By Alex Biron
VANCOUVER – Legend has it that, before he was about to record his first special, Steven Wright spilled pizza on his shirt. Instead of being thrown off by the last minute wardrobe problem, he simply borrowed a shirt from his opening comic. Then, instead of pacing nervously like most people would before such an important performance, he took a nap.
This quirky, zen approach to comedy is what fans of Wright have grown to love over a career that has spanned 30 years. He’s worked with Quentin Tarantino as a voice actor and Louis C.K. as a writing consultant, and Rolling Stone included him in their list of greatest comedians. He also won an Oscar for his short film, The Appointments of Dennis Jennings.
On January 19, Wright will visit Canada to perform at The Hard Rock Casino. He describes Canadian audiences as the best in the world.
“Canada laughs a little bit more than any other country I’ve done comedy in,” he says. “I did two specials in Toronto for that reason.”
Canada was the first place Wright ever performed outside the States.
“I went to Toronto and performed at Yuk Yuks,” he remembers. “The owner, Mark Breslin, was very supportive of me.”
Nowadays, though, Wright doesn’t have much time for smaller shows at comedy clubs and bars. This means that, unlike most comics, he never has a chance to work out new material at low-pressure gigs. The first time he tries a joke, it’s in a theatre full of hundreds of people. Another thing that makes him different is his approach to older material. While most comics write a brand new hour every year, Wright likes to mix old jokes with the new.
“The show is like a painting that’s never finished,” he says. “I keep adding layers, and it’s never done. When the audience sees my act, they’ll hear jokes from years ago, but they’ll also hear some new stuff.”
Wright’s style of comedy lends itself well to this system, since he rarely does topical jokes that are restricted by time.
“When you do standup, it’s like you’re the teacher and the student at the same time. I make rules for myself. I never do jokes about current events or the president. I like to talk about everyday things like gravity, the speed of light, and lint.”
One of Wright’s proudest accomplishments is a short black and white film he made in 1999. He wishes more people had seen it.
“It’s called One Soldier,” he says, “and I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever made.”
When it comes to standup, though, he has no regrets. He’s designed a style of comedy that works perfectly for him, and when asked if there’s anything he wishes he could do on stage, he says that “everyone’s brain is a fingerprint: they all work differently. I like how my mind works.”
Catch Steven Wright live at the Hard Rock Casino on January 19.Hard Rock Casino, steven wright