If you’re under 30 and never listened to Emo Philips because of his goofy album covers or because everyone else was into Eddie Murphy, you’re missing out. Seeing Philips is on par with watching one of the great comedy standards live; from Jay Leno returning to form outside of his Tonight Show confines in Hermosa Beach to Steve Martin taking the stage with his singing “balls.” Given his demand on the road and throughout Europe, Philips generally has few L.A. play dates.
After a successful run last summer at the Steve Allen Theater, Philips revisits his new local haunt for a one-night-only feat: He’ll put his jokes through a shredder after they capsize before the crowd, never to be uttered again. “It will be painful for me to shred even the worst of them, for they all came from my brain and are my children,” says Philips, “but after 30 years, enough is enough; you can’t have hundreds of half-dead mutants rotting around forever.”
A non sequitur comic, Philips stands apart from fellow stylists like Steven Wright through his surreal means of bending irony in a one-liner: His setups are often tragic, even self-deprecating, but his buttons range from the bizarre (“My cousin died. Age 19. Stung by a bee: The natural enemy of the tight-rope walker”) to smarty-pants responses (“How many people here have telekinetic powers? Raise my hand”). And, of course, the Camelot haircut, carnivalesque getup and breathy, high-pitched patter not only heightens Philips’ hilarity, it underscores how much of an island he continues to be, even with bad material.
“Some jokes never got more than baby laughs; some never got any at all,” says Philips. “Some killed for a while and then for some reason ceased being funny altogether. Those are the ones that trouble my sleep.” Steve Allen Theater at the Center for Inquiry–West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz; Mon., Nov. 6, 8 p.m.; $10. (323) 666-4268. Resv. recommended.