Taciturn Bosox fan Steven Wright comes to the Rialto Theatre Dec. 1.
"Are you a Charles Bukowski fan?" I ask. I’m interviewing American comedy icon and alt-comedy forefather Steven Wright. He’s the image of an oafish, taciturn BoSox fan, uncomfortable in any company but his own. He jokes in a perfectly dispassionate, one-liner sudoku about, for instance, lint or the attitude of a butterfly.
Might Bukowski's noisy rush and tumble, punchy as it is with emotion, be an outlet for Wright’s invisible passion?
"Charles Bukowski!" The floodgates open. "He's one of my top three authors in my life, him and Kurt Vonnegut. I've read all of Bukowski’s books and I've read several of them many times. Every few years, even if I don't read the whole book again, I have to go back and read bits of him. He's unbelievable.”
But Wright’s chill is apparently entirely metabolic.
“Yeah, I come off really mellow, People call me up and they say, 'Oh did I wake you up?' And I say 'No! I just drank coffee and I'm driving a car. I'm wired and I’m driving in the rain!' It doesn't line up,” Wright said.
Wright found overnight fame when Johnny Carson invited him to the Tonight show in 1984. Wright's comedy was so original, so outside the mainstream at the time, that he made new fans in the U.S. for what had become known, in Europe, as alt comedy, an art that eschewed the traditionally racist and sexist nature of standup and focused on more organic content, adding elements of improv and fringe theater.
“It happened so fast," Wright said. “I was just trying to do the next step. It was like a fairy tale, though. I was 26. I started in the summer I was 23. Three summers later I was on national TV."
Wright’s interest in comedy sprouted when, as a 16-year-old, he discovered George Carlin.
“One of the reasons I wanted to be a comedian was from watching George Carlin, and I learned how to write jokes by listening to Woody Allen albums," Wright said. "Carlin talks about his everyday little things and I talk about everyday little things, too, but I'm talking about the most mundane things in life.”
How has his own comedy evolved over almost four decades?
"I'm more comfortable out there, but it's still very much the same," Wright said. "There's attention and excitement in being in front of the audience. That's why I keep doing it."
Wright performs at the Rialto Theatre at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 1. Tickets are $27 and $34 via rialtotheatre.com