I'm hearing voices in my head again. Not the usual angelic whispers of "Yes, you should have another" or "No, it isn't just sex, it's love." But rather odd, raspy voices better suited to a dark Madison Avenue advertising office hell-bent on communicating ironic virtues to a generation that doesn't care: You know, things like, "Chocolate is this year's ass cream" or "If you're going to go down, go down on us."
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I'm on the phone with the raspy voice that defines an entire generation of calculated, observational indifference: Steven Wright. Maybe it's because he's 30 seconds late to call, and I just don't care.
"I'm sorry I'm a few minutes late," he heats like a sewer pipe. "It's been less than 30 seconds," I commiserate. Let's not care together, shall we?
"I'm in Toronto. It's about 4 below zero," he cools like, well, a sewer pipe.
"It's a balmy 70 here!" God, I'm good.
Anyway, Mr. Wright, he of sundry, typecast movie cameos and renowned stand-up one-lining is coming to town this week, curly, scraggly hair and all. And seeing as he's popped up everywhere from the lows of "Canadian Bacon" and "Half-Baked" to the unlikely highs of "Natural Born Killers" and "Reservoir Dogs," he's surely way out of my league. Except he was in "Desperately Seeking Susan." Mmmmmmm, Madonna. Oh, shut up. Stupid mind.
These days, it's back to stand-up for the man who stares at the floor and spits into the microphone, a role that suits him far better than the double irony of caricaturing oneself in a caricatured major-label film.
"I haven't had a show in a few months, so I'm just trying some new material to see what happens," he says, with predictable nonchalance.
"Yawn," I yawn, with forced nonchalance. And so on.
"It's just coming into my head. I don't try to think about it. It just flows into my mind. I see something, I hear a word, I see a sign and something will click in my head. Then I'll go home and I'll write them down. I can't do this on purpose, I'll tell you."
We are totally the same person, except that maybe I talk too much and with, maybe, ridiculously indubitably too many words.
"So, are you aware of your status of being quite possibly America's first ironic miserablist?" I fawn.
"No, I don't even know what you're talking about."
"You mean like seeing people doing my style, like?" he pulls out his dumbass thesaurus.
"OK, I'm just kissing your ass," I throw my own thesaurus down.
"I was influenced by George Carlin and his observations on everything, so ... I don't know what it is. I just stick to the small; Carlin was looking for the big."
Yeah, like a big list of obscenities. That was really funny. Except it wasn't. I was thinking more of blowhards like Seinfeld who made a whole career out of saying things like, "Coffee? What's the deal with coffee? Isn't it just like crack with milk in it?" Or not. But at least he had a television show.
"Were you ever offered the toned-down L.A. dream?"
"Yeah," he confirms my worthless suspicions. "No, I didn't do it. I couldn't imagine my style being made into a half-hour. It wasn't ever my goal to be in a sitcom. And when it came to me, I couldn't do it."
"Yes. Yes, I am," I pretend that I feel anything remotely like disappointment in this woebegone lifestyle.
"Ha, ha," he seems to laugh at me.
By now, I'm inclined to veer toward the fan base, because that's kind of a tragic thing. I mean, he's not even cute.
Check the Google, though, and you'll find a gazillion logs of usually fake Steven Wright-isms. He's like the Dilbert for the financially dead.
"Most people don't like me," he knows how I feel, "or they're very excited to meet me. There is no in-between."
"You're sort of the embodiment of subversion," I pull my drippy thesaurus back out of the toilet.
"That's fantastic," he lies.
Speaking of lies, Wright's website lists his bio in no uncertain terms. Meaning, it -- or he -- just doesn't care.
"I was born. When I was 23 I started telling jokes. Then I started going on television and doing films. That's still what I am doing. The end." Brilliant!
"Is it tough being you?"
"No, it's not hard at all. I can go out and do what I do do," he do-dos. "Most people just walk right by me and don't even recognize me."
"Do you ever go out, get wasted, fall flat on your face and say, 'Hey, I'm Steven Wright!'"
"Hahahahaha," he laughs, but not too hard. "It's been years." Three days here. Anyway, 10 seconds into my next pointless question, the phone goes dead. Nothing says funny like a prank hang-up. So I wait. And I wait. And I wait. He eventually calls back, though, ruining the joke.
"My phone is insane," he assures.
Are you sure it's your phone?
"Ha, ha." Again. "It's a cell phone, but you have to put quarters in it."
Which, dolt that I am, I believe. So I start quizzing as to just where you put those quarters, thinking to myself, hey, wouldn't that make a phone heavy?
"Oh, so it's not really a phone you put quarters in?" I duh, 16 brain cells short of sane.
"No it isn't." Then he says something about reliability involving a barstool on a 747. Oh, I get it.
"What's your take on the world in general, then?" I spin on my 747 bar stool.
"You know that thing on Mars where they had the shots coming back from the Earth?" he turns red. "I would like to see the Earth from that distance. It's the distance that, like, now if I was on a plane, you can't get a good judgment of it. Like a painting, or something -- too far away."
"Have you ever been inclined to cut your hair?" I tear my own hair out.
"Uh, yeah. But, I'm so used to it, I'd probably freak out."