by Ryan Hubbard
The incomparable Steven Wright returns to the Vic tomorrow, May 15, at 8 PM. Wright last performed in Chicago in March 2006, also at the Vic. At that show, Wright, dressed in black, simply walked out to a mike, stool on a dimly lit stage--no introduction, no opening act--and slowly paced through his perplexing and hilarious one-liners (see below).
I've seen a lot of headliners dumb down their sets for Chicago audiences, assuming some kind of Midwestern conservatism. But at that gig Wright was as relentlessly dry and uncompromising as on his DVDs and CDs. For this show Wright will likely mine material from his 2007 Grammy-nominated album, I Still Have a Pony, his first since his 1985 Grammy-nominated debut, I Have a Pony.
Wright, whom Comedy Central ranked 23rd on its list of the top 100 stand-ups of all-time, hasn't exactly promoted his current tour, but he has made some unannounced cameos on The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson. (The amiable Ferguson handles Wright admirably.) Here Wright opens a show. Here Wright sits as a guest. And here Wright opens another show by pushing Brittany Murphy on a swing, telling her things like, "I have a different swing at my house."
My Critic's Choice for Wright's '06 appearance at the Vic:
"A jokester, not a jester, Steven Wright may be the comedian's comedian. No other comic (except perhaps Woody Allen) has so brilliantly crafted jokes at once nonsensical and elegantly economical. With heavy eyes and unkempt hair, Wright drools his words in monotone, but his celebrated deadpan--surpassed only by Keaton's--is merely the canvas for his bright abstractions. He pronounces weird paradoxes ("I bought some powdered water, but I don't know what to add to it"), recontextualizes dead metaphors ("On the other hand, you have different fingers"), aphoristically notes small injustices ("The severity of the itch is proportional to the reach"), and takes leaps in logic ("I spilled spot remover on my dog. Now he's gone"). He'd rather talk about "lint or hinges" than politics, but his wordplay can be subtly scathing. "If con is the opposite of pro," he asks, "then what is the opposite of progress?"