East Penn Press

Tuesday, April 7, 2020
CONTRIBUTED PHOTOSteven Wright, 8 p.m. Sept. 7, State Theatre, Easton CONTRIBUTED PHOTOSteven Wright, 8 p.m. Sept. 7, State Theatre, Easton
CONTRIBUTED PHOTOSteven Wright is regarded as master of the droll one-liner. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOSteven Wright is regarded as master of the droll one-liner.

Steven Wright a comedian for the social media age

Thursday, September 6, 2018 by DEB BOYLAN Special to The Press in Focus

Steven Wright is a comedian for the social-media age.

One would be hard-pressed to find another individual so adept for an internet platform like Twitter where brevity is key and wit equals followers.

Steve Wright performs at 8 p.m. Sept. 7 to kick off the 2018-19 season of the State Theatre Center for the Arts, Easton,

Lucky, at least, for fans of keen observational humor, Wright has stayed on the path of the one-liner.

The quick one-two punch has been a comedic mainstay since the first caveman discovered it might be fun to stand atop a boulder and grunt before a gathering of his or her peers while nervously hoping for a few approving grunts in return.

The great-grandfather of the one-liner in American comedy history is undeniably Henry “Henny” Youngman (1906-1998). Youngman abandoned the idea of a lengthy comic premise in favor of going straight for the laugh: “Take my wife … please.”

Youngman was annointed “King of the One-Liners” in the 1930s by legendary newspaper gossip columnist Walter Winchell.

Wright, a 1989 Academy Award winner for his absurdist short film, “The Appointments of Dennis Jennings,” which he co-wrote and starred in, is also a two-time Grammy Award nominee for his comic albums, “I have a Pony” (1985) and its follow-up, “I still have a Pony” (2007).

Wright, who has worked steadily as a comic, actor, film-maker and voice actor following his successful appearance on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” in 1982, is still a comic for the ages. No matter your age, you are probably familiar with his work.

Youngsters may be more familiar with Wright as the voice of the character Mel Meh from the 2017 animated film, “The Emoji Movie.”

Wright is driven to collecting and sharing his pithy observations with society at large.

“I just go out on the road and I am constantly trying [stuff] out,” Wright says when asked during a recent telephone interview about what motivates him to keep touring.

“There’s no meetings involved. There’s no running anything by anyone. You think it and then you write it down, and there it is. It’s created,” he says about the singular and organic nature of creating comedy.

“Being in front of the audience is very electric. It’s very intense in a fun way,” Wright elaborates, “I [may] look like I’m walking around like I’m bored out of my mind, but it’s very exciting.”

“I like to think. I like to make [stuff] up and I like to say it in front of the audience. It’s all enjoyable to me. I do the whole thing [touring] because I have fun doing it.

“I’ve been so focused on what I’m saying, concentrating to say it the right way, to say it correct. I’m seriously trying to say it the right way. My face is serious and [yet] what I’m saying is crazy.

“But I’m serious because I’m concentrating to say it the right way. It kind of worked for me by accident,” he says about how his onstage persona translated to comedy gold.

“That’s how I think. That’s how I write,” Wright explains regarding his comedic process.

“The deadpan monotone ... There was no plan. There was no ‘What can I do to be different?’ I wanted to go out to the comedy club, write jokes and [that’s how] I said it.”

Wright is appreciative of the opportunities afforded him by that perfect confluence of clever wordplay and delightfully deadpan delivery.

“That’s why I’m very grateful for everything because that’s how I think. And if the audience didn’t like that type of humor, I couldn’t switch to another one,” he says. “The mind is like a fingerprint. Your brain works [uniquely] your own way. I’m lucky that it lined up.”

While Wright’s style is unmistakably his own, like most comics he cites the influences of peers and predecessors.

“I was influenced by George Carlin and Woody Allen.

“George Carlin early in his career would always talk about everyday things, all these little tiny things that nobody even notices. And that’s what I do. He’s my favorite comedian. He’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this.

“I talk about everyday things, too, but I do something else with it. I twist it,” Wright says.

“From listening to Woody Allen’s [comedy] albums over and over, I learned how to structure a joke.

“So then you mix everything and add my own brand of comedy ... It’s like a soup with all these different ingredients.

“I was into surrealistic painting, Kurt Vonnegut, weird movies. It is unique,” he continues regarding his stand-up, “but it was influenced.”

Wright’s creative engine is partly fueled by his drug of choice: coffee.

“In the morning, I go for a long bike ride. Then I get this coffee and I then I sit down and drink it. I have a good imagination, but when you add coffee on top of it, it’s like I’m on drugs.”

“Then I just sit for two hours every morning and just write whatever comes out of my head, and I’m blasted on the coffee,” he laughs. “It’s a powerful drug and it just has this innocence.

“Years from now you’re going to be talking to young people: ‘Yeah you could just drive up and go in and get it and drive away,’ and they’ll be like, ‘You’re kidding me!’”

Tickets: State Theatre Center for the Arts box office, 453 Northampton St., Easton; statetheatre.org; 1-800-999-7828; 610-252-3132