Interview with Steven Wright: “Steven, Take This Down”

You write everything down, but like many comics as far as I can tell you don’t refer to any notes. Is it difficult to keep one-liners in your head?

No, it is isn’t, because I learned early on—it’s such a hard thing to do, stand-up—one of the things that helps it a lot is if you know actually what you’re gonna say (chuckles) as simple as that sounds. If you’re fumbling around at all, the joke’s not gonna work as good or probably won’t even work at all, so you learn that you’ve gotta know what you’re gonna say.

So your memory is really a muscle that you’ve exercised pretty good, so I know right from the beginning all the way through 90 minutes what I’m gonna do, and even if its changed where I’m going to put something new in there I’ll know that also. You gotta have it in your head good.

You say you want to back off—has it become tiresome? Are you bored with it?

I’m not bored with it. It’s such an intense thing that you could never be bored. To be in front of a live audience is very alive—it’s very electric. I don’t see how you could be bored out in front of a live audience. It’s not that. It’s just that after thirty years of doing it my interest has gone down a little on it. I could imagine that could happen with thirty years of doing anything. I’m not stopping doing it though; I want to make that clear.

You’ve cited that the reason you wanted to be in the business was to be on something like Jonny Carson when you were a kid. Have you ever considered putting a TV show together or hosting a show?

Like a sitcom?

I dunno.

No I haven’t. I could never do a talk show. I imagine being a guest host one night, I think that would be really hilarious. But I can’t imagine how they have the energy to do what they do every night. It’s unbelievable to me. I haven’ t thought of a TV thing.

Or a cartoon?

No. I very rarely watch cartoons. I watch the Simpsons sometimes—actually it’s their 20th anniversary now, they’re having a gathering out in LA for it. I was in that once, which was pretty interesting. It was me and Bob Goldthwait and Jay Leno. One of the characters in the Simpsons wanted to do stand-up and he went to a club, I think that’s what it was.

Is your desk a nightmare? Do you even have a desk?

(laughs) No one’s even asked me that. Congratulations. I don’t have one area where I write stuff down. I have a table that I use as a desk. My stuff is not on computer, it’s all in notebooks. I buy drawing notebooks so there’s no lines on the pages and that’s what I write in. And there are three tables around the house with piles of notebooks on them. Why would you want to know that?

If you had a desk?


I think people’s working spaces are interesting.

I only go over there to write it down. It’s not like I sit there and thought it up there, that never happens.

That’s what I was considering, if you just keep a notebook in your pocket or anything.

No, if something comes into my mind, I can remember about five things. If I’m out, by the time I get home I’ll write ‘em down. I’m really a receptionist for my own brain. A secretary (laughs).

It dictates to you?

Yep. I just write it down. Then I look at it later and see if I like it, and if I like it, if I think it’s worth trying, then I try it during the show.

Is that a daily thing or are there periods where you don’t have it?

No, it’s like rain. It comes and then it doesn’t come, and then it comes a lot and then it doesn’t come at all. I don’t get worried when it doesn’t come, because that’s just how it is.

Steven Wright performs at the Wellmont Theatre in Montclair on Oct. 30.