The Comedy Couch

 STEVEN WRIGHT - April 10, 2002

GUY MACPHERSON: I read where you said talking to
people drains you. And you're doing interviews all
day, right? So how are you hanging in?
STEVEN WRIGHT: (pause) I'm not doing 'em all day.

GM: Oh, aren't you? Well, you're doing a few. Aren't I
your third today?
SW: No, you're the first.

GM: Really! Oh, perfect.
SW: I only do four at a time.

GM: Because it drains you?
SW: (pause) Mm-hmm.

GM: And then what do you do? Sleep the rest of the
day?
SW: (pause)

GM: To get your energy back?
SW: Hmm, whatever you wanna say.

GM: This is going to be perfect, then! I'll just
supply you with the quotes.
SW: Just talking to people... It's just... Oh, man.

GM: Any people, or just people you don't know?
SW: Any people. I can only talk to people for so long.
My family, my
friends, and it's like, 'Thank you very much.' It just
exhausts me.

GM: Mentally exhausts you? Physically exhausts you?
SW: (pause) I don't know. (pause) How's Vancouver?

GM: Ah, it's raining. You've been here, haven't you?
SW: Oh, yeah.

GM: Where have you played?
SW: Ohhh, I can't remember.

GM: But the theatres, though, right?
SW: Oh, yeah.

GM: Never when you were starting out playing clubs?
SW: Uh, no. (pause)

GM: Because you hit it too big too soon to play the
small clubs here, I guess.
SW: (pause) I guess.

GM: It was, like, two years after you started that you
were on Carson, right?
SW: Uh, three.

GM: Oh, three. Okay. So you felt you were ready? You
didn't think, 'Oh my
God, I can't do this yet.'
SW: I didn't think whether I was ready. I took it.
They asked me to go, so
I went. I didn't even think about whether I was ready.
It was a great break.

GM: I can imagine. And then you were invited back
within a week.
SW: Yeah.

GM: Don't guys usually work on their five minutes or
whatever they get,
and just work on it, perfect it? How did you get ready
a week later for
more?
SW: Uh, I didn't really have time, which kinda worked
out because I
couldn't even worry about it. I just kind of went over
it with the talent
coordinator what would be about five minutes of
another piece of material. And then I just did it.

GM: And then did you go to panel?
SW: No. On the first time I did. The second time I
didn't. And then all the other times I did.

GM: That was just a completely different show then.
Because when you
were on, people recognized you the next day, right?
SW: Yeah. There wasn't as much media then, so that
show, your life could
change in one appearance. It happened to a lot of
people, and it happened
to me. There's so much more TV now. You saw The
Tonight Show with
Johnny?

GM: I used to watch it all the time.
SW: Yeah, it was great. I miss him.

GM: So do I. Especially when you see Leno. (pause) But
you don't have to
offer an opinion on that.
SW: Thank you. (pause) But you know what? You grew up
with Johnny. I
mean, I grew up with Johnny. He's like a hero of mine.
I didn't grow up with Letterman. I didn't grow up with
Conan. You know, they're almost around my age, so the
whole thing has a different... Conan or Letterman, I
think they're all funny but they don't have that
legend thing because you
weren't a kid when you watched them.

GM: Right. Except for the younger people who are
growing up with them
now. But when you see the comics on the Tonight Show
now, it's 'Who are these people?' You never see them
again. It's completely different, isn't it?
SW: (pause) I don't even... I don't really watch. I
don't know.

GM: Do you watch TV?
SW: Yeah. But not that.

GM: I'm interested in your persona. I hear it's not a
persona with you, like a lot of comedians have a stage
persona. This is you, right?
SW: Well, it's how I speak. It's my demeanor. That's
real. It's always
fascinated me. I know people have fake versions of...
you know, they go on stage and they're just a whole
other person. When people say to me,
'Oh, you really talk like that!' I always get a kick
out of that. I think to
myself, 'Wow, you mean they thought that not only do I
make up the jokes, I actually made up a whole other
way of speaking.'

