With a unique look, voice and material, comedian Steven Wright is one of those performers that after seeing him once, you will never forget him. His stand-up career includes various specials and the albums, “I Have a Pony” and “I Still Have a Pony.” He’s also acted, written and directed various projects, including his 1989 Academy Award-winning short film “The Appointments of Dennis Jennings.”
As of late, he’s served as a producer on the FX series “Louie” and starred in Louie CK’s online series “Horace and Pete.” Wright talked about his career before he returns to Buffalo for a show at 8 p.m. Oct. 7 at the University at Buffalo’s Center for the Arts.
Question: You have a distinct performing style with brief jokes delivered in a low-key style. Is that what you always had in mind when you stepped on stage for the first time, or did your comedic persona evolve as you gained more experience?
Answer: It just happened right from the beginning. I knew (an) open mic was in two weeks, so I then started writing jokes. Most of them came out in that abstract way, and some of them were more of a traditional humor. And this is just how I talk, you can hear it. (Editor’s note: He does really sound like that).
I even had more of a blank face on stage because I was afraid to be onstage. So the delivery and type of humor wasn’t a planned thing, it’s just what I thought might be funny.
Q: How do you end up building your sets?
A: The sets are like a big puzzle. You can’t just make a list that would put them in any order. I figure out the order as I develop and I move it around. Even though they’re all basically short, some of them are longer than others.
It’s almost musical where you have to change up the rhythm so you go short, short, short then long. I’ll put some of the jokes into fake stories. I can feel where one would go after another one, but it’s all trial and error, like a giant jigsaw puzzle.
Q: You’ve also worked as an actor, writer and director, but often for smaller, independent projects. Why do you gravitate toward those, as opposed to a network sitcom? I imagine somebody’s offered you a network deal at some point.
A: Yeah, they did, a long time ago, and I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t think my type of humor could be in a situation like that. I never did this so I can use it as a stepping stone. I’ve wanted to be a stand-up since I was 16. (Sitcom) just wasn’t me.
Q: You won an Academy Award for a short film (“The Appointments of Dennis Jennings”). It seems like you were doing what Louie CK is now by controlling your own projects and doing stuff that interests you.
A: I did that for HBO. I went to (them) and asked if they were interested in a 30-minute movie, so we made it. We gave it to them, and they decided to put it in theaters before they played it on HBO (so) it becomes eligible for an Academy Award. I don’t even know if they thought they could win an Academy Award. Then it was nominated, and then it won.
From my point of view, it was a fluke, and we didn’t even make it for the theaters. It was like a dart we threw over to HBO, and then a gust of wind blew it over to this other bulls-eye and it stuck in the middle. It’s pretty amazing; I can’t believe I have an Academy Award.
Q: How did you start working with Louie CK?
A: About four years ago, I wanted to live in New York for about a month. I would never live there again; even though I loved it when I was there but I wanted to get a small taste of it.
During those times, that’s when I met him and we started hanging out. He was already doing his FX show. Completely out of the blue, he asked if I wanted to be involved with it. I was just shocked. So I said yes, because the guy is brilliant and a genius. I was like a sounding board to him; I was just giving him my comic sensibility. It was a great experience.
The stand-up I do is all myself, and I’m not complaining, because that’s just what stand-up is. But it was fun for me to be able to discuss comedy from other avenues with him. It was like being with a band (that) he let me sit in with. With “Horace and Pete,” he asked me to be an actor. It was fantastic, with Jessica Lange, Steve Buscemi, Alan Alda and Louie himself. It’s more like a play.
Q: How did you feel about going into the show with all those great actors?
A: I couldn’t believe I was in there with those people. Watching them rehearse and go over it was fascinating to me. They are all very nice people. Alan Alda was such a nice guy. It was a fantastic experience; a career experience and a life experience.
Q: Twitter sounds like a perfect medium for you with your short jokes, but on the other hand, you don’t want to give away your material for free. What are your thoughts about it?
A: It’s interesting that you bring that up, because a couple of years ago I was on there writing a really long story, two sentences at a time. People were saying, “What’s wrong? Doesn’t he know that it’s perfect for him to put his jokes on?” like someone needed it explained to them. Other people thought it was great that I was writing a novel on Twitter.
I never put jokes on there because to me, a joke is a thing that should be said in front of a live audience. I mean that for myself. Other people can do what they want. That’s how I see a joke: a live experience in front of a crowd. That’s why I don’t put jokes on there. I have no interest in it.
Who: Steven Wright
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 7
Where: Center for the Arts, University at Buffalo North campus