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.