Steve Martin offers a longer apology & explanation of his ‘lasonia’ tweet

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Last Friday, Steve Martin did a tweet-and-delete “joke” that earned him a lot of scorn. People said he was racist and he spent most of the weekend on Twitter apologizing for the original “joke”. A Twitter follower had asked him, “Is this how you spell lasonia?” Steve tweeted back: “It depends. Are you in an African-American neighborhood or at an Italian restaurant?” We covered the story yesterday, as did many other sites and blogs and Steve was still apologizing yesterday. I guess he decided that tweet-apologies were not enough, so he wrote out a longer apology/explanation:

I am very upset that a tweet I sent out last week has been interpreted by some to be insulting to African Americans. By now media coverage of the unfortunate tweet has only added to this perception. To those who were offended, again, I offer a deep, sincere, and humble apology without reservation.

But I feel I need to tell you the context and origin of the joke.

I was riffing on Twitter, inviting people to ask me grammar questions. I replied with what I hoped were funny answers. For example, a person might write “What’s the difference between “then” and “than?” I would say, “then” is a conjunctive preposition, and “than” is a misspelling of “thank.” I have done similar things to this on other occasions, and there is a great spirit of fun between me and the Twitters followers.

I was going along fine when someone wrote, “How do you spell “lasonia?” I wrote: “It depends if you are in an African American neighborhood or an Italian restaurant.” I knew of the name Lasonia. I did not make it up, nor do I find it funny. So to me the answer was either Lasonia (with a capital), or Lasagna, depending on what you meant. That they sounded alike in this rare and particular context struck me as funny. That was the joke. When the tweet went out, I saw some negative comments and immediately deleted the tweet and apologized. I gathered the perception was that I was making fun of African American names. Later, thinking it over, I realized the tweet was irresponsible, and made a fuller apology on Twitter.

Then, Salon.com reported on the story and changed the wording of the tweet. They wrote: “It depends if you are in an African American restaurant or an Italian restaurant.” Clearly, this misquote implies that an African American restaurant can’t spell “lasagna” on the menu. And my name was attached to the misquoted tweet. Other websites, including TMZ.com picked up this incorrect version and for the next four days, and more, it continued to spread and I couldn’t get out of hell.

When the error was fixed, neither TMZ nor Salon footnoted it. However, one website which had jumped on me harshly, Twitchy.com, made a generous apology:

“The original version of this post stated that Martin’s tweet denigrated the spelling ability of people who live in African American neighborhoods. A more likely explanation is that he was referencing the tendency of some African Americans to use names that include the prefix “La.” If we misinterpreted his joke (and we think we probably did), we apologize.”

I felt a little better, but not a lot.

Comedy is treacherous. I used to try out jokes in clubs and the audience’s feedback would tell me when I had crossed a line, or how to shape a joke so it is clear. Today, the process is faster. It’s your brain, a button, then millions of reactions. But it’s my job to know.

[From Steve Martin’s blog]

Okay… I feel a little bit better about this. Do you? Or are you still mad at Steve? Now that I understand the context a bit more, I think his explanation and apology is adequate. I like that he’s admitting he made a mistake, he’s not blaming other people and he’s genuinely trying to correct himself and correct the misinterpretations of the tweet. I can see how a professional comedian would have gotten caught up in the moment of a joke without stopping to see how it would land in the Twitter-verse, and to his credit, Steve did delete it and apologize quickly.

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Photos courtesy of WENN.

 

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51 Responses to “Steve Martin offers a longer apology & explanation of his ‘lasonia’ tweet”

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  1. TheOriginalKitten says:

    THANK YOU, KAISER!!!!!! :D

  2. Patricia says:

    To me this is why celebrities need to just stay off twitter. I don’t believe he is a racist but on twitter once you say something there’s no going back and, like he said, it’s just a click and then thousands are seeing it instantly. I think the joke was lame, insensitive and unfunny and he should know better, but his continued apologies and concern that people understand his mistake further my belief that he’s not a racist, just a comedian who should not be on twitter!

    • TheOriginalKitten says:

      I’m not on Twitter but my brother is and he follows Steve Martin and will periodically send me a screenshot of one of his hilarious tweets. Martin is a writer and a very funny one at that so out of all the inarticulate, unfunny celebs that are on Twitter, I actually understand why Martin is on it.
      I think it’s important that people understand that for his one very insensitive tweet there are hundreds of funny tweets from Martin and it obviously gives his fanbase a lot of pleasure to be able to interact with him. I don’t think that Martin shouldn’t have a Twitter account because of one very bad mistake, which clearly taught him a lesson. Not when there are idiots like Meanne and Kardashian who bring nothing funny or intelligent to the world with their tweets.

