Monday, July 29, 2013

"You Do What You Do, And You Don't Do What You Don't Do - And That's The Whole Thing"

It really is.  You don’t have to read this now.  Unless you’re curious about what I’m talking about.  But at the end, you’ll go back to the title and think, “They guy was right.  I didn’t have to read this.”  Of course, by then, it’ll be too late.  I am trying to be helpful here, but I’m not sure I have been.

Steven Wright, one of my all-time favorite comedians, who if you don’t know him – or even if you do – is a kind of surrealistic joke teller.  Steven’s off-center perspective appeals to my Sense of the Absurd.  And my other senses don’t mind him either.  Though their enthusiasm pales before my Sense of the Absurd, who for the life of it cannot understand why my other senses are not bigger fans. 

MY SENSE OF THE ABSURD:  Who do you like better?

MY SENSE OF SMELL:  Henny Youngman.


MY SENSE OF SMELL:  He smells funnier.

How do you argue with that?

Steven Wright does jokes like, “I have a friend who’s a disc jockey, and when he walks under a bridge, you can’t hear what he’s saying.”  He said, “There’s a convenience store near my house, it says ‘Open 24 hours.’  I went down there, and the guy was closing up.  I said ‘I thought you were open 24 hours.’  He said, ‘Not in a row.’” 

Steven Wright also said, “You can’t have everything.  Where would you put it?”  And finally, “Sponges grow in the ocean.  That kills me.   I wonder how much deeper the ocean would be if that doesn’t happen.”  

Which gives you a small sampling of his style.  (I love it.  Though when we went to a concert, my companion for the evening fell asleep.)

I once wrote a half-hour script for a PBS comedy anthology series called Trying Times (1987) that starred Steven Wright.  I was asked to be available during the production, in case any emergency rewriting was needed. 

The series, filmed in Vancouver, allowed me to hang out with Steven Wright for five days.  Our time together gave me an intimate (within reason) understanding of how the man’s mind works.

My conclusion:

It works exactly like his jokes.

You hang around a guy, you listen to him talk spontaneously about things, and suddenly, there’s this “Aha!” moment, where the answer to the question one might ask about Steven Wright or any other comedian:  “How does he come up with those things?” is immediately apparent.

He “comes up with those things” because he’s him.  (This works for female comedians as well, only in a higher voice.)

It is really quite simple.  You “come up with those things” because your mind works that way, and other people don’t come up with those things because their minds do not. 

You succeed because of that uniqueness, and because that uniqueness connects with the audience.  If it doesn’t, you are still unique, but you have no job and no career.  You’re just a guy mumbling in the street.  (In that context, I was thinking of wearing a fake earpiece connected to nothing so when I’m mumbling in the street, people will think I’m talking to somebody.)   

Okay, that’s ipso.  Now here comes facto.

You do what you do because you can do it.  But this process inevitably also works in the other direction.

You don’t do what you don’t do because you can’t do it.

Unless you are multi-polar in which case all bets are off, your mind has a dominating perspective, shutting off the other options and precluding you from thinking any other way.  If it allows you to think in a certain way, it precludes you from thinking in other ways, which, when you add then all up, may turn out to be every other way. 

A comedian does not perform in seven different styles.  They perform in one style – the style that comes naturally to them.

Your mind may think absurdly or whimsically or ironically or hyper-logically.  But it may not let you think sexily.  Or meanly.  Or stupidly. 

Or manipulatively.  Or prevaricatingly. Or angrily.  Or sneakily. 

That is not the way your mind works, and there is nothing you can do about it.  And if you try to fake it, forcing an approach that is not naturally yours, it will come off sounding deliberate, like – forgive me – a deaf person unsure about how loud to talk.  

Wrapping Up...

“How do they come up with those things?”

Because that’s them.

“Why can’t they do something else?”

Because it isn’t.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Steven Wright.


Ira Buchman said...

I too enjoy Steven, tho I have to enjoy him in brief segments. I don't know that I could sit thru an entire show - an hour or more - of his Wright Stuff. During the first season of Mad About You, Steven was an irregular regular cast member, an assistant to Paul, and his lines were much what you'd expect from Steven Wright. I don't think he had any writing credits for those episodes (I Netflixed season one recently so I recall a bit of the credits), which means the pros such as yourself, can somehow force yourself to think like SW at least for a while. Now I must go, as I too have lost a button hole!

Mac said...

I think that's true of many things. You brain is hard-wired to think in certain ways. An engineer, a politician and a comedian will think about the same event in different ways. Then different comedians will think about it in different ways, and each can't un-think their way of thinking about it, or think about it in the same way as another comedian.
You sometimes see that when comics get into sitcoms, like that one Billy Connolly did (Billy) and he's just not a sitcom guy. He does what he does brilliantly because that's how his mind's wired, but it means he can't un-wire it to become a sitcom actor.