Wright stuff

The Comedy Hall of Fame picks a winner
By SARA FAITH ALTERMAN  |  December 12, 2008

ESSENTIALS: In the age of MySpace and YouTube, Wright says, comedy “still all comes down to writing and performing.”

The comedy world owes a lot to Boston. Without us, there'd be no Denis Leary, no Lenny Clarke, no Dane Cook — and, when you come right down to it, no Jay Leno (Andover-raised, Emerson grad). This Monday at Showcase Live in Foxborough, comedian Steven Wright — one of the forefathers of the local comedy scene, and a comedian revered by his peers — will be honored as the first inductee into the Boston Comedy Hall of Fame.

"I thought it was important to start the Boston Comedy Hall of Fame so that we could pay proper homage to the Boston comedians who have worked hard and presented a unique voice to the art of stand-up comedy," says Boston city councilor John Tobin, who conceived the idea. "Steven showed another path for Boston comedians, outside of the clubs. When he appeared on TheTonight Show with Carson, it was like climbing Mount Everest. He's got so much universal respect from people."

"I think a hall of fame is a good idea," says Wright. "A lot of good comedians came out of Boston besides me."

Sprung from the depths of Cambridge's artistically fruitful Ding Ho Comedy Club in the late 1970s/early 1980s, Wright shot to notoriety with his crisp and twisted wryness and lethargic wit. That appearance on TheTonight Show in 1982 catapulted him into the national spotlight, where he flourished, releasing acclaimed comedy albums and making countless film and television appearances, earning a Grammy nomination and an Academy Award (the 1989 Best Short Subject Oscar went to "The Appointments of Dennis Jennings," which he co-wrote and acted in) along the way.

Choosing Wright as the first Hall of Fame inductee was a no-brainer for Tobin, who says that had Wright turned him down, he would have abandoned the idea altogether. Wright shrugs that off. "I think if I'd said no, they should have just asked someone else. I actually look forward to the next people they honor." Tobin hopes there will be years of "next people" honoring the decades of comedic talent that was cultivated here in Boston.

So how has stand-up has changed since Wright first took that historic Carson stage? He says that though the process has progressed through tools like MySpace and YouTube, the tenets of comedy remain the same. "It still all comes down to writing and performing. Those things have changed how you can get known. There's not one thing like TheTonight Show anymore, where one night can change your life. But I don't think the actual experience of performing has changed."

The induction itself will be more show than ceremony. A collection of Wright's comedic peers will perform — among them Don Gavin, Lenny Clarke, Kenny Rogerson, Steve Sweeney, Mike Donovan, Barry Crimmins, Mike McDonald, and Fran Solomita — with Boston native Tony V. as host. All proceeds will benefit the Boston Comedy Hall of Fame Fund, a non-profit organization that Tobin created to help comedians in need.

"There are a lot of comedians out there who are living without health insurance, regardless of the state law," the city councilor says. "They can't afford it. In a lot of cases, when a comedian gets really sick, the first ones that step up to help them are their colleagues."

BOSTON COMEDY HALL OF FAME INDUCTION | Showcase Live, 23 Patriot Place, Foxborough | December 15 @ 8 pm | $35-45 | 866.448.7849 orBostonComedyHallofFame.com

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