New Yorker fest draws magazine’s fans with a mix of cerebral pleasures and celebrity allure

By Jocelyn Noveck, AP
Monday, October 4, 2010

Politics and celebrities on tap at New Yorker fest

NEW YORK — “I think this is going well,” remarked New Yorker editor David Remnick to his audience at a weekend panel on the tea party movement.

He was being sarcastic. The hostility was escalating between former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, and Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y. The banter became so tense that even-tempered historian Jill Lepore, sitting between them, suggested she leave so the men could arm-wrestle. “Don’t make me come over there and beat you down,” Remnick jokingly warned his panelists, who also included CNBC’s Rick Santelli, at another point.

In other words, it was a perfect Saturday morning for New Yorker fans, who, in an annual autumn rite, gorge on juicy events like these at the three-day New Yorker Festival.

The tea party panel was one of several offerings linked to current news events. Another was a showing of “The Social Network,” the new film about Facebook, with a panel afterward that included Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake, who play Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Napster co-founder Sean Parker.

New Yorker fans are loyal — 80 percent of festival tickets sold out on the first day they were available, the magazine said. And ticket buyers came from everywhere — 26 different countries and 47 states.

As always, there were offerings catering to more highbrow tastes — forums on fiction, a visit to the Frick Collection — and a strong celebrity contingent, with appearances by Alec Baldwin, Steve Carell, Jake Gyllenhaal, James Taylor and the cast of “Saturday Night Live.”

And for those hard-core fans whose celebrities happen to be their favorite New Yorker writers, there was a storytelling evening featuring five of them, including the much-loved Calvin Trillin, who told the tale of his efforts to get salty language past the stubbornly reluctant former editor of the magazine, William Shawn.

The SNL cast members — Fred Armisen, Seth Meyers, Andy Samberg, Jason Sudeikis, Kenan Thompson and Kristen Wiig — recounted their first, nerve-wracking auditions for the show, and pondered the eternal question of how the show has survived since 1975. Consensus: There’s always new material out there.

As for Carell, he recounted how he was such an unknown when he did the film “Bruce Almighty” that an agent contacted him to find out who was representing him. Turned out, her own agency did.

“I was such a low priority at the agency that even the agents who worked there didn’t know I was a client,” he said.

Carell also discussed the imminent end to his tenure on NBC’s “The Office” — he leaves after the current season, his seventh — and some of his future goals.

One of them, he said, is to play an even more unappealing guy than Michael Scott of “The Office.”

“I want to play a jerk — a really, really mean guy,” Carell told his fans. “Someone who is just reprehensible, but doesn’t think he is.”

And he shot down at least one rumor: That he’d angled hard to play the Joker in “The Dark Knight” before Heath Ledger got the job. “I’ve learned to not be sarcastic in print interviews,” he said.

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