by Michael Bowen

You remember Steven Wright: the standup guy who tells wigged-out one-liners, his face totally inexpressive. Johnny Carson had him on The Tonight Show, then asked Wright back -- this was unheard of -- just a week later.

That was 22 years ago. Wright still resembles an Art Garfunkel clone who just rolled out of bed all grumpy. (In connection with any article about Steven Wright, there are federal statutes requiring use of the terms "monotone" and "deadpan.") He's like Garfunkel on downers, only less melodic and more catatonic.

Inlander: I'm calling from Spokane, where skies are gray and the birds no longer sing. But you have to come here on May 3 anyway.

Steven Wright: Is it May 3?

Inlander: Yeah, it's a Monday night, a time when this town is really hoppin'. And around here, I'm the head of all the people who hop. Steven, I thought we'd begin this phone interview with a moment of silence.

Inlander: See, I don't agree with what you were thinking right there.

Wright: Uh, I was just thinking that the connection had broken off. Sometimes, when I'm outside on this phone, that happens.

Inlander: I figured you were thinking about how intrusive interviewers are when they allow you to do something you really like for awhile -- sit quietly outside, out where the birds are singing -- but then they jerk you back to reality with some dumb question.

Wright: No, I thought that was funny to have a moment of silence. Twenty years of interviews, no one has ever said that. Are you taping this?

Inlander: I am. I got the silence word for word.

Wright: That's funny, too. Why don't you say you said hello and then just write all your own stuff?

Inlander: Thank you. It was nice speaking with you.

Wright: Take care.

Inlander: And I'm sure you'll enjoy reading what I've attributed to you once you get here.

Wright: Have you ever done standup?

Inlander: No, really, I've got a plan here.

Wright: I've only got 20 minutes.

Inlander: It's word association time.

Wright: Perfect. I love it!

Inlander: These are kinda offbeat signs...

Wright: Cement!

Inlander: Yeah, well, OK.

Wright: Oh, I gotta wait for you to start.

Inlander: You're at a shopping mall, and you've lost your way, and the helpful little sign says "You Are Here." What does that make you think of?

Wright: That's an invasion of privacy.

Jokes by Steven Wright

You know when you're sitting on a chair and you lean back so you're just on two legs and then you lean too far and you almost fall over but at the last second you catch yourself? I feel like that all the time.

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

When I was in third grade, I told my teacher, "I don't get it." The teacher asked me what it was that I didn't get. "Just in general."

Inlander: I feel that there is a kind of sadness at the bottom of all our jokes, all our humor.

Wright: No. If that's how you feel about jokes, that's fine. You feel that, and that's right for you, but I don't feel that at all. I don't think jokes have a sadness, unless the joke is based on a sadness. But to make a general statement like that, no.

Inlander: What about all your jokes about tipping off a chair?

Wright: What's sad about that? I'm describing that moment that everyone has experienced when the chair almost falls over. Where is the sadness?

Inlander: And it brings a smile to our faces because we've all been there and it is universal. But it's sad because we see the metaphorical power of that. All of us have felt out of place, like misfits at social gatherings.

Wright: You are way too... you have "way-over-reading-into-itis."

Inlander: I was hoping you'd say that.

Wright: That joke is nothing more than everyone knows that feeling. But no underneath meaning -- there's nothin'. I know this is an interview -- you didn't call for my advice. But my advice to you is to think less.

Inlander: I'm writing that down -- writing more and thinking less. Let's go, then, to something that is universal. Does pocket lint long for the stuff that clings to my dryer's lint screen? Or is it the other way around?

Wright: You're calling the wrong number for that.

Inlander: I thought you were the pocket lint man. You have a lot of pocket lint jokes.

Wright: I have one joke. I can speak of pocket lint, but I cannot speak for pocket lint. [laughs] That's the headline for the interview -- that's in the big lettering.

Inlander: It would be presumptuous.

Wright: Yes. Who am I to speak for pocket lint?

More jokes by Steven Wright

Always borrow money from pessimists. They don't expect it back. Four years ago... No, that was yesterday. If you can't hear me, it's because I'm in parentheses.

Inlander: I know you love the Boston Red Sox.

Wright: Did you know the Titanic sank the week that Fenway Park opened? In fact, the opening of Fenway Park was not even in the paper, because the headlines were all about the sinking of the Titanic. Every year, the Red Sox reenact the voyage of the Titanic. It starts out very optimistic -- oh, a new season, everyone's getting on, oh, isn't this great -- big thing moving, big new season moving through the months, the Titanic moving across the Atlantic. And every September, the people out in the stands hear a big noise out near the left-field wall: "What was that?" "Oh, it's probably nothing." And then everyone's in lifeboats, paddling with their hands, and the Yankees win the World Series. And the Red Sox go back to Liverpool and build another ship, they test the engines, and then they leave. So right now, what is it -- eight, 10 days into the season? We're about 150 miles off the coast of Ireland.

Inlander: I pledge to you that I will try not to over-think that analogy.

Wright: [laughs] You... you need to... I don't know how you... you can't do it. You can't do it, because you're just all wired up, and that's how everyone's brain -- it's just how it is. If you could only take little breaks, like drink some wine, run, ride a bike until you can't move, sleep longer. I suggest that you stay unconscious longer. That's my advice to you.

Check out jokes, bizarre stories, music and paintings by Wright at

Publication date: 04/29/04

American Original: The Life and Work of John James Audubon @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

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About The Author

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.