Wright on Life, Death and Lint
Austin American Statesman March 15, 2000
I see it, you can't talk about being alive without talking
about being dead," Steven Wright's character says in "One
short, playing at 1 p.m. today at the Dobie Theatre as part
of the South by Southwest Film Festival, marks comedian Wright's
directorial debut. "One Soldier" - sort of a haiku version
of Woody Allen's "Love and Death" - is set during the Civil
War. More or less. Slightly experimental in structure, it's
a profoundly funny, minimalist meditation on life's big questions,
and an excellent translation of Wright's laconic sense of
humor to the screen. It will be shown on The Independent Film
Channel in April.
Soldier" is Wright's second produced screenplay. The other,
1988's "The Appointments of Dennis Jennings," won him an Academy
Award for best live action short. Winning an Oscar your first
time out is either going to boost your confidence or leave
you wondering how the heck you're going to beat that. It left
Wright wondering. For a while. Then he began moving again
at his won pace, which is never in a hurry.
with Wright last week by phone. He was in his Santa Monica,
Calif., apartment preparing for a series of stand-up gigs
in Las Vegas, on the East Coast and in England and Ireland.
made you decide to do another film after 11 years?
I got nervous, like how am I going to top winning an Oscar,
and it kind of froze me. Then it wore off. But then I never
really had an idea. My thing is, I don't think of things on
purpose. Whatever comes into my head.
you have any plans to write and direct a feature some day?
That is my main thing that I haven't done that I want to do.
you have a screenplay you're working on?
(Laughs) No, I don't. But I loved directing "One Soldier."
It was one of the best things I've ever done in my life. And
the editing was an unbelievable experience. Because we didn't
even have a straight story, we could move it all around. It
was like painting, but with elements rather than color.
a philosophical bent to your comedy, and especially to "One
Soldier." I don't think most people associate you with subjects
like politics or war, but even though you might be talking
about, oh, I don't know, erasers, you address really big issues…
A: I just
realized something as you were saying that, that people say,
"You don't talk about politics and stuff," and I say, "Yes,
I don't because I like talking about little things, like lint
and hinges." But then I also talk about things like the speed
of light, which isn't a little thing. So while you were saying
that I realized that it's things in the middle that I skip.
I talk about tiny, tiny things, and then I skip things like
politics and sports and television, and then I go to giant
issues like space and time and why are we here.
you find the giant issues in the smaller stuff, too.
of it is on purpose. It's a built-in perspective. It's like
a coffee machine. The coffee machine's going to make coffee;
you can't use it as a snow blower.
enjoy life in the slow lane, don't you?
I do. I think all these things that are supposedly making
life better - and they are in a sense - but they're also speeding
it up so fast that they're just causing more commotion. People
call me up and they leave a message, and they say this is
my home number, this is my work number, this is my fax number,
this is my cell number. All of the sudden I'm a guy who writes
phone numbers down. And if I'm in my car I don't want to be
talking on the phone. I want to be looking out the window.
a story ever been written about you that doesn't use the words
"deadpan" or "monotone"?
No. But I don't even see it anymore, it's been done so many
times. The one that used to irritate me was when they would
say "the Wright Stuff." Like in the headline. The thing is,
whoever's writing it thinks they're thinking of it. They don't
know that I've read 10 years of that.