SAUDI ARABIA -- U.S. troops deployed in this barren desert kingdom have been waiting months for their first visit from Hollywood entertainers.

But when it finally happened yesterday, the result was so disheartening that comedian Steve Martin offered a public apology.

"They said they didn't want us to do a show," Martin said when soldiers, who had been waiting for nearly three hours, pleaded for him at least to tell a few jokes.

Under scorching sun on forbidding desert, this was USO entertainment, Desert Shield-style: no dancing girls, no stand-up comedy routines and precious few laughs.

Why? Because this is Saudi Arabia. "I don't think anybody is ready for a USO show right now," a military official said.

Visitors in a society that permits no public entertainment, U.S. military officials have learned it is easy to offend their hosts. Now, commanders say, the troops have to be content with periodic concerts by divisional brass bands and the odd talent show.

The visit by Martin and his wife, actress Victoria Tennant, was sponsored by the USO. "What we're gonna do is what they call grip and grin," Martin said. "We grip your hand and grin at you. It's all we can do."