Creative Minds and the Difficulty of Interviewing Famous People

Steve Martin in conversation with Barry Edelstein at The Old Globe

Originally published on

By Natalie Jacobs

Ira Glass, the accomplished co-creator and host of “This American Life” who has interviewed thousands of “regular people”once noted, on a podcast in which he was being interviewed, that he doesn’t like interviewing celebrities. He said he admired Terry Gross, the inimitable host of “Fresh Air,” for her ability to control celebrity interviews and even to eek out little-known stories about notoriously bottled-up artists. In comparison, Glass told a story of what he felt was a disastrous interview attempt during a live event – he was on stage with Philip Glass, who happens to be his cousin, and Judd Apatow. Although the two had been encouraging Ira to host the interview event for years, Ira said they were so adept at avoiding questions and commanding the stage that he couldn’t get them to give one straight answer.

During his own celebrity interview with Steve Martin last night, the Old Globe’s Barry Edelstein for the most part held his own against Martin’s quick wit and rambling storytelling. The comedian/actor/director/writer/musician is in town for the world premiere of his new play “Meteor Shower” which opens on the Globe’s White Stage this Sunday and has already been extended through Sept. 18. He joined Edelstein on the set of “Sense and Sensibility” as part of the theater’s “In Conversation” series, a brilliant recent addition to the Globe’s beyond-the-curtain programming.

Acknowledging that Martin is “one of the most major artists ever to come through our doors,” Edelstein attempted to cover Martin’s work history, his creative process, his experiences with various media outlets and the sources of his thoughtful humor in the hour-long conversation.

“I have things in ‘Meteor Shower’ that I have been thinking about for 30 years,” Martin said before quoting his “Smothers Brothers” colleague Carl Reiner who cautioned him to never throw anything away.

The reason why celebrity interviews are so hard is because celebrities are so adept at performing. Put them in front of a live audience and they turn on. Martin’s stories about jokes he’s written over the years got the sold-out Globe crowd laughing and it was obvious that he took pleasure in that. Edelstein astutely picked up on Martin’s aim and asked him about the infectious sound of laughter, recalling Martin’s stand-up days in arenas of 30,000 people.

“One thing in comedy,” Martin said, “you learn to never look out at the audience. There would be 30,000 people and I’d hear this uproarious laughter and I’d look out and see it was like every fifth person who was laughing.”

Why did he get into comedy in the first place?

“I didn’t have anything else to do.”

In January, Edelstein will direct Martin’s popular first play “Picasso at the Lapin Agile,” which Martin said explores the time just before an artist makes it. He hints at parallels to his own experience coming up in the comedy world – at the Troubadour in West Hollywood.

Edelstein recalled “Bright Star” and its Broadway run which led to a heartfelt moment where Martin said Edie Brickell was really hurt by the short Broadway run but he wasn’t terribly surprised.

“A lot of things are vulgar but ‘Bright Star’ is almost wholesome,” he said before noting that plans are in the works for it to have a touring life.

“I wouldn’t do it again,” he said of working on Broadway, but he also spoke at length about his love for theater.

“When I sit there, my gears start turning.”

He said he likes theater for its emphasis on language, and the fact that you do it alone, and it’s easy to change your mind. Martin, nearing 71, is still acting in movies – he will appear in Ang Lee’s film adaptation of the Ben Fountain novel “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” – but his writing efforts are focused on the stage for now.

Despite their sometimes meandering and superficial qualities, conversations like these with such well-known figures continue to be fun excavations into the caverns of creative minds. This interviewer is interested to see who Edelstein talks with next.

*Photo (from left) Alexandra Henrikson appears as Laura, Josh Stamberg as Gerald, Greg Germann as Norm, and Jenna Fischer as Corky in the world premiere of Steve Martin’s Meteor Shower, an adult comedy, directed by Edelstein, July 30 – Sept. 18, 2016 at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.