Q&A with Comedian Steven Wright
Photograph by Jorge Rios
Everyone talks about your influence on standup comedy. Are you ever like, Hey, I’m still here?
It started happening about 10 years ago, when people would be doing jokes like mine. When I was on TV in the ’80s, I wasn’t thinking, There’s a 10-year-old kid watching this and in 15 years, he’s gonna be doing stuff that was influenced by me. I was trying to get my five minutes together. So now that those people are comedians and they’re influenced by me—it’s bizarre. I’ve only gotten used to it in the last two or three years. It’s still weird, but I understand the role that I’ve been given by accident. So I talk to young comedians. We’re all in it together.
I remember your jokes being some of the first email forwards, and they’ve been all over the Web. But there are probably a ton of fake “Steven Wright” ones out there.
When the Internet first came out, there were pages of my jokes, and I had written all of them. Now if you look, half of them I didn’t even write. The Internet is like the Wild West. It’s like they broke into Barnes & Noble and went over to Oliver Twist, and they ripped out Chapter 7 and instead wrote their own chapter and jammed it in. Now, all of a sudden, Oliver’s in Miami, building boats, dating a prostitute.
So now all your jokes on the Internet end in someone going to Miami and dating a prostitute?
Haha, I’m so used to it now. It used to bother me. Some of the jokes are so stupid and it’s like, Oh my God, people are gonna think I said this. I’m gonna have to move to Cuba. But there’s another bunch of them that I’m like, Oh man, I wish I thought of that. Like this one going around now, it started on Facebook, it’s, “I want to live forever. So far, so good.” I didn’t think of that. I wish I did, though.
Do you have a favorite joke?
Yes. Jokes are like surfing on the audience. Some jokes absolutely get the same reaction. Others fluctuate on different nights. This one, on a scale of one to ten, fluctuates between six and eight: “My grandfather, when he died, I went to the wake with my aunt, and I was kneeling down at the casket, and I was looking at him inside the casket, and I started thinking about my flashlight. And I started thinking about the batteries inside my flashlight, and then I said to my aunt, ‘Maybe he’s not dead, maybe he’s just in the wrong way.’”
That’s great. So why that one?
Because it was born out of experience, really. You know, you put new batteries on the table, you take the old ones out, and you turn back and don’t know which ones are the dead ones or the real ones. So here’s this experience that everyone goes through, but no one’s ever discussed in the history of the universe. And then I whip it through to the death of the grandfather and put it into the person. I just like that I made that connection. Plus, so much information is communicated in not a lot of words. And I’m fascinated that I figured that one out, because usually it comes all at once, but I couldn’t word that one for a couple of weeks. I wasn’t thinking about it constantly, but I remember riding a bike in Santa Monica and thinking, Oh, yeah!
So most of them just come to you?
Yeah. Well, they’re all from noticing things. Some jokes I’ve had are because I didn’t hear what someone actually said. Like I have a joke about how my nephew has HDADD: “He has high definition attention deficit disorder. He can barely pay attention, but when he does, it’s unbelievably clear.” And that joke was ’cause I was with this friend of mine in a bar and I thought she said, “HDADD.”
You keep such a low profile—why?
I have no real plan. I don’t really know why. I still perform a lot, not as much as I used to. That’s just how it is.