Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Obvious Child, featuring Jenny Slate as a struggling comedian, has us thinking back on some of our favorite stand-up specials and comedy concerts.
A Steven Wright Special (1985)
Steven Wright has been doing stand-up for more than three decades, and in that time he’s only released about two sets’ worth of material. In a fantastic, comprehensive interview he gave The A.V. Club back in 2003 (when he had only released one album), Wright worried that by recording and releasing his jokes he wouldn’t be able to perform them anymore, because audiences would know them too well. But Wright’s deadpan (the deadest pan) one-liners are so plentiful that there’s really no time to memorize one before the next hits. Plus, so much of what makes Wright a legend—especially among comics—is that delivery: monotonous, matter-of-fact, and never breaking character because, mostly, Wright is that guy. In any case, his fear of being recorded—and thus having to write more jokes—didn’t stop Wright from doing an HBO special in 1985, which is simply titled A Steven Wright Special. It’s an hour of exactly what Wright perfected, and he’s changed very little over the years: His hair remains as crazy as it was then, and his jokes run from skewed observations (“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time”), to absurdities that wouldn’t work for anyone but him (“A lot of people are afraid of heights. Not me, I’m afraid of widths”), to perfectly constructed weirdness that takes the audience a second to process (“I spilled spot remover on my dog; now he’s gone”).
Availability: The whole thing is on YouTube, and was released on DVD as part of a deluxe reissue of I Have A Pony.