The Speed of Wright

Steven Wright

Comedian Steven Wright is known for his molasses-slow delivery of wry, observational humor, but the aching gap between every word, every syllable, is no act. The meter of his speech remains consistent no matter to whom he's talking. And the way the comedian talks mirrors the way he lives.

"I don't even have a computer," says Wright, who disdains technology and the frantic pace of contemporary society. "It just doesn't agree with me."

Although he may not be able to slow the world down, Wright does force his audiences to change pace as they wait, with great anticipation, for the punch lines to his jokes. "When I was a little kid," goes one, "we had a quicksand box. I was an only child," he offers, then pauses and paces the stage before adding, "… eventually."

Wright's longing for simpler times is reflected in the setting of his short film One Soldier, which is traveling the film-festival circuit. He wrote, directed, and plays the lead in the post-Civil War dramedy. His character is a Union war veteran obsessed with life's big questions, such as, Why do we exist? In the final scene, while awaiting execution for having murdered a Union civilian during the war, he realizes he's wasted his life pondering. "He says, 'Now I get it,' and the gun goes off," Wright says of his character's final moment.

Having made a couple of short films, Wright plans to try a feature-length movie next. But he still loves standup, which he's been away from for the last couple months. "I can't wait to perform live again," he says. "It's good to stop for a while, so that you can go back to it, like a new canvas."

Wright fills his bizarre comedy palette, he says, "just from observing… and reading." Among his favorite authors are John Irving and the late Carl Sagan, whose Cosmos is the inspiration for a Wright joke. Sagan points out in his book that humans see the light of stars that burned out millions of years ago because their rays are just reaching us. "What would it be like if that happened with light bulbs?" Wright deadpans. "You could have shut off the living room light two years ago, but it's still light."

Wright says he's continually writing new material. "I'm just talking more and more about the little stuff that people don't notice," he says. "It's just more of, 'What the hell is going on?'"

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John Ferri