Back in July, when Esquire‘s Jeff Miller was asking the question, “Will the Next Dane Cook Please Stand Up?” he took a shot at Steven Wright. One of his candidates was Demetri Martin, a fine comic in his own right who keeps getting better. In his bullet-point list asking “Why this is his time,” Miller wrote, “Steven Wright hasn’t been funny since Half Baked and Martin’s got a way with one-liners.”
Martin does have a way with one-liners, but Miller obviously hasn’t been paying attention. He definitely didn’t see Wright’s one-hour 2006 Comedy Central special, When the Leaves Blow Away or its release on DVD this past spring. And he might want to listen to I Still Have a Pony,, the new CD dervied from that same special.
The public perception seems to be that Wright hasn’t been around in a while; that’s because he hasn’t released an album since his 1985 Grammy-nominated debut, I Have a Pony, and, before Leaves, hadn’t had a stand-up special for 17 years. But he’s kept active, touring and popping in to Boston area clubs for surprise gigs. He’s only gotten better as a comic since the last time he was in the public eye.
All the things that made Wright so special to begin with are still there– the rumbling baritone of his deadpan, the Dada-esque one-liners, the expansive imagination. But in the past few years, Wright has been weaving these thoughts into brilliant little absurdist vignettes. On “The Store,” he turns a simple errand into a Rube Goldberg contraption of non sequiturs and bizarre images that almost startle you into laughing.
There’s a new complexity to the material, which sounds effortless when Wright delivers it. Take, for example, this line: “So I’ve been e-mailing my answering machine which has been sending faxes to my cellular subconscious which has call waiting, so in case I’m thinking about something else, I can get back to myself later.”
It’s impossible to imagine any other comic delivering that line, or even thinking of it.
Then there’s the quick one-liners that have made Wright’s act ripe for chain e-mailers, who constantly steal his stuff for lists, often throwing in their own sub par imitations. But it shouldn’t be hard to pick out Wright’s voice, with his odd cadence and even his choice of words.
“I’m addicted to placebos. I could quit, but it wouldn’t matter.”
“I went to take her out. Her father said, ‘I want her home by eight fifteen.’ I said, ‘The middle of August? That’s cool.'”
I Still Have a Pony and When the Leaves Blow Away should erase the idea that Steven Wright is anything but a master comedian still at the top of his game. He’s not the next anything — he’s the original article. And there are plenty of comics who would love to be called “the next Steven Wright.”