Saturday, April 09, 2016

The "Peripheral Visionary": In Skokie, Steven Wright Shows Why He's One of a Kind -- Chicago Comedy Review

Comedian Review

Steven Wright
North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie, IL
April 8, 2016

"I'm addicted to placebos; I could quit but it wouldn't matter.
-- Steven Wright

To say that Steven Wright thinks of things that no one else does, while accurate, would essentially be to praise him for the gift that all stellar stand-up comedians have.

But with great admiration for all great comics, who are basically defined by a genius for observation, wording and timing, Steven Wright is, to my awareness, rather singular.

Certainly, the Boston-bred comedian shares the late George Carlin's love of wordplay, and I suppose Mitch Hedberg--who came along after Wright but died in 2005--had some similarities in the types of oddities he joked about, but I generally think of Steven Wright more comparable to Gary Larson's The Far Side cartoon than I do to Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock or any other stand-up.

If you are familiar with Wright, who has been famous since the mid-'80s without much stylistic change, you understand to what I'm referring.

And if you're not, you can find oodles of his material on the internet, whether on YouTube or in written form.

I think the guy's a genius, and his unique brand of humor was wonderfully and abundantly showcased in a near 90-minute set Friday night at Skokie's sold-out North Shore Center for the Performing Arts.

Without an opening act, Wright came onstage shortly after 8:00pm and simply offered--in his trademark monotone, lethargic delivery--"Thanks."

No, "Hello, Skokie" or pandering to the crowd.

Just a whole lot of jokes, or essentially wry observations, with a few accompanied by himself on guitar, in what could only charitably--but not derisively--be described as songs.

This was my third time seeing Wright live--the most of any stand-up comedian--and I've had his great I Have A Pony album (which you can find on Spotify) for decades, but though I knew some of his jokes Friday were golden oldies, it was great to hear the crowd LOL anew at lines like:

"I had a friend who was a clown. When he died, all his friends went to the funeral in one car."

"I was arrested for scalping low numbers at the deli."

But this was far from simply a "greatest hits" show, as Wright also delivered plenty of fresh material (at least to me). I think it proper to only share a few, and perhaps you should stop reading if you're planning on seeing him soon, but a few favorites were:

"In Europe, is Miles Davis known as Kilometer Davis?"

"What's another word for thesaurus?"

"I have reverse Tourette's Syndrome, random people swear at me for no reason."

"My friend has a trophy wife, but apparently it wasn't first place."

Some of these, and others may also go back a few years, but I thought it was perfectly fine for Wright to (re)introduce some of his wondrous material.

And though the above aren't exactly long jokes, the vociferous punster in me just as much loved simpler, wordplay-based quips that included: "Pulitzer Prizefighting," "Mail Order Bridesmaid," "Ouija Board of Directors," "Small Claims Court Jester" and as referenced in my headline, "Peripheral Visionary."

There are a lot of brilliant comedians, and many have well-defined styles that help make them great.

But there is no one quite like Steven Wright.

And on a Friday night in my hometown, he was as good as ever. 

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