American comedian, Steven Wright is the undisputed king of one liners. But his deadpan deliviery hides a sharp and analytical mind. Geoff Bartlett reports.
Steven Wright is, in a word, unflappable. His face has a complete absence of expression as he talks. Whilst this is intriguing, his most distinctive quality (which has also become Wright’s trademark) is his voice. Its relaxed quality, Wright says, leads most people to believe he spends his time off stage in a coma. “It happens all the time. I could be up for hours and have ridden my bike for an hour and run 50 errands and I answer the phone and they say ‘Did I just wake you?’ Then I realised that I could use it to my advantage if I don’t want to talk to them. I could say ‘Yes you did, so I’ll call you later.'”
Wright is currently one of the feature acts at the Melbourne Comedy festival and is then booked to do a national tour. His work though has never focused on the larger issues that provide an easy target for other comedians. Wright is content to share his everyday thoughts with the audience and this gives a timelessness to his material. “I don’t like to talk about current events like the presidential race. I like to talk about little things that everyone experiences but very rarely talks about with other human beings.”
For Wright, the everyday goings on of mankind are a constant source of interest. “I’m fascinated by how insane the world is. Like the tunnel under the English channel. It’s just wild. There is the weirdest stuff going on that I couldn’t even make up. I don’t even know why what I do is interesting because the world is so much weirder.”
Wright’s process is one he says will never be in danger of becoming a routine. “I don’t ever say to myself ‘I have to come up with ten jokes today.’ It just happens. I’m my own boss and I’m really nice to myself.”
In addition to his work in Stand up, Wright has had acting parts in both Reservoir dogs and Natural Born Killers. Director Quentin Tarantino has since managed to shoot several films without calling upon Wright’s talents again but Wright stands ready for any offer Tarantino may have, saying “I’d like to be in any film that he does. Tarantino has a new fresh angle. He’s the most unique guy to come along in a long time.”
With success, there has also come for Wright endorsement offers. He admits to have been approached but is yet to put his stamp of approval on anything, saying “One (commercial) was for motorcycles and one was for beer. Beer is a drug, so I’d be like pushing drugs on TV and that’s no good. And I used to own a motorcycle, so I know how dangerous they are. There’s never been anything that, with a good conscience, I could promote.”
Given his choice of products to endorse, Wright is swift to go for something a little more ethereal. “I’d do Tampons. I was on a plane sitting next to an advertising executive who told me she was on her way to Atlanta to do a tampon campaign and I told her I’d be willing to do a commercial for Tampax.” Wright even went so far as to audition. “I held up a cup like it was the product and I told her I would look into the camera and say, ‘Hi, I’m Steven Wright. I don’t have to use these, but if I did, this is the brand I would use.'”
Promotions aside, Wright is hoping to eventually go the way of other comics like Drew Carey and Seinfeld and be given his own TV show. “I’ve been thinking about it lately. I’ve been discussing maybe doing (a sitcom) on HBO. I’d like to explore the visual element of performing more. I still love doing stand up and I would continue doing it. That’s my first love.”
As far as a title for his own TV show goes, Wright feels he would apply his normal logic. “I wouldn’t use my name, it’d be unlisted. I can state right now that if I ever have a TV show, my name won’t be in it.” Wright’s priorities lie elsewhere, namely the first piece of Steven Wright merchandising. “I’d go with wigs. I’d like to see little boys with hair on the side and no hair on top, walking into candy stores and freaking out the owners.”
Overall, with two Tarantino films and two top rating TV shows (The Larry Sanders Show and Mad about you) behind him, Wright has proven himself to be an extremely bankable commodity. In years to come, the marketing people of Tampax may well be kicking themselves for not taking up his offer.
This interview first appeared in Drum Media.