By Kara Aaserud
Ten years ago, while working odd jobs making jams, chutney and mint sauce to sell at the Spitalfields Market in London, England, Ian Wright could only dream of having the greatest job in the world. Now he’s got that job, but there’s a problem.
“the problem about having the best job in the world is that I’ve got no mates,” says the 36-year-old Pilot Guides travel-host and Suffolk-born entertainer as he bounces onto stage at Ryerson University. “Now I’ve realized I’ve got to travel across the ocean and thousands of miles just to tell a travel story.”
An anticipatory group of students, sporting Mountain Equipment Co-op bags, spiky hair and plenty of piercings, nearly fill Jorgensen Hall’s room L-72. This is Wright’s second last stop on his weeklong “Wright of Way” Ontario campus tour and his trademark ability to fit into any culture shines through in his easy dialogue with the audience.
With two ears full of metal hoops and his salt-and-pepper hair spiked in the bed-head fashion, Wright keeps the room rippling with laughter for nearly three-and-a-half hours, telling stories of eating fermented seal meat, near escapes from volcanic lava, crotch-less musical G-strings that play Love Story and his directors getting “bitten up the ass by a monkey.”
“He’s cute. He’s funny. He’s charming,” says Kathryn Harriman, a first-year graphics communication student at Ryerson and a long-time Wright fan. But Harriman doesn’t mention that Wright is also quick-witted, completely sarcastic, and not always the perfect English gentleman.
“I’ve discovered that I’m a great person and also that I’m an asshole,” Wright says when an audience member asks him to reflect on his personal growth over the last eight years. “What’s happened is that now I can get away with murder — and that’s part of the success of the show.”
Wright began his career as the world’s silliest travel host eight years ago, when he applied to Pilot Guides [then called Lonely Planet] with a demo tape that showed him slipping along the floor in Liverpool Street Station, trying to change money on the black market and discussing the effects of rich food while on the toilet.
“It was a complete piss take,” says Wright. “It was a total joke reel.”
But the producers of the series lapped it up and before long Wright was trekking to over 40 countries, from the highest reaches of the American Rockies to the sometimes treacherous terrain of Iceland and Greenland, to Nepal and even Japan. But Wright admits that, for most people, his life is a fantasy they will never attain.
“If you can afford a flight anywhere, then you’re rich,” he says. “Ninety per cent of people in this world couldn’t even dream of getting on a plane. Ninety per cent of people don’t even have a pot to piss in.”
Later, outside Jorgenson Hall, Wright stops to light a Silk Cut cigarette. His attitude off-stage is not nearly as enthusiastic. Traveling must be a grind.
The weather is miserable. The rain is falling in choppy sleets, the wind is picking up and this is giving Wright some trouble with his smoke. The man needs a light, a beer and a pool table — quickly.
Between frenzied drags, Wright has time to sum up his travel philosophy. It must be difficult to navigate societal boundaries, take care not to offend anybody and appear to understand hundreds of different customs. But Wright says he doesn’t have many problems with it.
“Everyone loves a fart joke,” he says.