Matt Wright: Tell Jokes, Don’t Die, Maybe Win a JUNO

“There’s a thread of anxiety in the work, also joy, bewilderment, delight, confusion, anger… all equally part of being a person.”

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Full disclaimer: Matt Wright is a pal of mine.

He’s walked my dog. I have drunkenly played table tennis in his basement. We’ve worked together on numerous projects. This feature is not, as we say in “the biz,” unbiased journalism.

Still, I wanted to write a profile about him because I have an idea of the extent of work that went into his JUNO-nominated comedy album, Existing is Exhausting. I had the privilege of watching Matt work out different bits at open mic comedy nights over the course of a year, and I was present for the live recording.

A lot of work went into this project and you can tell. Existing is Exhausting is a master class in joke writing, but it hasn’t always been a seamless process. Like many artists, Wright gets creatively stuck.

“Usually, when I have writer’s block, it comes down to one thing, which is, ‘I am afraid what I will write will suck,’ and sitting in that feeling is uncomfortable.”

“Don’t Do What I Do”

Wright overcomes creative blocks by making peace with the idea that the process of getting something on paper, and making something “good,” are two separate things.

“The other thing that gets me going is reminding myself that I have written so much stuff that sucked, and I am still alive. A good joke isn’t any worse because I have to write nine bad jokes to get to it.”

Having said this, he wouldn’t necessarily recommend his creative process to anyone.

“Oh God, no. Don’t do what I do. My predominant rule is to capture every idea that may be a joke. I don’t necessarily flesh out each of these, but I’ve learned not to rely on my memory under any circumstance.”

Next, Wright will do a slew of open mics, testing out new premises and committing to the idea of trying something fresh in each set. This is the scary part of being a stand-up comic: trying out new work inevitably means experiencing failure—jokes that don’t land, crickets from the crowd. It’s a tough way for a comic to learn, but it’s the only process that really works.

Finally, Wright puts the pieces together: “When it comes time to record, it’s more about placing things together than writing. Things become mashed together thematically.”

Existing is Exhausting is the proof in the pudding; it’s the culmination of hard work, tireless practice, and clever wordplay. Released on October 3rd, 2020, this album was recorded live over two nights at the Quidi Vidi Brewery. For subject matter, Wright tackles the stuff of everyday life: hockey teams that let you down, aging beagles, and chatty dentists. Reviewers have simultaneously praised the album while noting an undercurrent of anxiety that adds depth to the material.

“Yes, there is a thread of anxiety in the work, for sure. But there’s also joy, bewilderment, delight, confusion, anger… all equally normal emotions—all part of being a person.”

The album is beautiful to behold. The cover is bright and catches the eye; inspired by the illustrations of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

“It’s a Newfoundland version of Where The Wild Things Are (where the wild things at?). Mike Feehan drew it. He’s so talented. I love how that book is about a kid who throws a tantrum, goes into an imaginary world with a bunch of monsters, throws a couple more tantrums, and eats dinner. What a ride.”

Covid-era Comedy

Despite the release of his album, Wright has struggled with creating during the pandemic.

“I have felt very lost, professionally. I have accomplished less. I have gained weight, but that’s quite fine. I think these are very normal responses to living through what is, statistically, maybe the worst thing ever to happen. If I’ve learned anything since this started, the idea that we constantly have to be improving and being productive is kind of a sickness.”

These pandemic frustrations ultimately make Wright’s JUNO nomination that much sweeter, but that sweetness is tempered with a touch of regret.

“It’s so cool. I really appreciate being nominated. It’s one of the best things that can happen to a person in a pandemic. I would say there is a sense of sadness though about being nominated in a pandemic year where there’s no real ceremony. In other years they do this “JUNO Cup,” where nominees play hockey against each other, and I think your coach is Jim Cuddy. I mean, what more does a Canadian kid want?”

Matt Wright will be performing Existing is Exhausting at The Rock house this coming Saturday, May 29th for a final time. He’s also chipping away at a pilot script for television, a feature script for film, and has plans to record a second album this fall.

“I believe in my ability to get back to my best after the pandemic. I’m really looking forward to that. But until then, I’m just trying to be gentle with myself, pick away at projects, enjoy time with my girlfriend, not die, pet my dogs, watch sports, and make tiny steps in the right direction.”

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