Exciting stuff from a not-so-excitable man.
Steven Wright: When the Leaves Blow AwayDistributor: Image Entertainment
First date: 2006
Steven Wright’s calm comedic intelligence is exciting. (That may read like an oxymoron, I know. After all, how can “calm” and “exciting” be used in the same sentence)? But this statement is oddly true, because Wright is an endless well of thoughtfully hilarious ruminations. When Leaves Blow Away is basically a filmed concert appearance, with a few extras thrown in for good measure. So if you’ve run out of favorite ‘80s Wright quotes to share around the water cooler, this DVD will give you plenty of new material with which to amuse your friends.
Wright’s jokes make typical dry humor seem like oceans of wetness in comparison. He delivers jokes like a man doing standup in his sleep. He has all the enthusiasm of a punk kid at the drive-thru window reading back your fast food order. But no fast food ever sounded this delicious. He doesn’t need to knock you over the head with his jokes; he knows the material is strong enough to do the damage all on its own merit.
It’s impossible to categorize Wright's comedy because he’s a genre unto himself. Even so, there is a connection between Wright’s work and that of George Carlin. Granted, Wright rarely makes zany faces the way Carlin does. Furthermore, Wright doesn’t let politics slip into his commentary, as does Carlin. But Wright, like Carlin, has the uncanny ability to smoke out the unusual, which lurks within everyday, average events, just ripe for his picking. For example, Wright asks at one point why pictures come out square when the camera lens is round. It’s the kind of question a child might ask, and an oddity a mature adult may be too afraid to wonder about out loud. In a way, Wright speaks out loud the thoughts most of us only keep to ourselves.
There is also a little Jerry Seinfeld in what Wright does. But instead of prefacing his lines with Jerry’s usual “You ever notice how…” tagline, Wright just comes out and describes what he notices. He asks, for instance, what Jesus ever gave Santa Claus for his birthday. Granted, such thinking may be akin to walking the thin line of blasphemy for some. But it nevertheless makes you rethink our various holiday traditions and how they got to be the way they are.
My favorite Wright jokes are the ones where he comes off like an alien visiting Earth for the first time. If you looked at human behavior without knowing situational contexts, who’s to say you wouldn’t react the way he characterizes an alien would? Wright acts disgustedly at one point when he sees a supermarket worker pushing 30 connected shopping carts across the parking lot. “Somebody else might want to use one of those,” he mockingly criticizes.
As a father of two children, I was heartened to be able to show this DVD to my family. Even though Wright is one of the world’s most sophisticated comedians, he’s also surprisingly family-friendly. And except for a few uses of the word “shit”, as well as a couple of sexually implicit lines, this disc is also mostly okay for the kids. Children may not get many of these jokes yet, but at least parents won’t need to cover their ears and eyes while the DVD plays.
In addition to the concert segment, this DVD also includes a black and white short film titled One Soldier. The short is an odd mixture of narration and dialogue, which reminds you of Woody Allen’s comedic ruminations about death. In fact Allen’s Love And Death is probably its closest artistic relative. In the film, Wright plays a soldier who dresses in his army gear long after the war has ended. Perhaps this is meant to symbolize how the battle within a soldier’s head never leaves him completely -- even after all the gunfire has subsided.
Its funniest moment is a flashback where Wright’s character describes his former military commander. Wright’s job was to play calming music with a squeezebox so that this evil leader could plan out how many soldiers would die in each skirmish. This scene is obviously Wright’s commentary on the futility of war. The funny part arrives when Wright mentions how he would sometimes play extremely fast in order to confuse the deadly general’s thinking. This fast playing, Wright drolly notes, would later be known as bluegrass music.
Another extra feature is a few clips of Wright’s ‘80s work. But these are not his best ‘80s jokes, nor are there enough of them to recapture the flavor of Wright’s initial impact upon the comedy world. These extra moments are little more than filler.
In a time when shock jocks are getting fired right and left for racially insensitive humor, it is reassuring to know people like Wright are still out there. He’s not out to shock anybody; his approach, instead, is to make people think a little deeper, after the laugh. So in his own subtle way, Wright will blow you away.