Highlights: Steven Wright Brings Deadpan Humor to Lebanon

  • Comedian Stephen Wright performs Saturday night at Lebanon Opera House.

Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 08, 2016

If you’re counting on comedian Steven Wright to skewer the people running (or voting) for president during his stand-up routine at Lebanon Opera House on Saturday night, prepare for a recount.

“This race is very fruitful to make fun of, but there’s none of that kind of thing in my show. No current events,” the 60-year-old stand-up veteran said on Monday, during a telephone interview from Rhode Island’s Block Island. “I’ve had these four rules, right since I started. One of them was that I wouldn’t talk about pop culture, a popular TV show, who the president is.”

The nearest that Wright, a Massachusetts native who started performing stand-up in the early 1980s, comes to targeting popular culture with his deadpan delivery of existential observations might be current technology.

“Years ago, I used to talk in my act about falling asleep in a satellite dish,” Wright recalled. “I joked, ‘My dreams are showing up all over the world.’ ”

This weekend, it might run along the lines of talking with his late grandfather using “ ‘a seance app on my phone,’ ” Wright said.

“Most of these things I talk about will never go away. No swearing. No put-downs. So many people are doing these things, therefore I won’t do them. That’s not in me.”

What’s in him, he figures, is a kind of crockpot in which he stewed his own thoughts and observations of what artists were doing all around him while he grew up in the 1960s and early 1970s.

“What it comes down to is that everyone’s head is like a big soup, with different ingredients mixed in.”

Wright remembers watching comedians on The Tonight Show — where he one day would crack up Johnny Carson himself — reading the novels of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and, most important, hearing recordings of stand-up comedians on the radio.

“One night I was listening to the Bruins, and adjusting the channels, and I accidentally stumbled onto this guy who played a lot of comedy albums every Sunday night,” Wright said. “I’d be in bed with my radio, and I was studying it without realizing it.”

In addition to enjoying the humor itself, Wright discovered, particularly in the albums of Woody Allen and George Carlin as well as the novels of Vonnegut, the patterns of wordplay, the structures of jokes.

“I started reading Breakfast of Champions again about a week ago,” Wright said of Vonnegut’s 1972 novel. “It was written so simply, but saying such big things.

After decades of touring his stand-up routine, Wright is mixing in much more TV work, especially with fellow comedian Louis C.K. After playing a “Comic Book MC” in a couple of episodes of C.K.’s FX series Louie, on which he has been a consulting producer, Wright now is a regular supporting player on C.K.’s current web-TV miniseries Horace and Pete, set in a Brooklyn bar co-owned by characters played by C.K. and Steve Buscemi.

“In stand-up, everything’s heightened,” Wright said. “I need to take a break and do something else. For a long time I went on tours for weeks at a time. Now with projects like this to work on during the week, I mostly tour on weekends. Stand-up is a very isolated thing: You write it yourself, you figure out what works. With what Louis does, he has so many people involved. To be involved with him, to discuss comedy with him, work on different scenes, is very interesting. It’s a whole other way of creating, in different elements.

“It’s like he has a band, and he lets me sit in with the band.”

The Horace and Pete band includes acclaimed actresses Jessica Lange and Edie Falco and, perhaps most revelatory for Wright, an unlikely actor playing a character named Uncle Pete, who makes Archie Bunker sound like Nelson Mandela.

“Alan Alda was incredible,” Wright said. “You heard stuff out of his mouth you never imagine from Alan Alda. Extremely racist. It was hilarious.”

With his schedule evolving and his horizons broadening, Wright moved back to his native Massachusetts about 12 years ago, after some 25 years of bouncing between Los Angeles and New York.

“When I was living in L.A. especially, I wanted to go back to the country I’m from,” Wright said. “I missed the seasons. I missed the buldings. L.A.’s a pretty ugly city.

“In my gut, it was time to go back.”

Now that he’s back, Wright believes he is seeing everything in a light that seems to go against the gloomy grain of, and yet enhances, his stage persona.

“The world is so beautiful and full of so many things,” Wright concluded, before signing off to do a radio interview. “I’m just watching. It’s an endless reaction. It’ll always be there.”

Or so we can hope.

Steven Wright performs stand-up at the Lebanon Opera House on Saturday night at 7:30. For tickets ($35 to $49.50) and more information, visit lebanonoperahouse.org or call 603-448-0400 or drop by the box office in Lebanon City Hall.

Best Bets

Starting tonight, the New London Barn Playhouse introduces its 2016 troupe of actors, singers and dancers with five performances of its 59th annual Straw Hat Revue. While tickets are free for the shows, scheduled for 7:30 tonight and Friday and Saturday nights, and for 5 on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the playhouse advises reserving early. For more information, visit the box office in New London or nlbarn.org or call 603-526-6710.

As part of Croydon’s celebration of its 250th anniversary, the Croydon Historical Society stages a barn dance Saturday night in Croydon Town Hall. Featuring traditional New England squares, mixed and couples dances, the gathering starts at 7:30. For more information, call 603-863-5353 or email jdear@musicinyourlife.com.

Attention, hoarders: To kick off the next discussion of their series on sustainability, the Norman Williams Public Library and Sustainable Woodstock screen garbage activist Annie Leonard’s 20-minute, animated treatise, The Story of Stuff on Tuesday night at 6. The movie, adapted from a two-hour lecture that Leonard delivered on the subject, will be shown on the library’s mezzanine. For more information about the film, visit storyofstuff.org.

