I interviewed Steven Wright on the phone yesterday. His beard was perfectly groomed. And that’s my attempt at the irreverent, irrelevant, non-sensical humor that has personified the accomplished Grammy-nominated, Oscar-winning comedian, actor and writer for over 25 years. Best known for his monotone delivery and deadpan punchlines – not to mention – appearances in such films as Reservoir Dogs and Coffee and Cigarettes, Wright is in the midst of a comedy tour (among other venues, he’ll perform at the Ridgefield Playhouse in CT on Saturday, May 30 and Friday, June 5 at the Tarrytown Music Hall) tied to a re-release of his first HBO special “A Steven Wright Special” and his first cd “I Have a Pony” on June 2. Wright also has a DVD When the Leaves Blow Away and I Still Have a Pony – the 2007 follow-up to his first CD – available now.
I recently chatted with the comedian. Here’s how it went.
How important is it for you to mix in new material in your stand-up routine every time you come around?
I wait a couple years between cities so that they’ll be stuff in the show that the audience hasn’t heard before. But, there is a lot of stuff from a long time ago then there’s medium-old and newish stuff. [There’s also] some stuff that’s never been recorded or has never been on DVD.
You waited a long time between releasing comedy albums – almost 25 years. Did you always have the urge to make a follow-up to I Have a Pony?
No. When I did I Have a Pony, it moved me from clubs to theaters and I had an HBO [special] that came out the same time. Then when I was in theaters, I just mainly focused on doing live shows all over the country and in other countries. Recently, I was thinking there’s a whole other generation coming along so maybe I should make another album. I didn’t know how many albums were in me so I didn’t want to keep making them and keep running out of material. That’s why it was 23 years.
Were you ever a struggling comedian? In other words, did audiences take some time getting used to your style?
I worked at clubs in Boston honing my craft. In the beginning, they were only laughing at half of what I said but I kept moving things around, rewriting and kept working at it. Eventually I slowly got better and better. I was doing about three years before I [got] on television.
You’ve appeared in a bunch of films, but would you say comedy always comes first?
Yeah, I see stand-up as the basic first thing that I do. I do that more than anything else I do. I like to write the material. I like to figure out what works. The acting is like a side thing.
Do the jokes just come to you or do you need to write them down?
I write them down if I think of a new one or I wait until I get home and I write it into my notebook. But they just come to me. I’ll just be hanging out, talking to people or see a sign or an advertisement or something and it might draw on my mind to make a joke.
Are you basically a normal person?
[Laughs] That’s a great question. Nobody’s ever asked me that. I would say basically I am, and I have this imagination but it’s not like I’m sleeping the garage or something.
Were you a funny guy growing up?
I was always making my friends laugh but I never wanted the attention of the whole classroom.
Speaking of which, my friend’s having a kid any day now. It’s going to be a boy. Have any baby names to suggest?
Roger. There’s not many Rogers now. I’ve never seen a baby named Roger before. Have you?
No, just Roger Moore…
He’s not a baby. That’s my suggestion to him.
Would you ever consider going on American Idol?
[Laughs] Oh my God. I’d do imitations of birds.
What would you like to say to people to try and get them to see one of your shows?
They should see my show because if there’s no one there, it’d be really weird.