Comedian Steven Wright brings his droll observations to North Shore Center Oct. 6
Steven Wright doesn't write jokes.
He doesn't have to. For more than 40 years, Wright's comedy -- delivered in his distinctive deadpan style -- has consisted of droll observations of the incongruous, the ambiguous and the absurd, which he picks up simply living his life.
On a visit to a museum, he observed statues that had no arms or heads, which got him wondering whether the leftover limbs and craniums are showcased in their own museum.
"I don't wake up thinking I need more jokes," said the comedian, whose show next week at Skokie's North Shore Center for the Performing Arts is sold out. "I'm subconsciously noticing things" from the moment he awakes to the moment he goes to sleep.
"The show is like a painting that's never finished," he said of his set, which includes old and new bits. "I'm always trying something out, trying new things so the painting keeps evolving."
From the age of 16, when he began watching "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," Wright wanted to be a comedian. Having never seen standup comedians before, Wright was fascinated.
"A guy comes out, talks for five minutes about his world experience, everyone's laughing and then he talks to Johnny," said Wright, who was immediately hooked.
He cites Robert Klein, David Brenner and Richard Pryor as inspirations but says the person who most influenced him to make comedy his career was George Carlin.
"He was talking about everyday things that you don't even notice ... looking at it from another angle and commenting on it," Wright said. "He was so cool."
At that age, "your head is wet clay," he said. "Whatever's coming in that jolts you really hits you."
Its impact is lasting.
The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Kurt Vonnegut, Salvador Dali, Carlin, those artists make up Wright's Mount Rushmore of creative heroes.
In 1979, a year after he graduated from Emerson College in Boston, Wright learned about a Boston club called The Comedy Connection. He attended a show and a couple of weeks later performed at an open mic. A couple of years later, he was working at Ding Ho, a combination comedy club and Chinese restaurant when a "Tonight Show" producer caught his act. Two weeks later he made his television debut on "The Tonight Show." Carson invited him back the following week.
"It was like a fairy tale," Wright said. "I was doing comedy for three years, (producer Peter Lassally) sees me and I'm on."
"Johnny Carson changed my life," he said. "Twice."
First, Carson's show introduced him to stand-up comedy when he was still a teenager.
"Then I actually went on his show and my life changed again," said Wright, who expressed his gratitude during the 1989 Academy Awards ceremony, thanking Carson and Lassally as he and director Dean Parisot accepted the Oscar for their short film "The Appointments of Dennis Jennings," in which Wright co-wrote and starred.
A frequent guest on late-night chat shows, Wright has appeared on TV in "Mad About You" and "The Larry Sanders Show" and in the films "Natural Born Killers" and "Desperately Seeking Susan" among others.
But stand-up remains his first love.
"I always wanted to be one of those guys I mentioned earlier," he said.
After 40 years, he still is. A teenage dream come true.
• • •
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6
Where: North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, (847) 673-6300, northshorecenter.org
Tickets: Sold out
COVID-19 precautions: Masks recommended