updated 12/25/2013 AT 12:00 PM ET
•originally published 12/25/2013 AT 12:40 PM ET
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.”