Remember back in the old days when you would sit around with a couple of buddies and listen to comedy records? Everyone would pick their own bit of wall to stare at and you’d laugh and laugh and before you knew it you and your pals would adopt one line or another as an essential part of your crew’s own custom lingo.
It was during just such a ritual in my first year of university that I first became aware of the great Steven Wright, that most deadpan of comedians armed with a seemingly endless stream of Far Side-esque absurdist non sequiturs, so when I saw he was coming to Ottawa’s Centrepointe Theatre for a night of comedy on February 21st, 2016 I was all over it.
I had a good seat near the front of the balcony but that didn’t matter at all. It’s not like Steven Wright is a facial-expression guy or anything, but what he is is funny. While it wasn’t as gut-wrenchingly funny as I was expecting it to be it was still a fantastic show. I was really surprised to find that it was all material that I was unfamiliar with, especially given Wright’s style of just tossing out one unrelated joke after another. Line after line after line all night, and he didn’t throw out a single, solitary nostalgic sure-fire hit joke from his past. Everybody (and I mean everybody) knows some Steven Wright jokes:
“I recently bought some batteries but they weren’t included, so I had to buy them again.”
“I would kill for a Nobel peace prize.”
“I spilled spot remover on my dog and now he’s gone.”
It made me wonder how often a joke pops into his head in the middle of his routine and he discards it, thinking, “Nah, I told that one on the last tour.” Curiously, there were a couple of jokes I had heard before but this time around they had completely different punchlines, which is kind of cool. It was like a musician coming up with a better chorus or bridge to one of his hit songs and just redoing it.
What Steven Wright does is remarkable. Heck, all the great comedians out there are simply amazing. Everyone knows how hard it is to merely think of a joke, let alone go through a whole routine. Go ahead, right now…can you think of one? And if you can, can you think of one that isn’t your one standard, go-to joke? And is it a joke that you made up yourself?
Now imagine doing that for ninety minutes straight. At least when you write a song you end up with five minutes or so of material…twenty-five songs and you’ve filled two sets. Come up with twenty-five Steven Wright-style jokes and you’ve filled about three minutes. Tops.
Now, would I ever go see him again? Toughie, but I think I probably would, just to see if he had entirely new material again.