GM: I presume you've always talked like this. So when
you started out,
and you didn't see other comedians like yourself, were
you tempted to go,
'I gotta speak faster.'
SW: No. I was focussed on the material. I never even
thought about how
I talked. It was the material. It wasn't till a year
later that someone wrote something about me in the
Boston paper that I even knew that I talked like that.
I mean, no one's doing reviews of you when you're in
eighth grade or when you're in college. No one is
describing you. It never even entered my mind. I never
even associated 'deadpan' until this guy wrote this
article. 'Oh, yeah, I guess I do talk like that.' Even
the jokes, he said they were abstract. 'Oh, I guess
they are abstract.'

GM: Do you have siblings?
SW: Yeah, I have two brothers and one sister.

GM: And are they quiet and reserved or deadpan?
SW: I don't know, man. You know...

GM: No one's done a review on them.
SW: No. (laughs)

GM: When you started out, there weren't a lot of other
comics other than,
I can think of, Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield,
doing non-narrative material. Not that their jokes
were anywhere near yours. But that style where it's
thought after thought.
SW: I guess, yeah.

GM: Now there are tons. So obviously you've influenced
a lot of young
comics. What do you think of these guys?
SW: I don't know. I don't see them much. I don't
really watch... I mean,
I'm happy I had an influence. I'm flattered. See, when
I grew up, when I
was a teenager watching the Tonight Show, and then I
watched it into my
twenties, and I changed as a person. I don't really
watch comedy that much.

GM: Because you've seen enough in the clubs? Why is
that?
SW: (pause)

GM: One comedian told me it's like being a magician.
If you know how to
pull a rabbit out of the hat...
SW: No, it's not that I know how. It's just that my
interests... I love to perform and I love to write.
I'm not... People change. People just change.
I'm not into watching... I don't watch sitcoms, I
don't watch talk shows
barely at all. It has nothing to do with that I'm a
comedian. I think if I was a carpenter, I would have
changed. Everyone changes. I mean, I don't watch
Hogan's Heroes, either.

GM: We don't get that anymore. I tell you, I would
watch it if it were still on.
SW: (laughs)

GM: So did you like Henny Youngman and Rodney
Dangerfield? Were they
influences? Or who was?
SW: I liked them, but I didn't think, 'Oh, I want to
be like that.' My main influences were Woody Allen and
George Carlin. Woody Allen had some
comedy albums and I loved how he structured material.
I loved his writing. And that influenced me. And I
loved how George Carlin observed the little tiny
things in life that you don't really notice. And those
two
comedians influenced me more than the other ones.
Carlin, I was amazed by his breaking down little
things and the structure of how Woody Allen wrote
jokes. He told stories and he told jokes within the
story. And that's
how I learned how to write jokes.

GM: Do you ever feel like telling stories on stage?
Yours are mostly one-offs, right?
SW: Some of them are connected into stories. (pause)

GM: Are you neurotic?
SW: (pause)

GM: Like a lot of comedians. Like Woody Allen?
SW: I would say no more or less than everyone else.

GM: I don't know if this constitutes as neuroses, but
I was reading about
your phobias: Planes, cars, motorbikes, elevators,
bridges. Was that true?
SW: (pause) Some of it.

GM: Which part?
SW: Oh, transportation. I don't know. Some
transportation bothers me.
But what kind? Now you're going to ask me what kind. I
don't know. I don't like elevators. No big deal.

GM: Planes, though. You gotta fly a lot.
SW: I fly a good amount, but I don't fly as much as
you would think I do.
I go on tour with a tour bus, so I drive.

GM: And it's because of your fear of flying?
SW: I don't like to fly and I don't like the commotion
of the airport, even before September 11th.

GM: I'm with you, brother. I took a course on fear of
flying. That's how
afraid of flying I am.
SW: Did it help you?

