Steven Wright has been a fixture in the world of comedy for decades. His dry stand-up routine is performed at a deliberate pace with an abundance of one-liners. He won an Academy Award, was nominated twice for Best Comedy Album at the Grammy Awards and was nominated twice for the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy for being a co-producer on Louis C.K.’s critically adored sitcom “Louie.” Today, he can be seen on another Louis C.K. venture, “Horace and Pete,” which is about a 100-year-old bar that has been passed down through generations.
Wright will be performing stand-up March 26 at the State Theatre. Staff Writer Matthew Radulski spoke to him about his style of stand-up, comedy and “Horace and Pete.”
Matthew Radulski: Did you spend time figuring out your dry comedy style, or did it come naturally?
Steven Wright: It’s natural. This is how I talk. I was influenced by George Carlin and Woody Allen’s comedy albums, George Carlin as far as talking about everyday stuff and Woody Allen as far as how to write a joke. I’m into surrealism, painting and stuff. All that stuff mixes in your head like a big soup. Then when I went to write jokes, that’s just what I thought might be funny. I was hoping they would laugh at these jokes. There were no decisions, really. It was just how I talked and how I thought, and it just kind of went together by accident.
MR: Do you have a specific routine for writing?
SW: No, things just come into my head, and I write them down. I don’t sit down at a desk and try to write stuff. Every time from when someone wakes up to when they go to sleep, there’s thousands of pieces of information that you pass. Your life is like a mosaic painting, little tiny fragments. During the day, some of those pieces occasionally leap out. I’m just reacting to the world.
MR: What is one of the strangest shows you’ve been a part of?
SW: I’m on Louis C.K.’s new Web series “Horace and Pete.” It’s on his website and comes out every Saturday. Louie writes it and directs it, and he’s in it — just a brilliant, brilliant mind. Alan Alda, Steve Buscemi and Jessica Lange are in it. I love it — I love what he’s doing with it. It’s like a play; it’s not a sitcom. It’s funny, but it’s also very serious.
MR: How did “Horace and Pete” come about?
SW: He thought of this idea, and he wanted to do it without a network being involved. He wanted to pay for it himself and have it go out on his website, so there’d be no rules at all about it. The episodes aren’t even the same length. Total freedom.
MR: You’re shooting this week, and it goes out on Saturday. That’s a fast turnover.
SW: Yes, very fast. It’s rehearsed on Tuesday, shot Wednesday and Thursday, edited on Thursday night and Friday, then it goes out. So there’s references in there from the week it’s happening. It’s pretty amazing that it’s done that fast. I’ve never heard of anything done that fast.
MR: Do you put stock in the awards and nominations you’ve received?
SW: Yeah, I think it’s good. I can’t believe I’ve been nominated for these things and won an Academy Award. I don’t think it’s the most giant thing in the world, but I don’t brush it off as like it doesn’t mean anything. I’ll be honest with you: It means something to me to have these nominations. It means, “Hey, all these people are doing this stuff, and I’m being singled out as one of the top people.” It feels good, even if I don’t win the thing.
MR: Do you get nervous before shows?
SW: If I haven’t done one in a while I’ll get nervous, but most of the time, I don’t. It’s very intense onstage. It’s not like you just walk into your living room. You know there’s going to be attention out there. I get a little bit anxious, but in a good way. I get excited, even though I don’t look like I’m excited. Before I go out, it gets pretty intense. It’s like walking a tightrope. It can just go bad. The focus is on keeping it going and saying everything the exact right way.
MR: You’re working exclusively as an actor on “Horace and Pete.” Have you considered doing more acting?
SW: I consider myself primarily a stand-up comedian, and I focus on doing that. That’s what I always wanted to do as a teenager, and that’s what I love doing. I like doing the acting, too, but my main thing is the stand-up. Stand-up has acting in it, too. I’m telling all these things that never happened. My whole act is an act. All the jokes are like little stories, so that’s acting, too.