12/25/2013 at 12:00 PM EST
Social media has led to a social gaffe for the usually classy
comedian Steve Martin
The actor, writer and former Oscar host
, 68, was quipping with fans through exchanges on Twitter
when he apparently went too far when the topic turned to grammar.
Asked by a follower, "Is this how you spell lasonia?" Martin shot back: "It depends. Are you in an African-American neighborhood or at an Italian restaurant?"
Quickly realizing the remark might offend, Martin deleted and then apologized for the line.
As he later explained
, "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."
Noting, too, that he had been misquoted on some websites, Martin also reminded his fans, "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."