      • ncboudicca says:

        I follow him on Twitter and wish I had 10% of his wit. He’s so quick, and in this case was too quick. I think you’re right and that he’s very remorseful and will learn from it. It would be shame if someone as interesting as him left Twitter.

      • Tiffany :) says:

        I love the way he writes, and I really hope this doesn’t stop him from doing so in the future. I think he handled the situation in the best way possible, with sensitivity and without blaming others for it.

        I read Shop Girl (I think that is the name) that he wrote, and I really enjoyed it. He has also written a couple plays that I have read/watched, so I know he has tons of talent in the literary area.

      • lrm says:

        what is insensitive about this?
        it’s just a play on a name….
        honestly, this PC stuff is over the top.
        Truly, I do not see what the problem would be…there have been jokes and plays on names from other cultural backgrounds-italian american, irish american, etc etc.
        he was not even making fun of the name-just referencing it in the context of its cultural background, very silly-and steve martin jokes tend to be just this…’very silly’….
        it’s like every culture and racial group wants to be noticed, but ‘not really’. very confusing.

  3. Marigold says:

    It’d be nice if Gawker media picked this up. But they won’t. A shame.

  4. Lucy2 says:

    Still a foolish thing to write, but I give him credit for trying to explain. But for the love of God, “I’m sorry if you were offended” is the worst kind of apology, though I think he backs it up with enough other remorse.
    Really crappy of Salon and others to change the wording. No excuse for shoddy journalism.

    • TheOriginalKitten says:

      I hate to pick apart the wording of what I felt was a very heartfelt apology but to be clear–
      I think there’s a HUGE difference between “I’m sorry *if* you were offended” and “To those who were offended, again, I offer a deep, sincere, and humble apology without reservation.”

      The former implies that if one was offended, that it’s on them. The latter is really taking full ownership of the mistake while acknowledging that a large portion of people were offended.

      I honestly don’t see how anyone could fault him for that, particularly in the age of celeb non-apologies (like the Duck Dynasty dude for instance).

  5. MavenTheFirst says:

    What a fabulous explanation! I love it, and he clearly respects his audience.

    What is horrendous is that his words were changed to imply something far worse by significant websites- that is insanely irresponsible. When such sites can twist your words so readily, and then later not even offer a correction, they can no longer be trusted and no one is safe. I will keep that in mind from now on.

    • renata says:

      +1

      It seems so clear that this man genuinely cares about what happened here. I don’t think for a moment he was actually trying to reflect a bigoted or incendiary thought. Sometimes things just don’t come out quite right when you’re limited to 140 characters. This is why people that do stage work generally rehearse prior to performing — unfortunately, twitter allows for little in the way of rehearsals.

      I know a woman in NYC that knows Steve Martin going back several decades. From what I’ve always heard, this is a guy who wouldn’t hurt anyone or anything, and has no interest in insulting anyone. Supposedly he’s just a really decent guy.

    • emmie_a says:

      I agree. I feel his apology was more than adequate and very sincere. I hadn’t seen the original tweet until I read this story – I’m glad he explained what happened. It’s sad that someone might have changed his original tweet to make it more controversial – like we need to create more controversy?!

    • Tiffany :) says:

      I really feel like there should be legal consequences for sites/publications that use quotes (” “) around words that a person never said or wrote. If he did not write those words, yet the sites used “…” around them, that is seriously shady and disrespectful to both readers and the subject.

      As a person who seriously wants to know what the facts are of a situation I have an opinion on, I would be HORRIFIED if I found out that I was referencing statements that were never made, but invented by a website and pinned to someone who didnt’ say them.

  6. annaloo. says:

    Steve, all is forgiven. A sincere apology begets sincere forgiveness. Who thought humility would be so refreshing?

    I don’t want to be mad at him…

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Love Steve & really respect him for owning this & apologizing the way he did. Still a fan.

  8. MrsBPitt says:

    Oh, if I could only count the times I wished I hadn’t pushed the send button (nothing racist)…I’ve ranted and raved, never naming names, all the while thinking this person won’t know I’m talking about them, and then BOING…a text…ARE TALKING ABOUT ME??? what…what…no, of course not…damn, that send button…lol

    • jaye says:

      Yes! I have often had knee jerk reactions to things, posted something and then after reading it I cringe and want to take it back. I’ve taken to giving myself 5 minutes to consider the original post and if my response to it is rash. I find that more often than not, I’ve overreacted.

  9. queenfreddiemercury says:

    I’m glad he cleared that up. But I wish he would stay off twitter. No good comes from that place.

  10. Suze says:

    He does seem to really feel terrible. I don’t think he needs to keep explaining and apologizing. He is forgiven in my book.

    He is very funny, very witty. Twitter is a good servant but a bad master, and I think he understands that, particularly after this whole brouhaha.

