Delivered in a drowsy deadpan, one of his jokes goes: “I’m gonna get a tattoo over my whole body of me, but taller.”
The cerebral, low-key, absurdist, existential wit of Steven Wright comes to the stage of the Keswick Theatre Jan. 13. But at the moment, the comedian who voiced Mel Meh in last year’s “The Emoji Movie,” isn’t going anywhere because, he said, the bomb cyclone of Jan. 4 has dumped 14 inches of snow on his suburban Boston neighborhood. Also, it’s 12 degrees outside.
As part of its 50th anniversary in 2009, Warner Bros. re-released Wright’s 1985 debut album of stand-up, “I Have a Pony,” in a deluxe package with the DVD of his first HBO special. Except for a few scattered moments, such as a reference to an answering machine, Wright’s consistently extra-dry humor doesn’t seem dated. Unlike a lot of comedians, “I don’t talk about the President, a TV show or pop culture,” he said.
That gives him freedom to reuse successful one-liners and non sequiturs, while also making more-recently-made offbeat observations on the strangeness of life. “To me a show’s like a painting — it’s never really finished,” Wright said.
Introducing him on “The Tonight Show” for the first time in 1982, host Johnny Carson warned the audience: “I think you’re gonna find (him) a little different.”
For the 62-year-old Wright funny “comes like rain,” sometimes a light drizzle, sometimes an unexpected downpour, sometimes not happening for long, dry periods of time. “I’m always scanning for something. The world is like a mosaic painting. I’ll come out of a museum (not expecting to find anything humorous) with three museum jokes.”
A hidden secret to his success is that what you see from Steven Wright is not an affected stage persona. “This is how I talk. That’s how I move around ... that’s how I think,” he said.
A Grammy and Emmy nominee, Wright won an Oscar for the 1988 short film “The Appointments of Dennis Jennings,” which he co-produced, co-wrote and starred in alongside British funny man Rowan Atkinson. “I think you can just Google my name and ‘The Appointments of Dennis Jennings’ and just watch it online. It’s about a guy who kills his own psychologist,” he said.
Wright laughs when it’s pointed out that the premise of the film doesn’t sound like a comedy.
Although he’s a stand-up comedian first and foremost, Wright’s list of acting credits also includes a dentist in “Desperately Seeking Susan,” a pilot in “So I Married an Axe Murderer,” Dr. Emil Reingold in “Natural Born Killers,” the DJ voice in “Reservoir Dogs,” Speed the turtle in “The Swan Princess” and Bob the chimpanzee in “Babe: Pig in the City.”
Because of his natural deadpan — which made him the perfect choice to be the dissatisfied meh emoji — Wright says he often gets approached to voice commercials, but his reaction to that is ... meh.