I WAS once arrested for walking in somebody else's sleep."
"I know when I'm going to die because my birth certificate has an expiration date."
"I hate it when my foot falls asleep during the day, because then I know it'll be up all night."
"You can't have everything. Where would you put it?"
Welcome to the strange, strange world of Steven Wright.
Wright, who has suddenly become one of the hottest young comedians in America, operates in a kind of Twilight Zone of the mind:
"If sometimes you can't hear me, it's because sometimes I'm in parentheses."
"Why is it a penny for your thoughts, but you have to put your two cents in? Somebody's making a penny."
"Today I saw a subliminal advertising executive -- just for a second."
Almost always, it's funny, though you often find yourself laughing on a delayed basis, as many people seem to be doing on "I Have a Pony," an album recorded live in San Francisco and Chicago. That's because Wright is a master of the one-liner, of the incomplete phrase ("today I was -- no, that wasn't me"). Seldom does his material stretch to what we think of as a joke, with a set-up, exposition and punch line. Wright is all punch line ("Why is the alphabet in that order? Is it because of that song?")
His delivery is droll in the extreme, which might remind you of someone who's not funny trying to pass on a joke they overheard. But the material is so zany, so wickedly funny that you realize it's just another spin on reality.
When Wright confesses, "Curiosity killed the cat, but for a while, I was a suspect," you won't have any trouble understanding why.
Leon Redbone is a pretty funny guy, too, though his ancient, dusty bluesman/crooner guise seldom interferes with his commiment to American music. Of course, that music is pretty much all pre-World War II, ranging from ragtime, blues, swing and saloon songs to nuggets from Tin Pan Alley and the classic country standards of Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams.
On "Red to Blue," Redbone's first album in five years, he explores a variety of songs and surrounds himself with the usual topnotch crew, including, this time around, pianists Dr. John and Terry Waldo, the Roches, David Bromberg and Hank Williams Jr., who joins Redbone in a raconteur version of "Lovesick Blues."
The constants, as always, are Redbone's deep, mellifluous vocals and his superb guitar stylings. The most impressive songs here are "Diamonds Don't Mean a Thing," "Somebody's Sweetheart" and "Think of Me Thinking of You," melancholy ballads of loves lost where Redbone's crooning conjures images of Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee. Other tunes, such as "Somebody Stole My Gal" and "Salty Dog," are exuberant explorations of the great wealth of merican music that Redbone continues to tap into, with powerful clarinet ornamentation from Bobby Gordon and Ken Peplowski. This collection doesn't so much take you back in time as it makes the past alive.
STEVEN WRIGHT -- "I Have a Pony" (Warner Bros. 9 25335-1).
LEON REDBONE -- "Red to Blue" (August AS8888); Wright and Redbone appear Friday at the Warner Theater.