BEST BETS: Comedy done the Wright way at Dover Downs

Comedian Steven Wright will perform at Dover Downs’ Rollins Center Jan. 13. (Submitted photo/Jorge Rios)

“If you shoot a mime, should you use a silencer?”

“You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?”

“What’s another word for ‘thesaurus’?”

These questions and more riddles of the universe will be posed Jan. 13 when legendary comedian Steven Wright performs at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino’s Rollins Center at 9 p.m.

Mr. Wright, known for his metaphysical one-liners and absurdist routines delivered in a deadpan style, has been making audiences scratch their heads while busting a gut for more than 35 years.

His emergence on the comedy scene in the early 1980s added a voice that no one had really heard before.

However, Mr. Wright said he patterned himself after some well-established comedians.

“George Carlin and Woody Allen were the two most influential in what I do today,” he said Wednesday morning by phone.

“Especially Carlin. He talked about the everyday things that people do and the way they think and that’s what I do — only with my own twist.

“I would also watch a lot of Woody’s movies and just listen to the joke structure and the way he wrote and emulated that.”

His seemingly scattershot routine of disjointed non sequiturs that are in reality all carefully laid out and prepared by Mr. Wright is an ever-changing process.

“It’s always evolving. It’s like a painting that’s never finished. That’s how I like to describe it,” he said.

Speaking of painting, Mr. Wright, 61, is an accomplished painter, musician and Oscar-winning and Emmy-nominated producer, in addition to his day job of standup comedy, for which he has two Grammy nominations.

Despite the outside interests, delivering the jokes is where his heart remains.

“That’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was 16 years old. That hasn’t changed. Writing and performing has always been at the top of the list for me,” he said.

He won his Oscar in 1989 for Best Short Live-Action Film for “The Appointments of Dennis Jennings,” which he co-wrote with Michael Armstrong and starred in.

All these years later, he still finds it strange to be labeled as an Oscar winner.

“It’s all very weird when I think about it. It’s just a strange thing to have an Oscar. All your life, you see one on TV but you never expect to see one in real life, much less to own one,” he said of the golden boy that he keeps on a table in his living room.

Unlike most performers, winning an Oscar does not top his list of career achievements.

His first appearance on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” on Aug. 6, 1982 gets that honor. He impressed the late-night talk show host so much, he was booked again to appear just a week later, a rare feat for any entertainer.

He said nothing he will do will ever top the experience of going on the show for the first time and then getting invited over to the couch to sit with Mr. Carson.

He was spotted by “Tonight Show” executive producer Peter Lassally at a comedy club in his hometown of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Three weeks later, he got a call at which time he was offered a chance to be a writer or perform. It was a no-brainer for Mr. Wright.

“I knew I didn’t want to write for the show. I had been doing comedy for three years at that point and I knew by then how precious a good idea was — how special a good joke was,” Mr. Wright said.

“I wanted to do this myself. I had dreamed since I was 16 to be on ‘The Tonight Show’ and here I was 26 with that chance. It’s something you dream about almost your whole life but you never really think it’s going to happen. It’s still the most meaningful moment of my career.”

The two appearances catapulted him into the national comedy consciousness where he has remained all these years later. He was named No. 23 on Comedy Central’s list of the 100 greatest stand-up comics.

He says he’s unsure whether he would have made it without those “Tonight Show” spots.

“I guess I’ll never know. I know a lot of luck is involved. If Peter Lassally hadn’t gone to that comedy club on that specific night, who knows how things would have turned out,” he said.

In later years, Mr. Lassally would continue to book Mr. Wright on “The Tonight Show” and then later during his stints with David Letterman and Craig Ferguson.

It was through Mr. Wright’s many appearances on Mr. Ferguson’s “Late, Late Show” that younger audiences discovered him.

“I had never done improv until I started doing it with Craig,” Mr. Wright said.

“I would sit down with a producer and we would figure what were going to talk about and then when I would get out there, it was just seven minutes of improv.

“He is a really smart comedian, just so funny and fast. That was a great experience.”

Another experience that he values highly is his time spent with comedian Louis CK.

His two Emmy nominations have come from his being a part of the producing team of the acclaimed comedy “Louie.”

The show has been on what the FX network has claimed is an “extended hiatus” since its last episode aired in May of 2015.

“The show is in a holding pattern right now,” said Mr. Wright, who also appeared in Louis CK’s “Horace and Pete” web series.

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen with it. It’s a pleasure working with him though. He’s an absolute genius and a nice guy also.”

Mr. Wright will next be seen, or rather heard, in “The Emoji Movie,” an animated glimpse at what goes on inside a smartphone. He fittingly plays a laconic figure named Mel Meh, father of the lead character Gene in the film that will be released in August.

It’s a role that came directly to Mr. Wright, who was also seen but not heard in the very different Quentin Tarantino film “Reservoir Dogs” as a disc jockey.

“It’s fun,” he said of voice-over work. “It’s something totally different. You’re not in front of a live audience. I remember I did one of my first ones in a movie called ‘The Swan Princess’ about 20 years ago. It’s always a fun thing.”

Limited tickets remain for those who would like to see him in the flesh next weekend in Dover.

Prices range from $25 to $45 and can be purchased by visiting doverdowns.com or calling 800-711-5882.

Blues fundraiser

The Central Delaware Blues Society will hold a musical benefit for society board member Jim Martin Sunday at Jonathan’s Landing in Magnolia.

His son James II, a drummer in various local bands, died Dec. 11 unexpectedly at age 34, leaving two young daughters behind. The day will be devoted to helping with related costs.

Doors open at 11 a.m. with the music going from noon until 6 p.m.

Artists include Blues Reincarnation Project, Bad Avenue, Barrelhouse, Joey Fulkerson, Dirty Deal, Cosmic Soul Boogie and Tom Craig.

A $10 donation will be taken at the door with chance and Chinese auctions also held.

If you can’t make it but would still like to help, visit www.gofundme.com/jim-martins-funeral-campaign.

Jonathan’s Landing is on Ponderosa Drive in Magnolia.

Showing off Dover

When Dover author, Everett De Morier, received a call from his publisher that a company wished to option the film rights to his novel, “Thirty-three Cecils,” he was a little shocked.

“I wasn’t sure how I felt about that,” said Mr. De Morier. “I didn’t know if it would work well as a film.”

Everett De Morier

But Los Angeles-based Hornpin Media, did and they purchased the rights.

Hornpin is now coming to Dover to film a promotional reel that will demonstrate the distinctive aspects of this book-to-film adaptation. This reel will be mixed with other shoots in Erie, Pennsylvania and Binghamton, New York — where the book is set — and is aimed to demonstrate the importance of grass-roots artists.

On Jan. 14 from 5 to 8 p.m., Hornpin Media will be filming the reel at the Dover Art League’s monthly Writer Artist Musician Café event. They will be showcasing local writers, musicians, poets and artist, as well as interviewing Mr. De Morier.

“We are looking for as many local artists as possible to be part of this to show the artistic talent of the Dover area,” said Laura Antonella Mancuso, curator and gallery manager of the Dover Art League.

The Dover Art League is at 21 Loockerman St.

Now showing

New in theaters this weekend is the NASA historical drama “Hidden Figures,” the action-horror flick “Underworld: Blood Wars 3D” and the fantasy film “A Monster Calls.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is Ben Affleck in “The Accountant,” Mark Wahlberg in “Deepwater Horizon,” the comedy “Kevin Hart: What Now?” and the acclaimed film “The Birth of a Nation.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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