Steven Wright: When the Leaves Blow Away

Dan MacIntosh

Exciting stuff from a not-so-excitable man.

Steven Wright: When the Leaves Blow Away

Distributor: 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.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.