He drips with dry humor, but Steven Wright claims that comic inspiration rolls in only occasionally.
"Jokes come to me like rain," the comedian says. "A lot of 'em will come, and then nothing will happen for a while. And then some, a little bit. And then nothing. And then a lot."
It's been two decades since Wright first stormed the comedy circuit -- an unlikely metaphor, considering his slow-burn style of standup -- and the jokes haven't dried up yet.
"I used to worry that I wrote my last joke," adds Wright, set to perform at the Dodge Theatre this weekend. "But it's 20 years now, and it just keeps coming."
He needn't worry. Even should the brainstorms stop, Wright's got a whole world wide web of folks willing to lend a line. A slew of Internet sites list his one-liners, but -- in a strange case of reverse plagiarism -- only a fraction of the jokes are the real deal. Rather than stealing Wright's wisdom, fans seem bent on attributing their comic attempts to the comedian.
"Some of those jokes, I wish I did write," he admits. "Some of them are excellent. But a lot of them are horrible. It embarrasses me."
But after writing comedy for so long, how does Wright even remember which jokes are his?
"The thoughts are so precious that you just remember," he insists. "I don't know how to define it. I'm into it so much that I absolutely remember."
That passion for humor -- and the deadpan delivery that belies it -- have made Wright an entertainment icon. In 1989, he won an Academy Award for The Appointments of Dennis Jennings, a short film he co-wrote and starred in. A decade later, he scored five spots on GQ's "75 Funniest Jokes of All Time" list -- more than anyone else. (In at number nine: "I went into a restaurant. The menu said 'breakfast any time.' So I ordered French toast during the Renaissance.")
Though Wright's twisted takes on the world ("If I ever had twins, I'd use one for parts") seem simple on the surface, they're products of an ever-attentive mind. Does he think more profoundly than the average person?
"I don't know what I think about that," he answers -- and the irony is unintentional. After all, deep thoughts (Jack Handy notwithstanding) don't exactly dominate in show biz, right? "I know what you're saying," Wright says, "but I don't know what to say about that."
Nevertheless, Wright has secured his spot in the spotlight. He returns to the big screen this spring in a collection of short films titled Coffee and Cigarettes, and in October in the sequel to The Mask.
In the meantime, he humors his fans with occasional standup stints, which invariably -- and for good reason -- remain nameless.
"I never name the tours," Wright says. "This one would be called 'These 10 Shows.'"