    • emmie_a says:

      Suze: I agree. I can even feel that he feels terrible about what happened. It just goes to show that his apology is sincere, unlike other celebrities who continue to apologize for dumb things they’ve said – but you don’t get the feeling that they’re sorry (Brandi Glanville) for what they said. They’re just sorry they got caught.

  11. Scarlet Vixen says:

    I never saw his original tweet as ‘racist.’ I think the term ‘racist’ is grossly overused (another poster did a great job of supplying the definitions of racism, prejudice & stereotype on a previous thread). There was nothing at all malicious or hateful in Martin’s tweet.

    I am a librarian for a large Midwest public library system and my current branch is in a diverse community of elderly Dutch folk, African American families, and recent immigrant families from all over Asia and Africa. Names that start with prefixes such as La, Le, D’, etc. are very common in the African American families. I don’t see this as a negative stereotype–quite the opposite. It is a mark of cultural pride. I’ve often asked parents about the name origins of monikers they’ve chosen, and they often choose names that have an ‘African American sound’ as a way to express their cultural identity, just as I chose a distinctly Celtic name for my son because of my Irish descent, or my husband’s sisters all have French middle names because of my MIL’s French roots. My Dutch in-laws don’t take offense when I tease that I can’t keep straight all the De Vries’ or ‘Van der _____s. I went from a very Jewish surname to a very Dutch one, have appreciated the cultural significance of both, and have never been offended by any stereotyping of either.

    • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

      I think you have missed the point entirely.

      • Scarlet Vixen says:

        I respectfully disagree. I would actually go so far as to say YOU missed the point. I believe that commenting on or even joking about a cultural trend is not automatically racist, especially when the observation is of a trend that a culture is proud of and using to self identify. Also, Martin’s intent was pretty obviously not malicious or ‘racist.’ But because I’m only Jewish and not African American I’m not capable of ‘getting it’? Cuz people don’t crack jokes about or discriminate against us Jews ever…

      • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

        I agree that many people name their children ethnic sounding names out of pride in their culture. I just disagree with your idea that this makes ridiculing them for it inoffensive. I won’t even address your comments about my somehow implying that you can’t have an opinion because you’re “only” Jewish, since I never said or implied anything so ridiculous.

    • betsy11 says:

      I was never offended either. There really are a lot of afro American names starting with “La” and the (benign) intention behind the joke seemed obvious to me

    • jaye says:

      My friends and family often joke about the creative names some African-Americans come up with. My mother once said that one of our cousins names sounded like “a large amount of silverware hitting the floor”. Given that, I wasn’t mad at him for the joke. I just thought it was a silly joke.

  12. Lisa says:

    I’m not saying this wasn’t racist, but are any Italians mad about this? I’m not…

  13. themummy says:

    I never saw what the hell the ruckus was about. People are looking for any reason to jump on someone in a “gotcha” moment. His explanation makes perfect sense and Steve Martin has always been known for being a truly nice person. People need to calm down.

  14. Emma says:

    Steve is such a clever, clever guy that even yesterday I thought he was making a pun on the similarity between the name Lasona and the dish Lasagna.

    I think it´s not racist — it´s just wordplay (which is what Steve is great at). The fact that Lasona is a traditionally African-American name doesn´t make the joke racist, becuase it could easily have been a traditionally Jewish, or Arabic name. Just because race has a link to a joke, doesn´t make the joke racist. Still a fan!

    • Amy Tennant says:

      It never even occurred to me that people thought he meant that African-Americans couldn’t spell “lasagna.” I thought “LaSonia, lasagna.” LaSonia is a name. I could see how someone might call that a racial joke, but the other interpretation never crossed my mind until I read this article. Blows my mind.

  15. AlmondJoy says:

    Such a great apology… I had already accepted it yesterday but I appreciate the detailed explanation. What I will not accept, and what I was more surprised about was the comments of some here. Pretty disappointing :-(

  16. Jay says:

    Ok is noticing a naming trend in a culture a stereotype and are all stereotypes offensive and thus racist? It seems a slippery slope that belittles the offense of what I would consider real racism, like when celebrities overuse the word “bully” and cry “I’m being bullied” for every criticism.

    • Jayna says:

      Arsenio Hall had a segment once with Chandra Wilson from Grey’s Anatomy called something like, Is This a Black Baby’s Name or a Medical Term? And he would throw out a word and she would have to guess if it was a black baby’s name or a medical term. It was a cute segment.