Looking Ahead

As part of its Aging with Grace series of films, Norman Williams Public Library will screen Still Dreaming on June 17 at 3:15 p.m. on the library’s mezzanine level. The movie follows a group of long-retired Broadway performers at the Lillian Booth Actors Home outside New York City, as they prepare to stage A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Admission is free.

Claremont Summerfest will kick off its inaugural series of concerts benefiting the Arrowhead Recreation Area with a performance of classic rock favorites by the Doug Wahlberg Band on June 18 at 7 p.m. at the ski hill; Simple Machines opens at 5:30, and the gates open at 4. Admission is $15 to $20.

Subsequent shows include the Shana Stack Band on July 3, with Borderstone opening at 6 p.m.; singer-songwriter Josh Logan on July 17, with Dan Walker opening at 6 p.m.; Draw the Line on Aug. 13, with Roadhouse opening at p.m. The Led Zeppelin cover band Kashmir will close the series with a show on the green at the Claremont Visitor Center on Aug. 27, with Blabpipe opening at 4 p.m. For more information, visit claremontsummerfest.com.

Theater/Performance Art

The Old Church Theater in Bradford wraps its production of the Ira Levin play Dr. Cook’s Garden with shows at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday nights and at 4 on Sunday. The drama is set in a small Vermont town where a young doctor (played by Owen Mayhew) returns to learn disturbing secrets surrounding his mentor (portrayed by Jim Heidenreich). Bing Crosby starred in a TV-movie version shot in Woodstock in the early 1970s. For tickets ($6 to $12) and more information, visit oldchurchtheater.org or call 802-356-0105.

On Saturday morning and afternoon in Norwich, Revels North holds auditions for the 2016 Christmas Revels, which will feature “A French Canadian Celebration of the Winter Solstice” led by the Quebecois folk trio Genticorum and French-Canadian step-dancer Louis Gloutnez. The auditions, for dancers and chorus singers of all ages, run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Tracy Hall. The cast participation fee is $75 per performer; anyone who cannot afford the fee can ask about dispensation by emailing info@revelsnorth.org. To make an appointment to audition, visit revelsnorth.org/christmas-revels/auditions.


Folk singer and multi-instrumentalist Samantha Moffett of Vershire performs during the Lebanon Farmer’s Market this afternoon between 4 and 7. Loose Cannons will play at the market next Thursday.

If you live at the northern edge of the Upper Valley, consider finishing your Friday at the Colonial Theater in Bethlehem, N.H., where the Klezmatics play their blend of Jewish music from Eastern Europe starting at 8 p.m. To reserve front-and-center tickets ($33) visit bethlehemcolonial.org. General-admission tickets cost $21 for members of Catamount Arts and St. Kieran’s Community Center for the Arts, $27 for others.

Gerry Grimo leads the East Bay Jazz Ensemble onto the bandstand at the Quechee Green Wednesday night at 6:30 for the Hartford Recreation Department’s first concert of the summer.

Bar and Club Circuit

Saxophonist Michael Parker and guitarist Ted Mortimer jazz up the Canoe Club in Hanover tonight at 6:30. Following them to the microphone with 6:30 to 9:30 shows after a commencement-weekend hiatus are guitarist Tom Pirozzoli on Tuesday, pianist-composer Will Ogmundson on Wednesday and William Heffernan next Thursday with a Bloomsday recitation of four excerpts from James Joyce’s Ulysses. And on Monday night starting at 5:30, Marko the Magician performs his weekly, tableside sleight-of-hand.​

Bangkok Disco pulls into Windsor Station tonight from 7 to 10. Next up over the coming week are the Sullivan Davis Hanscom Band with classic rock on Friday night at 9, The RoadTrash Band on Saturday night at 10 and singer-songwriter John Scott on Tuesday night at 6.

Dave Clark and Juke Joynt appear at Bentley’s restaurant in Woodstock tonight at 8.

The Squids set the rhythm for dancing at Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners on Friday night starting at 8.

Jester Jiggs rocks Crossroads Bar and Grill in South Royalton on Friday night starting at 9. Saturday night at 9, The Shugarmakers celebrate the release of their new band photo with a set of Americana.

The Friday night line-up at the Upper Valley’s Salt hill pubs features About Gladys with a set of dance rock and funk in Lebanon, the Conniption Fits in Hanover and folk singer-guitarist Travis Cyr playing for the first time in Newport. On Saturday, the choices are the pop-rockin’ Adam McMahon Trio in Newport, acoustic rocker Michael Spaulding in Hanover and Soul Fix in Lebanon. All shows start at 9.

The rock duo Sirsy performs at New Socials Bar and Grille in Claremont on Friday night starting at 9.

The Out on a Limb band performs during the Bluegrass Brunch at the Skinny Pancake in Hanover, on Sunday from noon to 3.

Open Mics

Ramunto’s Brick & Brew Pizza in Bridgewater hosts an open mic at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays. Participants get a free large cheese pizza.

String players of all ages and abilities are welcome at the weekly acoustic jam session at South Royalton’s BALE Commons on Friday night, 6:30 to 10.

Joe Stallsmith leads a weekly hootenanny of Americana, folk and bluegrass at Salt hill Pub in Hanover on Monday nights at 6.

Bradford’s Colatina Exit holds an open mic on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.

The Seven Barrel Brewery in West Lebanon runs an open mic on Tuesday nights at 8.

Jim Yeager hosts an open mic at Hartland’s Skunk Hollow Tavern, at 8:30 on Wednesday nights.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.