Steven Wright @ Potawatomi Hotel & Casino
March 31, 2017
If you’re a dedicated fan of stand-up comedy, you come to expect a little redundancy. As skilled as a good comic is at making what they do seem extemporaneous, at disguising carefully rehearsed routines as something that just popped into their heads, you’re bound to hear the same jokes told once or twice across various contexts, whether it be the album version or tailored to fit a talk show appearance. It’s usually just part of the performance, like when a band digs into their back catalogue, but it’s also easy to let things get stale, an adjective that could be justifiably applied to comedy legend Steven Wright’s last Milwaukee appearance, a nearly rote recitation of his 2006 special When the Leaves Blow Away, which even then was quickly getting on in years.
Returning to Potawatomi’s Northern Lights Theater Friday night, most if not all of that old material tagged along for the ride, but at least this time it was broken down and dispersed among some newer stuff (as well as a few other deep cuts with the dust blown off). Renowned for his absurdist, deadpan one-liners, as well as memorable bit parts in everything from Natural Born Killers to “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” Wright’s focus on classically structured jokes as opposed to personal observations or political diatribes or what have you, means that most of his output is relatively timeless and residually funny even if you’ve heard it before. Good as they are, though, the unfamiliar bits—such as the one about requesting an Uber hearse—stood out like a breath of fresh air.
Which isn’t to say this updated set isn’t in need of a few more drastic edits, since by now a few of the old favorites simply aren’t all that relatable any more. For instance, the strangest thing about him mistakenly trying to rent one of his own dreams from the video store is that the store itself is somehow still open, as opposed to being boarded up and empty with a Blockbuster sign rusting out back. Not that the audience seemed to mind being somewhat stuck in the past—in fact it was most likely a plus given the nostalgic nature of most casino crowds. Yet while it’s disappointing to see someone with such legendary status seemingly resting on his laurels, some jokes kill no matter how many times they’re told.