      So another time he did a segment saying black people get razzed for their hard to spell or pronounce first names but he said white people have crazy names. It’s just their last names that are crazy instead of last names like Hall, Williams, and did a spelling bee where he had a couple of black contestants trying to spell the white people’s last names in the audience. Those names were brutal. They were hard to pronounce much less spell. Neither segment was politically correct but was lighthearted and everybody knows not every black baby has a unique name and not every white person has last names like Maszunski or whatever. It’s extremes for comedy in a segment.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6Qdjy7tdB8

      • Sloane Wyatt says:

        Even though this is a very nice apology, I still think he’s quite capable of coming up with a ‘reasonable explanation’ to paper over his racist ‘slip of the tongue’ on Twitter.

        I think he showed his true colors when he screwed over my girl Anne Heche with his thinly veiled misogynistic movie ‘Bowfinger’, so I’m giving Steve Martin a side eye for now and taking a wait & see attitude.

  17. Alexa says:

    Now I love Steve Martin because he’s given the most exemplary apology I’ve ever heard – and that’s not the reason WHY I want to love Steve Martin. So now, I’M PISSED! (Thanks a lot you all who had to go gettin’ your panties all abunch. Jeesh!)

  18. Kaboom says:

    I don’t think that joke warranted an apology. Some folks need to grow a sense of humor (and Steve a stronger backbone).

  19. St says:

    Well of course he now has to write long crying apology. Ordinary apology wasn’t enough. Now he will apologize, then go to tv interview and again apologize and then go to rehab for racists or something. This is how it works now.

    All celebrities should just delete their twitter and stop going on Halloween parties.. I’m tired of that never ending witch hunt.

    P.S. Are we allowed to like Steve again? Or should we still hate him? I couldn’t understand from the article. Can Celebitchy give me permission to like him? Are you done with your trial, your honor? Who won? Was he innocent or guilty? Or No Contest? :)

  20. xxx says:

    But he was a poor black sharecropper’s son! From his movie The Jerk. I really find it hard to believe he is racist he just doesn’t come off that way. He was talking live and trying to be quick and funny he just made a little error and I don’t think he was trying to insult anyone.

  21. Trj says:

    I can’t believe the thin skin shown with all of this. He is a comedian. Edgy comparison is part of the job. What kind of response would Chris Rock get if he tweeted about the white bitch at the dog show?

    Some people just thrive on finding ways to complain about something.

  22. Sasha says:

    Wow. Someone dared to use ‘African-American’ in a joke and people were so ready to burn him at the RACIST stake. The joke was HARMLESS. The only error he made was in his assessment of the general intellect of the Twitterverse.

  23. Aysla says:

    I agree with the previous two posts. I did not find the tweet offensive, and feel very badly for Steve that he needed to apologize and defend his character and reputation. I also believe that all the blogs/websites that made an entire post out of his harmless tweet hold some responsibility. I bit on the Phil Roberston (or whatever their last name is) post, but I’m getting tired of the constant outrage. Even when there isn’t outrage on a wide scale, I often see posts where there are people who would clearly like to stoke some (see: Orlando Bloom and feminism)… it’s become a national past time, and serves as yet another distraction from real issues. I don’t like to live my life finding things to be offended at. I think I’m going to spend more of my free time reading and less time on entertainment websites/blogs.

    • RhymesWithSilver says:

      Amen. Can we be friends? We can totally order pizza and discuss actual issues. And maybe run for elected office.

      People were never very good at thinking in a straight line, and it’s gotten so much worse lately, especially online. The media is locked into a profit model that rewards anything that gets people to click, and what gets us to click is stories that push our emotional buttons. This drives a crazy feedback cycle where leaping to conclusions is standard, trolls drive the narrative, and reality doesn’t seem to matter at all. The sad part is that even if we’re all irrational, people in general are probably nowhere near as racist, sexist or whatever as the online echo chamber would lead us to believe, but that impression might be warping all of our minds for real.

  24. sonny james says:

    Good grief, live in an era of WORD JAIL…exactly what Steve done was poke fun at uneducated black people that spell words the way it sounds. No different than poking fun at a white redneck hillbilly…Yes Steve was smart to hurry and delete the tweet and apologize, all to avoid a costly lawsuit. The uneducated ghetto will never forget the past and will teach generations the same mentality, you owe in payment what your ancestors done. LMAO forget the Indians that were slaughtered in genocide, stolen land taken.

  25. Amy Tennant says:

    I would have loved it if his apology had been “Excuuuuuuuuuuuse me!”

    (The preceding was simply a lame attempt at a joke by Amy Tennant and should not be taken seriously by anyone)

  26. AM says:

    Look. He said something, which, let’s face it: was funny. Appropriate? Maybe not. Hilarious and true? Yeah. Subsequently, he apologized and deleted the tweet. Not exactly KKK material. Can’t we move on?

  27. RonArt says:

    Steve’s great!

    People should stop being so overly sensitive… or perhaps just think before tweeting.