Thirty-six years: That's how long Steven Wright has been out there doing stand-up.
In that amazing span of time he went from playing clubs in Boston to hitting the big time on Saturday Night Live and Carson's The Tonight Show to dropping his own comedy albums and HBO specials. He even won an Oscar for best short live-action film with 1988's The Appointments of Dennis Jennings. He says he keeps the statue on a living-room table covered in books and notebooks.
Despite these diverse accomplishments, Wright, who performs at The Carolina Theatre Oct. 10, still loves stand-up after all these years. Born and based in Massachusetts, the 59-year-old is visiting a friend in Long Island when we speak by phone.
"I love to create," he says. "I love to paint. I love to play music. I love to write. I love to write jokes. And I love to be onstage, a very electric place to be. There's a lot of energy there."
"Electric" and "energetic" probably aren't the first words that spring to mind when you think of Wright, whose listless, monotonous delivery is his trademark.
"There's a lot of excitement, being out there, even though I look like I'm maybe gonna fall asleep," he says.
Wright has been spouting off surreal, oddball one-liners and random thoughts (he has said he can churn out about 300 jokes during an 85-minute set) for so long that he's had time to inspire another wave of comics, including Demetri Martin, Dan Mintz (aka Tina Belcher from Bob's Burgers) and the late Mitch Hedberg, to adopt his deadpan style. Wright grew up idolizing George Carlin and Woody Allen, and being an idol himself obviously wrinkles his brain.
"I started noticing it about 15 years ago," he says, "and I thought, 'Oh, there's a guy doing my style of joke, even my style of delivery.' And it was weird to me at first. But now, I'm used to it. When I first came on TV in the early '80s, it never even entered my mind that there's a 14-year-old kid out there watching, and, when he becomes a comedian in 10 years, he'll be influenced by this."
Rising comedians aren't the only people who look up to Wright. For the past couple of seasons, he's been a producer on Louie, aiding creator, star, writer, director and possible caterer Louis C.K. in keeping his Emmy-winning show as humorously weird and abstract as possible.
"I am a sounding board," Wright says of his role at the show. "I admire [C.K.]. I think he's a brilliant, genius comedian. So for him to be asking me my opinion, it's really something else."
Even though he's about to hit his 60s, Wright remains as passionate as ever about comedy, even if he keeps it hidden onstage.
"I mean, my whole adult life has been creating," he says. "I'll do more stand-up and I'll go on talk shows and I'll keep working with Louis, and that's what I'll be doing."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Deadpan alley"