GM: It did, at the time. And this was in the summer
last year. Then September 11th happened, and it shot
me right back to where I was before.
SW: How did it help you?

GM: Well, they attacked it by knowledge, through the
pilot giving the
course, as well as a psychologist who taught you
certain breathing
techniques, relaxation techniques while you're on
there. I was more
interested in the knowledge, because I just go, 'How
can these things
stay up?'
SW: Mm, right, right. And knowing how it worked helped
you?

GM: Yeah, and knowing all the safety precautions they
have, like if all the engines conk out it can glide a
hundred miles and things like that.
SW: Wow.

GM: All the backups that they have. So I'd recommend
it.
SW: Yeah, maybe I should take that.

GM: Could you imagine going on Fear Factor? Have you
seen that show?
SW: Uh, I just saw it the other day for about ten
minutes. Going on there
for what?

GM: Just going on there. Someone like you or me with
these fears. There
was one on last week where they had to jump out of
this moving helicopter. Just going in the helicopter
is the fear factor for me.
SW: (snickers) That's funny.

GM: This surprised me, but you're an Oscar winner.
SW: Yes, for my short film in 1988.

GM: Was that for writing or for acting?
SW: I wrote it with a friend of mine and I was the
main character in it.

GM: What was the Oscar for?
SW: It was for the short film category. It wasn't that
I specifically wrote it or acted in it.

GM: I didn't know they gave Oscars to short films.
SW: Yeah, every year.

GM: And I certainly didn't think they gave Oscars to
comedies. They always get the short shrift.
SW: Well, Woody Allen's won a lot of Oscars.

GM: That's true. But I was thinking of the Best
Picture. And he did win
for Annie Hall, but that was about the last comedy to
win, I think.
SW: (pause) Didn't Robin Williams win an Oscar?

GM: He's not funny, though. (pause) Now, are you going
to do a full
length? Have you done one, have you written one?
SW: No, I've done two short films.

GM: Where can we see these? I'd love to see them.
SW: (pause, sigh) No, they can't be seen.

GM: (laughs) They can't be seen!
SW: (laughs) They can't be seen! They're not on video,
they're not on DVD, you can't rent them in the store.
One was on HBO a long time ago. We made it for HBO and
it won an Academy Award by accident. And the other one
went on the Independent Films channel, that I wrote,
directed and was in. That was playing last year all
throughout the year.

GM: Well, make another, so you have three, then put
them on video.
SW: Yeah, that's a good idea.

GM: But are there any plans to... Are you writing a
new movie?
SW: Yeah. I'm working on something else. I don't know
what it is, but I'm
working on it.

GM: Full length? Or you just don't know what it is?
SW: No, probably another half hour one. But mainly I
do live shows. I do
the film on the side.

GM: Do you still have so few possessions that you can
move in a cab? Or
have you accumulated more over the years?
SW: I would probably need two cabs now.

GM: Two cabs! So you're really living the high life.
SW: Yeah.

GM: And where are you living?
SW: New Hampshire. I live on the ocean in New
Hampshire.

GM: Away from the scene.
SW: (pause) Yeah. (pause)

GM: Now, you finally got a website, right?
SW: Yes. My dog has a website.

GM: Who doesn't? When did it start, the
stevenwright.com?
SW: About, uh, last, uh, November.

GM: Do you have a computer now?
SW: Yeah.

GM: Aw, you're selling out, man!
SW: (laughs) I have floors now. It was wild going
across the 2-by-tens
and trying not to fall in the basement. Now I'm like
everyone else.

GM: Did the website come about as a reaction to all
the others that are
out there with your jokes on them?
SW: No, what happened was I heard that you could do
editing film or tape
on a computer, so I wanted to learn how to shoot stuff
and edit myself. So
I got that computer for that reason. And then of
course the computer just
doesn't do that. Of course, it does all 8 million
other things. So now I'm
on the e-mail, now I have a website. But it was all
because of the editing
thing.

