Spectators who packed the house in the University at Buffalo’s Center for the Arts on Friday night realized how blessed they were, as the crowd enjoyed a terrific 90-minute set from one of comedy’s greatest performers, Steven Wright.
Dressed nearly all in black, the 60-year-old Wright wandered around the stage firing off one perfectly written joke after another, occasionally changing up the pace by starting an extended, crazy story (usually involving cops and hitchhikers) or singing a few songs while playing his guitar. The crowd clearly enjoyed the performance and it was plain Wright was having fun, too. Every once in awhile, he would hit a punchline and look to the crowd with a sly smile to see if they got it.
At one point, as Wright was in the middle of a story about a hitchhiker and bird angels with four wings, he paused, looked to the audience, and pleaded, “Picture it! Don’t make me the only one.”
Wright’s peculiar and strange sense of humor usually has him asking metaphysical questions to the people in his life, often leaving them either in tears or delivering the nasty retort, “What the hell is wrong with you?” Wright can only hold the bridge of his nose downward as he puzzles out another non sequitur.
One of the reasons Wright continues to endure with audiences is that so much of his material is timeless. His comedy is politics free, which would instantly date it despite the wealth of material one can draw upon. Whatever extended bits Wright goes on are usually absurd stories with little basis in reality – in a sense, becoming unstuck in time. I caught a few modern references when Wright mentioned “a séance app” and “Uber for hearses,” but for the most part, nearly every joke he told could work in 2016, 1916 – and maybe even 2116.
While I’m usually reluctant to quote a comedian’s material at great length, Wright has such an incredible gift of wit that the only way to truly understand it is to document a few of his jokes:
“All search parties are surprise parties.”
“They say laughter is the best medicine. I think it’s cocaine and whiskey.”
“Hermits have no peer pressure.”
“I used to be a narrator for bad mimes.”
“I think it’s wrong that only one company makes the game ‘Monopoly.’”
“A friend of mine has a trophy wife, and apparently it wasn’t first place.”
“Life is short. It’s not that wide either.”
The degree of difficulty of using so few words for such big laughs is a testament to the uniqueness of Wright as a comic who, decades after his big break on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” still remains a pillar of the industry.
After the show, a young woman in the parking lot was overheard telling her companion that she felt bad about not laughing more because her mouth was sore from smiling all the time. I knew that feeling very well Friday night.