turned out to be the most interesting part of the interview, aside from Martin’s stories of his early career: how poor the interviewer from the New York Times would prove to be.

She seemed particularly interested in taking the interview in a certain direction, regardless of what Martin was actually talking about. So interested was the interviewer in getting to a particular subject that while Martin was making a very funny point about how undeveloped he had been as a young comedy writer for the Smothers Brothers, she actually began skimming through Martin’s book, head bent, nodding and saying “uh-huh” while Martin spoke.

He noticed she wasn’t looking at him, so he turned to the audience and finished his story. When the audience began laughing, the interviewer gave a half-hearted, pro-forma chuckle and then proudly said “I found the paragraph I was looking for,” and promptly asked her own, entirely different, question.

But the worst was yet to come.

Asked why he stopped doing stand-up abruptly, rather than gradually, Martin explained that stand-up is something you have to do constantly, “300 nights a year,” to stay sharp. To stress the point, he said he always worked the night before a “Tonight Show” appearance, because if he didn’t do that, he wouldn’t be at his best with Johnny Carson.

To this, the interviewer asked the whopper that stopped her subject cold: “You can’t practice at home?”

Now, Steve Martin, to his credit, didn’t burst out laughing or make a remark—although you could see he held himself back. Instead, he smiled and politely said no, you need an audience.

The interviewer, I learned as the credits rolled, was—as you might have guessed by now—Deborah Solomon.

But I didn’t make the connection until this week’s “Questions for Gov. Rick Perry: Troop Leader” in the Sunday Magazine.

In it, Solomon focuses on Perry’s involvement in the Boy Scouts, pressing him on the issue of gays in the Boy Scouts, which apparently is a huge issue among, well, gays and the Boy Scouts.

Having never been involved in the organization, we here at NotMakingThisUp take no sides, our interest being in Solomon’s habit of moving the interview into a narrow area of her own special interest. And here, after taking Perry to task that “the Scouts are alienating so many American kids,” Solomon hones in on what really seems to bother her: Boy Scout merit badges.

She asks, and I am not making this up:

I know they have a dog-care merit badge, but why not a child-care badge?

When Perry says he has “no problem with that,” Solomon bores in harder with this line of inquiry, which, again, I am not making up:

How about a merit badge in vegetarianism?

To Perry’s credit, he—like Steve Martin on the “Times in the Air” interview—avoids the easy, sarcastic come-back.

Like, oh, “How about a merit badge on interviewing people competently?”

Jeff Matthews I Am Not Making This Up

© 2008 Jeff Matthews The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews’ recommendations. This commentary in no way constitutes a solicitation of business or investment advice. It is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.

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