Steven Alexander Wright (born December 6, 1955) is an American comedian, actor, writer, and an Oscar-winning film producer. He is known for his distinctly lethargic voice and slow, deadpan delivery of ironic, philosophical, and sometimes nonsensical jokes, paraprosdokians, non sequiturs, anti-humor, and one-liners with contrived situations.

Wright was ranked as the twenty-third greatest comedian by Comedy Central in a list of the 100 greatest stand-up comics. He was awarded the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film for his 1988 short film The Appointments of Dennis Jennings.

 

 

Early life and career

Wright was born at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and grew up in Burlington, Massachusetts,[5] one of four children of Lucille "Dolly" (née Lomano) and Alexander K. Wright.[5][6][7] He was raised as a Roman Catholic.[8] His mother was Italian American and his father was of Scottish descent.[9] Wright's father worked as an electronics technician who "tested a lot of stuff" for NASA (in the Apollo spacecraft program), and when that program ended he worked as a truck driver.[5]

Wright attended Middlesex Community College in Bedford, Massachusetts for two years to earn his associate's degree before continuing his baccalaureate education at Emerson College. He graduated from Emerson in 1978 and the next year he began performing stand-up comedy in 1979[5][2] at the Comedy Connection in Boston.[5] Wright cites comic George Carlin and director Woody Allen as comedic influences.

In 1982 executive producer of The Tonight Show Peter Lassally saw Wright performing on a bill with other local comics at the Ding Ho comedy club,[12] in Cambridge's Inman Square,[13] a venue Wright described as "half Chinese restaurant and half comedy club. It was a pretty weird place."[5] Lassally booked Wright on NBC's The Tonight Show, where the comic so impressed host Johnny Carson and the studio audience that less than a week later Wright was invited to appear on the show again. In May 2000, Wright and other Ding Ho alumni including Lenny Clarke, Barry Crimmins, Steve Sweeney, Bill Sohonage, and Jimmy Tingle appeared at a reunion benefit for comic Bob Lazarus who was suffering from leukemia.[13]

Stand-up success

Wright's 1985 comedy album was entitled I Have a Pony. It was released on Warner Bros. Records, received critical acclaim and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album. The success of this album landed him an HBO special which he recorded as a live college concert performance, A Steven Wright Special. By then Wright had firmly developed a new brand of obscure, laid-back performing and was rapidly building a cult-like following of hip, savvy fans and an onstage persona characterized by an aura of obscurity, with his penchant for non-sequiturs and subdued, slowly-paced delivery style only adding to his mystique. His opening act for the HBO concert was fellow "Ding Ho" comedy alumnus Bill Sohonage, who claimed that Steven's ultra-casual, nearly catatonic demeanor was no act. "He walked into my dressing room, minutes before I was to take the stage, and asked if he could borrow a shirt, as his had a giant pizza stain. You would think it might be normal to be a little nervous going on a college stage in front of 23,000, let alone having HBO out there filming, but as I passed by his room while walking on-stage I saw him sound asleep and loudly snoring." The performance would become one of HBO's longest running and most requested comedy specials, and would propel him to great success on the college-arena concert circuit.

In 1989 he and fellow producer Dean Parisot won an Academy Award for their 30-minute short film "The Appointments of Dennis Jennings," directed by Parisot, written by Mike Armstrong and Wright, and starring Wright and Rowan Atkinson. Upon accepting the Oscar, Wright said, "We're really glad that we cut out the other sixty minutes." In 1992 Wright had a recurring role on the television sitcom Mad About You. He also supplied the voice of the radio DJ in writer-director Quentin Tarantino's film Reservoir Dogs that same year. "Dean Parisot's wife Sally Menke is Quentin Tarantino's [film] editor, so when she was editing the movie and it was getting down toward the end where they didn't have the radio DJ yet, she thought of me and told Quentin and he liked the idea," Wright explained in 2009.[5]

Numerous lists of jokes attributed to Wright circulate on the Internet, sometimes of dubious origin. Wright has stated, "Someone showed me a site, and half of it that said I wrote it, I didn't write. Recently, I saw one, and I didn't write any of it. What's disturbing is that with a few of these jokes, I wish I had thought of them. A giant amount of them, I'm embarrassed that people think I thought of them, because some are really bad."[2]

