The Hippo


Apr 24, 2019








Steven Wright. Courtesy photo.

Steven Wright

When: Friday, Nov. 7, at 8 p.m.
Where: Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord
Tickets: $29.50 to $65 at

Steven Wright brings deadpan comic style to NH

By Michael Witthaus

Delivering bite-sized surrealism in a bewildered monotone, Steven Wright possesses a singular comedic voice. On the Internet, he’s become a Twain or Lincoln of the new millennium; he’s quoted frequently, and like his famous cohorts, often erroneously.

“Some of the jokes are amazing, I wish I thought of [them],” Wright mused in a recent phone interview. “Like, ‘I want to live forever — so far, so good.’ Or, ‘Why do we park in the driveway and drive on the parkway?’ There’s another one, ‘I would kill for a Nobel Peace Prize.’ But most are ridiculous, stupid and embarrassing, and people think I wrote them.”
Wright likens it to someone breaking into a bookstore to rip out and replace a chapter of Oliver Twist. 
“Then a guy buys it and starts reading. All of a sudden, Oliver goes to Miami and starts building motorboats. He’s like, Dickens, what the [expletive]?”
On Twitter, comedians unashamedly ape his style. Wright, however, finds the 140-character Internet platform “hollow” — though it seems ready made for him. 
“The reason I don’t put jokes on there is I love the world of me writing it and then saying it to an audience. That abstract out there doesn’t interest me.”
He did once publish a short story as a series of tweets. But the inspiration came from re-reading a similar piece he’d written for Rolling Stone a few years earlier, not to state his netizenship.
“I thought I should write another story, not thinking about Twitter,” he said, “because I don’t really write stories ever.”
Despite his own offbeat style, Wright was drawn to comedy via classic standup acts. As a kid, he was addicted to late-night television. 
“I watched Johnny Carson — wow, David Brenner, Steve Martin, George Carlin,” he said. “But I’d also like it when some guy would come out and do 5 minutes and I would never see him again.”
He attended Emerson College in the late 1970s but wasn’t involved in the school’s Comedy Workshop, which helped launch guys like Denis Leary and Eddie Brill. In fact, he didn’t try standup until after graduation. Back in town for his brother’s wedding, Wright went to an open mike at Boston’s Comedy Connection and kept coming back. 
“I just started writing things; some were traditional jokes,” he said. “It would just happen.”
Wright’s deadpan delivery came from nature and concentration, not guile. 
“This is how I talk. You’re not going to hear more enthusiasm,” he said. “Plus, I was concentrating on telling a joke in the correct way.” 
Providing a blueprint for other comics never crossed his mind. “I wasn’t thinking, ‘There’s a 10-year-old kid watching this and in 15 years, he’s gonna be doing stuff that was influenced by me,’” Wright told Boston Magazine’s Jason Schwartz in 2012. “I was trying to get my 5 minutes together.”
Asked if his one-liner approach was fear-based time management — if one joke bombs, 30 more are right behind — Wright replied, “There’s something to that. … The stage was a scary place.”
Wright won an Oscar in 1989 for the short film, The Appointments of Dennis Jennings, which followed a 1985 Grammy nomination for his album, I Have a Pony. This year, he earned an Emmy nomination as a creative consultant on Louie.  He served as a sounding board on the show for fellow comic Louis C.K. 
“It was incredible,” Wright said. “The guy is a genius. He could have a career just as standup, or an actor or editor, and yet he has all of them. He would bounce stories off me … we would discuss how the tape went and whether it was funny or not and then I’d give him my opinion. He’s so smart, and it was great to be making all of these comedy decisions. It was a great experience.” 
As seen in the November 6, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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