Deadpan Walking
Comedian Steven Wright brings his sleepily sardonic wit to the Keswick this month
by Leigh Ann Stuart

Steven Wright is best known for his barebones delivery of atypical, cerebral jokes and one-liners, featuring his dry, biting wit and linguistic prowess. He’s also known for iconic roles in film and television: He’s a consulting producer on Louis C.K.’s FX comedy “Louie”; he played “The Guy on The Couch” in the 1998 stoner comedy “Half Baked”; and he voiced a cartoon version of himself in “The Simpsons.” That’s just naming a few. Above all, he’s an artist, gathering and arranging words like brushstrokes in a masterpiece, all for the amusement of audiences throughout the world. We spoke with him about all this and more, including what he has planned for his January 29 performance at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside.

What is your creative process like?
From the minute anyone wakes up to when they go to sleep, pieces of information go past you. The world to me is like a big mosaic painting of little tiny pieces of information, and some of those little fragments are jokes or they can be made into jokes, so my process is I just go do my regular life and then I notice things. That’s where it all comes from. I don’t sit down and try to write jokes. Through my daily life, things occasionally leap out to me.

What’s different about being an entertainer today versus when you started?
I don’t think it’s really that different. I mean, for me, I’m still writing and testing out material and performing in front of a live audience, still going on TV. I mean, the business has changed with all the cable and the Internet and all that … but the actual myself of what I do is pretty much the same.

What’s the difference between the Steven Wright we see on stage and Steven Wright in real life?

Oh, I laugh a lot. I laugh a lot with my friends. I’m very much more expressive. I’m physical. I exercise every day. You know, when I’m out on stage … I’m trying to really focus so much on my act—that’s why I’m so straight faced—and just trying to remember to say the joke the correct way and what’s the next joke. I mean, it’s basically me but just an exaggeration of one part of me.

What is your relationship with social media?
I don’t really get involved with it that much. I mean, I’ll look. I’ll look at stuff on there, but I don’t really put anything on there because I feel like what I do is I concentrate more on performing what I write in front of a live audience. I don’t really have an interest in writing and putting it out on there. To me, the joke is a thing to experience live.

What’s in store for the audience when you play the Keswick?
Oh, 85 minutes of abstract, bizarre jokes and stories and songs. I feel like I create a little weird planet that the audience goes into for the duration of the show. I hope they like it.

Is there anything distinct about Philadelphia-area audiences?
No, I don’t really notice a difference in the audience, even anywhere in the United States. … I think television has made the United States into one big town. I notice distinct differences in different cities; they have their own personality and stuff but … my material is such basic, everyday stuff. Everyone identifies with it; it doesn’t matter where I’m playing. I don’t really notice a reaction in different cities. I notice a reaction in different countries. Like, in Canada, they laugh more for some reason. I don’t know why. I’ve done a couple of specials up there ’cause of that reason.

What does the future hold for Steven Wright?

Just more of what I’m doing. I feel very lucky that I write and perform for a living. It’s, like, I wanted to do it since I was 16 years old. And then I started doing it when I was 23, and I just feel very fortunate that this is what I do, and I just want to keep doing it. ’Cause I love to think, I love to read, to write, I love words, I love sentences, I love arranging the sentences in the correct way. I love what I do. I love being in front of the audience; it’s dangerous, it’s intense, even though it looks like I’m wandering back and forth, like, almost mumbling to myself. I like walking a tightrope. It’s very intense out there, which is what I like about it.

Photograph by Jorge Rios