After his 1990 comedy special Wicker Chairs and Gravity, Wright continued to do stand-up performances, but he was largely absent from television, doing only occasional guest spots on late-night talk shows. In 1999 he wrote and directed the 30-minute short One Soldier saying it's "about a soldier who was in the Civil War, right after the war, with all these existentialist thoughts and wondering if there is a God and all that stuff."[5]

In 2006 Wright produced his first stand-up special in 16 years, Steven Wright: When the Leaves Blow Away, originally aired on Comedy Central on October 21, 2006. Its DVD was released April 23, 2007. On September 25, 2007 Wright released his second album, I Still Have a Pony, a CD release of the material from When The Leaves Blow Away. It was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album, but The Distant Future by Flight of the Conchords won that award.

Awards and honors

Steven Wright was awarded an Oscar in 1989 for Best Short Live-Action Film for The Appointments of Dennis Jennings, which he co-wrote (with Michael Armstrong) and starred in.[2] He received two Emmy nominations as part of the producing team of Louie, first in 2014 and again in 2015.[2]

On December 15, 2008, Wright became the first inductee to the Boston Comedy Hall of Fame.[12][2]

In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, he was voted amongst the top 50 comedy acts by fellow comedians and comedy insiders. He was named No. 23 on Comedy Central's list of the 100 greatest stand-up comics.[2]

Other interests

While not well known for works outside of the comedy realm, Steven Wright is also a musician and has also recorded several non-comedy songs with his friend and occasional actor Mark Wuerthner.[2][3] Wright also has an interest in painting.[3]

Beginning in 2008, Steven Wright occasionally appeared on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson as a visiting celebrity, dropping by the show to help with the fan-mail segment. He joined a small cadre of Hollywood comedy celebrities who supported the show.[3][3]

Filmography

YearTitleRoleNotes
1979WKRP in CincinnatiSecurity OfficerEpisode: "Fish Story"
The Last WordMan in Crowd 
1985Desperately Seeking SusanLarry Stillman D.D.S. 
A Steven Wright SpecialHimselfStand-up special; also writer
1987Trying TimesDwight HarperEpisode: "Get a Job"
1988The Appointments of Dennis JenningsDennis JenningsAlso writer and producer
Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film
Stars and BarsPruitt 
1990Men of RespectSterling 
1991Wicker Chairs and GravityHimselfHBO stand-up special;[3]
also writer and producer
1992Reservoir DogsK-Billy DJVoice
BobNoah the Cab DriverEpisode: "Mad Dog on 34th Street"
1993So I Married an Axe MurdererPilot 
Mad About YouWarren Mermelman5 episodes
1994The Swan PrincessSpeedVoice
Natural Born KillersDr. Emil Reingold 
SpeechlessEddie 
Mixed NutsMan at Pay Phone 
1995For Better or WorseCabbie 
Canadian BaconNiagara Mountie 
1995–97Dr. Katz, Professional TherapistStevenVoice, 2 episodes
1997Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every ChildBogeymanVoice, episode: "Mother Goose"
Almost PerfectRay WhitestoneEpisode: "Dating for Ratings"
1998Half BakedThe Guy on the CouchUncredited
The SimpsonsHimselfVoice, episode: "The Last Temptation of Krust"
Babe: Pig in the CityBobVoice
1998–99Hercules: The Legendary JourneysBootesVoice, 2 episodes
1999Space Ghost Coast to CoastHimselfVoice, episode: "Snatch"
One SoldierN/AShort; director, writer, producer
The MuseStan Spielberg 
2000LoserPanty Hose Customer 
2001The Downer ChannelWalterEpisode: "#1.2"
2003Coffee and CigarettesStevenSegment: "Strange to Meet You"
2005Son of the MaskDaniel Moss 
The AristocratsHimself 
When Stand Up Stood OutHimself 
2006When the Leaves Blow AwayHimselfComedy Central stand-up special;
also writer and executive producer
2011Aqua Teen Hunger ForceDannyEpisode: "Allen Part One"
2011–15LouieComic Strip MC / HimselfActor: 2 episodes, story by: "The Road: Part 2",
producer: 8 episodes
2012"(I'm From) Western Mass"Dr. WestchestersonMusic video
2015The Flaming C[3]R.A.N.D.Y.Voice, 2 episodes
2016Horace and Pete[25]LeonWeb series

Discography