The Best Comedic Debuts on 'The Tonight Show'

Legendary sets that made careers of Joan Rivers, Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Carey, Garry Shandling, Roseanne and more

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Stephen Wright

When Steven Wright filmed his first Tonight Show spot on August 6th, 1982, it's safe to imagine that many home viewers had not really heard anyone with his particular rhythms and wit. ("I think you're going to find him a little different," Carson says when he intros the lanky, frizzy-haired absurdist.) The young Wright shows just a touch of animation — which, when talking about Wright, is a bit like saying he's the most lively body at the morgue — mumbling a few of his signature one-liners, such as "It's a small world, but I wouldn't want to paint it," in his affectless monotone. In just a minute, the audience senses his smarts, the economy of his writing, and the punch of his paraprosdokians. One of his signature bits at the time, which provided the title of his first Grammy-nominated album I Have a Pony, starts with the idea that he's celebrating because his building allows pets. "I have a pony," Wright deadpans, "I have a shetland pony named Nicky, and last summer he was involved in a bizarre electrolysis accident." This is not even the punchline, which involves renting out the mostly hairless horse to Hare Krishna family reunions, but it's indicative of just how far Wright could travel in just one sentence.

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