• Someone in the crowd asked if these panelists' award-winning excellence took courage to achieve. Poehler would not claim courage, but she did cop to labor: "Doing the work is so hard and boring. Writing is a toil." And she would admit to sacrifice: "This is not courageous, but I made a decision in my twenties to own nothing and not have kids or get married or have health insurance." (This follow-your-dreams hardship was made more palatable, she said, by being a white girl from a middle-class family: "I had a big ol' safety net.")

• Simon is a great talker, a guy you can imagine will still be reeling off killer anecdotes and quotations long after the waiters have cleared your table -- and all the while doling out his own epigrammatic marvels. Asked about that Guardian article currently making the rounds, the one that asks why the New Orleans Mother's Day shooting isn’t considered a national tragedy, he says, "If we were to fly the flag at half-mast every time there was a mass killing in America, we'd never raise again."

Earlier, during one of his many laments for the death of journalism, he said, "I've been surprised at how many reporters don't want to get caught asking a stupid question. I thought that was a technique."

• A woman identifying herself as Carol Channing's former manager asked Poehler for advice about getting a client an audition with Lorne Michaels for Saturday Night Live. "She's the new you," the manager insisted. "She's just your size!"

"This is the plot of All About Eve," Simon told Poehler, "and you're Bette Davis."

Poehler's eyes crinkled as she held her polite smile.

• As the evening wound down, Mitchell tilted one last time at the question of just what "excellence" is supposed to mean. "Is it like pornography?" she asked.

She was referring to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's thumbnail rule for identifying obscenity: "I know it when I see it." But before she could offer this context, Poehler announced with solemnity, "I speak for all of us when I say we have seen some excellent pornography."

This brought the house down. When the laughter and applause crested at last, and Hunter-Gault tried to move the panel along to another point, Mitchell pleaded, "Dig us out of this hole!"

"You can't top that!" Simon said. "That was our button out!"

The talk continued. The journalist in him even offered a few more opinions, but the showman in him—who is excellent -- knew the performance had already ended.

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