Wallace Shawn Wonders If You Preferred the Book or the Cartoon

(NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Character actor and avant-garde playwright Wallace Shawn was quick to dismiss the concept of creativity last night but addressed head on what it's like to wax philosophical one moment and voice a Pixar-animated toy dinosaur the next.

"My life is strange because people do stop me on the street and say, 'What you did was terrific,'’ said the actor with the unmistakable lisp during a talk at the 92nd St Y Monday night.

"But while it's rude to ask, 'Well which one of my many accomplishments did you admire?' I am always curious if it was the book or the cartoon."

The audience, a mixture of old and young, gathered last night underneath Buttenwieser Hall’s ornate ceiling to hear Shawn -- along with interviewer Anthony Arnove -- talk about creativity, a vague concept he was quick to dismiss.

"They said I would be speaking about creativity tonight, which is a word I don't usually use. .... So I won't really be speaking about it," he said.

When an audience member asked Shawn what it's like to have such a diverse career, the "Clueless" actor, Woody Allen alum and writer behind such existential cinema as "My Dinner With Andre" and politically charged plays like "The Fever" said he may not be able to provide an answer.

"That's a very good question, but it's almost too hard [because it] presumes a level of self-awareness I might not have," he replied, dryly. 

Instead, Shawn read "The Quest for Superiority," his essay arguing that culturally superior members of society keep supposed inferior members at a distance in order to excerpt their undeserved dominance. And that was just for starters.

Follow up topics included: the lofty luxuries of the bourgeoisie versus the lowbrow necessities of blue color stiffs; the moral responsibilities of the artist; the importance of writers and the loss of New York’s working class intellectual (hint: it has something to do with this county’s lackluster education system).

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