Comedian Steven Wright turns oddly extroverted
Out of all the comedian interviews I’ve done, I’ve always felt Steven Wright, back in 2002, was one of the most difficult. Not because he was surly or rude. Just because he was, well, Steven Wright. That stage persona—the slow, monotone delivery—works great when accompanied by killer jokes, less so in conversation. And the interminably long pauses didn’t help at all.
So I felt some trepidation when given the chance again. But what a difference 11 years make. After a half-hour of spirited discussion and laughs with nary an awkward silence, I have to ask the newly engaging Wright what caused the turnaround.
“In the last two or three years, I’ve gotten way more interactive and extroverted with people,” he says over the phone from Los Angeles. “It just evolved. I know what you’re describing as what I was like then as opposed to today. I just kinda changed. I don’t know. I think I just got more relaxed, getting older and just more comfortable talking to strangers. I used to only like to talk to people I already knew.”
The 57-year-old king of the one-liners is among the most quoted comedians in history (“I put instant coffee in a microwave oven and almost went back in time”) and still slays with his unique brand of comedic surrealism. But unlike with many of today’s professional funny people, you won’t get to know the man through his jokes—though you will gain an understanding of how his warped brain works.
“I’m standing behind a wall of jokes,” Wright says. “You don’t know about my personal life, my girlfriends, or what I do when I’m not on the road. There’s this guy, this comedian, and this is how he thinks, but people really don’t know anything about me.”
Sounds like an open invitation to ask. Is there anything he’d like to share with us?
“Yes. I had two sex changes a year ago. I had one in February, and then I went back to a man in March.”
So much for that—no scoop here, although Wright does share a joke that exists only in his notebook when discussing his age: “I thought it would take longer to get this old.”
Wright says he’s never tempted to divulge more of himself on-stage in this climate of raw, revelatory comedy. “What I just looked at and found humorous had nothing to do with my real life. It just doesn’t even enter my mind to make jokes about that. It wasn’t a decision.”
While he’s not one to analyze his own work, Wright thinks he may be able to trace his world-view to a high-school field trip to a Boston museum.
“I saw surrealism there for the first time, and I was just stunned. I still remember the one painting that got me,” Wright says. He describes a canvas showing an open field and a clothespin the size of a silo. “I was just standing there looking at it. I mean, there’s fields in life and there’s clothespins in life, but not combined like this. This is amazing! And a lot of my comedy is exactly that.”