GM: You're in the 21st century now.
SW: Thank you. It's crowded.

GM: So you still enjoy doing the stand-up. You say
that's your thing.
SW: I love it.

GM: You love it.
SW: I love it. I love writing and I love seeing what
works and I love being in front of the audience. I
love making a living from my imagination. I feel very
lucky.

GM: How often are you writing? It comes in waves, you
say, right?
SW: Yeah. I'm really a receptionist for my mind. I
just think of something
then I write it down. I don't try to think of things.
They just float into my head and I'm a secretary. With
a little grey skirt on and a little wig. Whenever I
write a joke, I dress like that -- like a secretary in
1958.

GM: What was the last joke you wrote? Or idea?
SW: Uh, it was three days ago and I can't remember
what it was. Something to do with, uh, geese.

GM: Well, you're coming to Canada. That'll be a good
one. (pause) Just
don't make fun of our geese, man.
SW: I don't make fun of anything.

GM: That's true, you don't. So, is it easier, you
think, to come up with
these now with practice, or is it more difficult?
SW: Mm, it's the same. (pause)

GM: Will your act always be changing? Will you always
be incorporating--?
SW: Yeah, I'm always moving things around, dropping
things out, adding
new stuff. Like a painting that will never be
finished.

GM: That's beautiful, man.
SW: (laughs)

GM: What about playing the huge theatres, like you're
playing in Vancouver and I assume you play all over?
Do you like that?
SW: (pause) Yeah, I like it.

GM: (laughs) Of course you do. Okay, let's take the
money equation out.
If you could make the same money, would you rather be
playing Ding Ho's?
SW: No, I like... I don't like playing in a club. I
like being in a theatre.

GM: Why is that?
SW: It's just more comfortable. It's more relaxing.
The stage is bigger. I
don't know. The clubs were fine when I was in the
clubs, but when I went
into the theatres, I went, 'Oh, this is even better.'
It's more relaxing
because of the size -- or I don't know what it is.

GM: The lighting.
SW: (laughs) Maybe it's the curtains.

GM: (laughs) The velvet curtains. They're soothing.
And people are there
to see you, right?
SW: Yeah, that's true. But they would come to clubs to
see me, too.

GM: I guess. But are they more civil in a theatre? Or
are people yelling
out stuff like, 'Hey, do this'?
SW: Well, the audience is better because there's not
waitresses going
around. There's less commotion. The whole thing is
just better.

GM: And you do a pretty substantial show, don't you?
You're giving people
their money's worth.
SW: I do about 85 minutes.

GM: Is it completely structured? I mean, obviously you
have to memorize
your material, but you have so much from over the
years.
SW: I know about 90 percent of the exact thing that's
going to happen and
then there's little pieces where I just see what
happens. I see which material I'll do while I'm
standing there. But I don't have time to make it a
memory test. I know what I'm gonna do.

GM: And then if something hits you, you'll just go
with it.
SW: Right.

GM: You don't ever just come up with a new joke right
there, do you?
SW: No.

GM: I read where you said that you might think
something's funny, but if
the audience doesn't laugh, you just take it out.
SW: Right.

GM: How many shows will you give it?
SW: Three. If it doesn't work three times, it'll never
work. And if it works three times, it'll always work.
And they decide, you know? They're in charge at that
stage. And if they don't laugh, I don't think that it
wasn't funny, I just think they didn't agree with me.

GM: Could it it be a regional thing? Or is your humour
universal?
SW: It's not regional because I talk about such common
denominator things of life. That's the stuff that
interests me. It's never regional.

GM: What else interests you besides writing and
performing?
SW: I love to read. I love to play the guitar. I love
baseball. I love going to Fenway Park. I'm glad the
season's started again.

GM: Another losing year.
SW: Yeah, another hard year. You're such a positive guy.


 
Return to Top