Local Arts

Steven Wright on staying away from politics, overcoming stage fright at an early age

Steven Wright will perform at McGlohon Theater on Friday night.
Steven Wright will perform at McGlohon Theater on Friday night.

When comedian Steven Wright started in standup 40 years ago, he created a set of rules to abide by.

“I didn’t talk about sex or drugs. I didn’t swear. That’s just how I was raised, not to talk about those things publicly,” he said in September, while driving from his home in rural Massachusetts to visit his mother in Maine.

“I wanted to talk about stuff most comedians weren’t talking about,” he continues. “I never talked about the big news story or TV show or movie star or McDonald’s, the president or politics.”

Instead, he shared his amusing observations on odd turns of phrase and figures of speech in a voice unwaveringly monotone, his expression stoic.

Forty years in, he’s broken all the rules, even taking a dig at President Trump.

“I did it because the president disturbs me so much, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more relaxed about my rules. I do an 85-minute show and I swear about five times. I think I made one sex joke and a couple of drug jokes. I’m an angel,” says Wright, who performs a makeup show Friday at McGlohon Theater (the original September date had to be rescheduled due to Hurricane Florence).

“I don’t think I’m going to keep doing it,” he says of the Trump joke. “The show is sort of a surreal escape. It gives the audience a break.”

Wright grew up a shy kid who idolized Johnny Carson and George Carlin.

“I was even shyer than regular kids. I didn’t weigh 100 pounds until 11th grade. I was little, but I wanted to do standup. I forced myself,” Wright says.

His first foray was in a mass communication class in college: “I’d memorized one of George Carlin’s albums, and I did five minutes off his record. I told them it was from the album. ... I believe they didn’t laugh once,” he says, pausing for effect. “Now I’m going to drive off this road.”

The tough peer crowd didn’t deter him, though. He forced himself to do three minutes at a local club. He thought he bombed, but a friend pointed out that the audience laughed at about half of his material.

“That kept me going back,” he says.

Steven Wright

When: 8 p.m. Friday.

Where: McGlohon Theater, 345 N. College St.

Tickets: $25-$59.50.

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