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Never Like Lookin' for the Shovels

How Steven Wright feels about doing stand-up for an audience

By Robert Faires, 5:00PM, Wed. Apr. 25, 2012

"I'm as relaxed as I'm gonna get."
photo by Courtesy of Jorge Rios

As of tonight, jokers are wild.

Wednesday launches the first Moontower Comedy & Oddity Festival, with 75 comedians yukking it up in Austin through Saturday. Thursday's Chronicle has all the deets, plus interviews with Wanda Sykes, Marc Maron, Dana Gould, and Steven Wright, but for now enjoy some of the Wright stuff that didn't make it into print.

AC: I know everybody feels something a little different when they're about to walk out on stage. What's going through your head when you're standing in the wings right before you walk out and meet the audience?

SW: It depends upon if I've been doing a lot of shows in a row or if I have not done it in weeks. 'Cause if I haven't done it in weeks, then I'm a little bit more anxious. But even if – it's not a normal thing, it's just not normal to talk in front of that many people, so you can only get so relaxed. I mean, I'm as relaxed as I'm gonna get. It's hard to describe. I'm anxious, 'cause it's a weird thing. And it can go wrong. You don't really know what's gonna happen. The details of it you don't know. It's like walking a tightrope.

AC: Do you have a particular way that you read the audience, particularly if you're in a part of the country that you haven't been in before or in a while?

SW: You know, I don't divide it up into areas of the United States. I think television has kind of made the whole country into one little town. I go to other countries occasionally. The other countries are different, but I don't see it's that different within the United States. Plus, everything I'm talking about happens in Seattle and Florida. But I read the audience – that specific audience, the vibe from them – within a couple of minutes. 'Cause they're like a person. They have their own personality. Even though all those heads are out there, it's almost like they add up to one head, one personality. Do you know what I'm saying?

AC: Absolutely. And depending on the night of the week, that head can be really ready to laugh or in a zoned-out place –

SW: Yeah, it can be tired. Friday night, working all week. Do you go on stage? Did you mention that earlier?

AC: I go on stage. I do plays. I haven't done any stand-up since college. I used to do a lot of improv.

SW: So you know what I'm saying.

AC: Yeah. Do you still get some of the same charge walking out in front of the audience now as you did earlier in your career?

SW: When it's workin'. [laughs] It's still a rush to have it be workin', and that energy from the live audience, that can never get like you're walkin' through a department store lookin' for the shovels. It can never be like that. [laughs] Even if you're onstage and there are shovels on the other side, and you're just gonna walk across the stage to the shovels, with the audience it wouldn't be the same as in the store.

AC: Yeah. I hope someday to see you put a bunch of shovels on a stage and just walk across to them and walk off.

SW: [laughs] That's hilarious.

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