Comedian Steven Wright has an unmistakable voice. His deadpan monotone is as much a part of his signature style as his surreal jokes. When he brings his show, which was rescheduled due to a foot injury, to The Paramount in Huntington Saturday, Wright, 58, will perform 85 minutes of one-liners that will not only have you laughing but make you think as well. If you look closely, you may even catch him crack a smile.
What was your act like when you started?
It started with a lot of the abstract jokes. The first joke I ever wrote was: "Friday, I was in a bookstore, and I started talking to a French-looking girl. She was a bilingual illiterate -- she couldn't read in two different languages." Then there was some regular comedy stuff. It was 65 percent one-liner abstract jokes and 35 percent other stuff. As I went along, I focused on the abstract ideas, and the normal stuff drifted away.
You strip comedy to its bare bones, then deliver it in a low-key manner. What made you go in that direction?
I was afraid of being on stage, like most people. Even though I talk in a monotone in real life, it became more exaggerated on stage because I was really afraid of standing there. When I perform, I'm trying to make sure I'm saying the wording correct, I'm thinking about what the next joke is and how people are reacting. Even though the crowd is laughing, I have no reaction because I'm trying to get through the next joke. The reason why my jokes are so short is because I don't want to be standing there that long without the audience laughing.
Johnny Carson was blown away by your uniqueness during your first appearance on "The Tonight Show" in 1982. What was going through your head during that process?
I used to watch "The Tonight Show" all the time. It's what made me want to be a stand-up. When I got there, I realized the studio audience was the biggest crowd I ever performed for, at 500 people. I tried to block out that I was on television and pretend I was in a club. I was so nervous before I went out that I became numb. It was too much for me to handle. When I heard Johnny Carson laughing off to my right, I was blown away. That whole experience is still the highlight of my career. I dreamed about being on "The Tonight Show" like a kid would dream about being in the World Series. My whole life changed in the five minutes I was on there. It was like a fairy tale.
After you did well on "The Tonight Show" was your phone ringing off the hook?
I didn't know anything. . . . I didn't even have an agent. Peter Lassally, [former] co-producer of "The Tonight Show" and executive producer of "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson," took me under his wing. He advised me on everything, and it all changed. I started to go on "Late Night With David Letterman," play comedy clubs out on the road, and I even went on "Saturday Night Live" doing stand-up. When I did an HBO special and an album ("I Have a Pony"), it moved me from clubs into theaters. All of it was from going on "The Tonight Show."
Do you still have a hard time onstage?
The stage for me is never going to be normal. It's like running across the lake with the ice breaking behind you. It can go bad so easy. But it's exhilarating to get from one point to another.
Do you ever get excited about stuff?
Sure. If a guy cuts me off driving or if it's the bottom of the ninth and David Ortiz hits a three-run homer, then you'll see me get excited.
You often appear in smallbit parts in movies. Do you prefer that?
I would have taken a starring role, but they didn't give me one [laughs]. I came into different films in all different ways. "Half-Baked" happened because Dave Chappelle was the guest host on a talk show that I was the guest on. When it was over I said, "We should be in a movie together." He said, "We are making a movie in a few months. You want to be in it?" I said, "Sure." That's how I became "The Guy on the Couch."
Did you ever want to star in feature films?
Orion Pictures was interested in me doing some films, but I couldn't figure out how to write a whole movie. I'd like to do a full-length film at some point. I have bits and pieces of movies written down.
What was your involvement in "Louie" last season?
Louie [CK] and I are friends, and he asked me, completely out of the blue, if I wanted to work on his show. He'd bounce the stories off me. I'd go to the shooting in New York and a lot of the editing. I'd give him my opinion on everything I saw. He's a genius from another planet.
You are a frequent guest on with "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson." Who do you think should replace him?
I'm disappointed that he's leaving. I had a great time on there. When I go on, it's like eight minutes of insane improv. It's as if we are in an insane asylum waiting for our doctors to come in. He's one of the best comedy minds I've ever seen. I have no idea who could replace him. He's a unique character.
Will there be another comedy special coming?
I'm gathering material. I'm not there yet. But I'm always writing stuff.
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday, The Paramount, 370 New York Ave., Huntington
INFO $35-$50, 631-673- 7300, paramountny.com
STEVEN WRIGHT RECALLS WINNING HIS OSCAR
Here's something that might come as a surprise to many -- Steven Wright has an Oscar. The Boston-based comic won his Academy Award in 1989 for his short live-action film, "The Appointments of Dennis Jennings," which he co-wrote and starred in.
The film originally was slated for HBO, but the network liked it so much that it played the film in theaters in Los Angeles and New York before it appeared on TV. Because of its theatrical run, it got nominated -- and won.
"It was a total freak thing," says Wright. " 'Dennis Jennings' was like a dart that we threw to HBO, and a big gust of wind came up, blew it 50 miles to the right, and it landed in a different bull's-eye, which was the Academy Award. It was completely wild."