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Award-winning comedian to perform in Burlington

Kim Henry, Senior Staff Writer

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In a summer that promises new comedy in movie theaters, netflix queues and television screens, a classic comic returns to Burlington.

Award-winning standup comedian, actor and writer Steven Wright will be performing in Burlington at the Flynn Theater June 16.

Since his 1982 debut on The Tonight Show, Wright has been a regular on the late night talk show circuit, where he is known for his wandering chats with David Letterman, Johnny Carson and Seth Meyers.

His easy banter, and preference to learn about others rather than talk about himself, comes across even over the phone. Wright expressed more interest in UVM and what it was like to be a student than he did in answering questions about his comedy.

Wright waxed poetic, and the interview became a roaming conversation about comedy, growing up, college life and our mothers.

“Oh, she’s nice,” he said of his mom and laughed.

Though Wright is an old hand at talk show style interviews, his ease with casual conversation might surprise someone who had only seen his stand-up.

In Wright’s stand-up specials, his shy style is apparent. He walks out on stage looking somewhat glum and proceeds to deliver a steady stream of one-liners, rarely looking out at the audience and never laughing.

On stage, Wright seems both jaded and humble, which has an oddly charming effect. His evasive style, which has captivated audiences over his 25-year career, was not intended to be an artistic technique.

“It evolved from being afraid,” Wright said.

Wright recounted his first standup performance at a small venue called Ding Ho’s Comedy Club and Chinese Restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts, shortly after graduating from Emerson College.

“My goal was to be a standup comic since I was 16,” Wright said. “I went to college because I thought it would never really happen.”

But after graduating, inspired by Emerson’s artistic crowd, he decided to give standup a try, Wright said.

“I had three minutes of material, and I was terrified,” he said.

When he walked up to the stage with “knees shaking,” his signature style was born, Wright said.

“When the audience laughed, I wouldn’t laugh because I was so focused on the next joke,” Wright said. “It became a style, but it wasn’t a plan. How I do the show was influenced by being afraid.”

Despite his initial fear, Wright said taking risks, as he did with comedy, is one of the most important things young people can do.

“[So many people say] ‘Oh, I can’t do that. That only happens to other people,’” he said. “But there are no other people. We’re the other people.

Wright said he acknowledges that his decision to pursue comedy was risky, but it did not phase him.

“You know, when you’re that young, you have a wonderment to it all– an innocence –or at least I did,” Wright said.

However, that innocence did not give him immunity to the stresses of performing. Wright said the only times he felt pressure were when he started performing on talk shows like Johnny Carson.

After doing his five-minute standup set, he would worry that he had used up all his jokes and would not have new material for his next performance. It was only after he gained some experience that this fear faded, Wright said.

“The material to me was like rain,” he said. “You know, it doesn’t rain for a week, then it sprinkles, then it pours, and then it might not rain for a while. I’m not afraid because the rain always comes.”

Before the interview ended, it occurred to Wright to talk about his upcoming show at the Flynn.

“It’s good,” he said. “It’s insane; it’s like another world, I think.”

Steven Wright will perform June 16 at 8 p.m. at the Flynn Theater.

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