Entertainment

Comedian Steven Wright still delivers deadpan gems 33 years after ‘Tonight’

Comedian Steven Wright
Comedian Steven Wright Jorge Rios

Comedian Steven Wright’s deadpan delivery and seemingly simplistic observations and literal interpretations ushered in a new kind of stand-up comedy when he emerged in the ’80s. An original well ahead of his time, Wright’s act wasn’t just calculated shtick. He was an extreme introvert, but his obsession with “The Tonight Show” and the comedians Johnny Carson featured – David Brenner, George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Robert Cline – gave him the nerve to step onstage.

“I was introverted, but my goal was to do this thing where you’d have to stand in front of all these people,” Wright says following a Tuesday morning mountain bike ride. “I didn’t want to be doing some job being 60 years old and selling insurance in Wyoming.

“I didn’t want to wonder what would have happened if I just tried it,” says Wright, who forced himself to take his musings onstage in his native Boston. “My legs were shaking when I went to an open-mic night for the first time. That’s why I had such a blank face. I was concentrating so much. I wasn’t laughing at what I was saying because I was trying to remember the next joke.”

Thirty-six years later, Wright is still sharing his unique perspective onstage when not consulting as a producer on Louie CK’s hit, “Louie.” He performs at McGlohon Theater on Friday.

Carson wasn’t just his inspiration: The legendary comedian and talk show host gave Wright his big break after a “Tonight Show” producer saw him in Boston.

“It was gigantic. He changed my life because that’s where I got it in my head at 16 I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. That was my fantasy. When I went on there 10 years later, when I was 26, everything changed again,” he recalls. “Those two big changes I owe to Johnny Carson and that show. It’s still the best thing that’s happened in my career.”

Part of Wright’s charm is that what he’s saying makes sense.

“For years I’ve said I have the perspective of a child, but I can use the language of an adult. I remember when I was about 12 or 14 I was in my driveway playing with a basketball and my mother came to the window and yelled, ‘Steven, I’ve got a bone to pick with you,’ ” he recalls in his signature monotone delivery. “I said, ‘You have a bone to pick with me?’ She started laughing even though she was mad. She said, ‘It’s an expression.’ I thought, that’s an insane expression. That’s crazy.”

He compares the way he thinks and writes to visual art.

“It’s like a mosaic painting,” he explains. “Between when you wake up, and then you go to bed, thousands of pieces of information you’ve (encountered) throughout your day come into your head.”

His act is still a result of sifting through that information, not intentionally trying to write a joke.

“I’ve drawn since I was a little kid. I would try to draw very real, and doing that you notice something in such a detail that you wouldn’t if you weren’t drawing it. If there were a bottle and a glass on a table, you would notice the shape of the glass and the shape of the bottle, but you would also notice the shape in between the bottle and the glass. Now there’s three shapes. That would help you draw it more realistically. Trying to write material, I was noticing stuff from drawing plus from watching comedians breaking down life.”

Steven Wright

When: 8 p.m. Friday.

Where: McGlohon Theater, 345 N. College St.

Tickets: $20-$47.50.

Details: 704-372-1000; www.blumenthalarts.org.

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