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Comedy CD Review: Steven Wright – I Still Have a Pony

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With his laconic style and deliberate delivery, master of the deadpan non-sequitur Steven Wright is as about as under the radar as you can get in the stand-up comedy world. That isn’t to say he isn’t popular, influential, or well-respected, but that his style doesn’t reek of the sort of artificial flair or manufactured personality usually associated with the often bombastic world of stand-up comics. As a result, he doesn’t have a huge television presence or rabid following for someone so noteworthy. As influential to other stand-ups as he surely is, you could almost think of Steven Wright as the anti-comedian because of his off-hand demeanor, disheveled appearance, unconventional subject matter and evasive, almost indifferent stage presence. But Wright’s uniqueness is his strength, and he is as much an adept of traditional joke telling as he is at weaving seemingly unrelated material into a surreal yarn.

Perhaps the best thing about Steven Wright’s comedy is his inimitable style of delivery. His jokes often don’t rely on set-ups, payoff or timing, and sometimes the punch line comes before the rest of the joke. More often than not, he is the butt of his own jokes. For comparative purposes, perhaps the only natural example of a follower of Steven Wright would be the late Mitch Hedberg, although Hedberg’s own equally unique style inhabited a more innocent, inquisitive (and drug-laden) realm. Nonetheless, they share an ability to cover a multitude of topics with deceptive speed.

While his stand-up acts have rarely been documented on any sort of media, Steven Wright has acted in more films than one might have guessed and has directed and starred in a couple of short films on HBO: 1999’s One Soldier and The Appointments of Dennis Jennings in 1989, which won an Academy Award. Nonetheless, I have a feeling he is often unfortunately remembered as the “Guy on the Couch” from the 1998 Dave Chapelle comedy Half Baked.

In 1985, Mr. Wright released an album of stand-up material entitled I Have a Pony, which was nominated for a Grammy. This album introduced a brilliant young comedic talent to the world and provided a virtual encyclopedia of quotable (and easily mis-quoted) jokes to fans. Now, twenty plus years later comes the follow up, I Still Have a Pony. Though it is a sequel in name only, Steven’s quirk-factor is just as persistent and prevalent now as it was then.

Recorded in May of 2006 at the Historic Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre in Toronto, I Still Have a Pony is not uproariously funny, but you will consistently find yourself chuckling and snorting at Wright’s trademark wit and wordplay. The material found herein has a peculiarly Freudian bend at times as Wright often references and highlights the absurdities of the subconscious, particularly his own. To wit, Wright observes: “you know the earth is bipolar…”

Wright often views the world with child-like wonder. At other times, Wright can get into a rhythm of traditional joke telling that is something akin to Don Rickles in slow motion. Wright is also very cunning in keeping the audience on their toes, occasionally circumnavigating the bizarre just for the sake of messing with the audience. It’s not mean-spirited in any way, but actually quite fun when he turns the audience's expectations against them by substituting a reality check in the place of an anticipated punch line. For example, Wright goes into a long, complicated story about meeting a one-foot doctor who suddenly breaks into a whistling whirligig. Wright ends the joke by remarking that he simply left, leaving the audience momentarily scratching their heads as to the point of the joke. The joke, it turns out, is on the audience.

I Still Have a Pony is not a world-changing album. But it is a worthy addition to Steven Wright’s tiny catalog. Twenty years from now, this album and its predecessor will be just as fresh as they are today. It is Wright’s penchant for eschewing topical material in favor of observational humor about the unchanging absurdity of the human condition that makes these albums timeless. True, it took him 22 years to release his second comedy album, but perhaps the rationale for the hiatus can be summed up by one of the jokes Steven relates in I Still Have a Pony: “In school they told me practice makes perfect. Then they told me nobody’s perfect, so I stopped practicing.” Lucky for us, Steven practiced just enough to record I Still Have a Pony. And it’s nearly perfect.

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