In my 36 years on the planet Earth, not to mention my many years inhabiting other celestial bodies and spirits, I’ve seen plenty of great comedy shows, hundreds more live comedy shows that provided more than a few laughs, and some clunkers. Never have I laughed so hard, so often, and wanted to see a performer again, then I have last night watching and listening to Emo Philips at Comix in New York City.
Of course, Emo and I go way back (not that he knew this) more than two decades, to the moment when a cassette tape of "E=MO2" fell into my possession. I don’t know when it happened. The cassette’s liner notes say that he recorded that set live at Carolines in NYC and released it to the world at large in 1985. At some point, in a series of coincidences and events reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings, this one comedy cassette to rule them all arrived in my hands, and then when I acquired a driver’s license and a car in 1987, into my car’s cassette deck with auto-reverse, wherein it made me laugh on a continuous basis for the better part of a year. One of those formative teenage experience deals that finds a spot in your long-term memory banks, so 20 years later, when your life path finally crosses Emo’s, you say there is nowhere else you’re going to be on Friday night at 10:45 p.m. but sitting inside Comix, barely paying attention to the two opening acts of stand-up because the expectation is building up inside you, much as it did in October 2004 when you saw the Boston Red Sox do something your grandfather and father had never seen them do and you’re thinking, is this really possible? It is. It was.
And yet. Emo Philips, older, grayer, wiser, did not disappoint in the slightest. The same lilting voice, the same bouncy mannerisms, and strikingly, it all seemed to become more magical on this aged Emo. It just fit. With Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones, you’re amazed at how they maintain the same energy and precision after all these years, but at the same time, when they play a new song, you’re like, eh, that’s nice and all but bring us another nostalgic hit, Mick and Keith. With Emo, it’s all new. Sure, he says, "you guys are really cheering me up" (which when I used to perform stand-up, I’d find myself saying at some point in my set as my own Emo tribute) and closed his hourlong set with a request, but he has jokes about the 2008 presidential candidates, about everything, really. It’s not just his precision as a writer of jokes, but also his mastery of timing and delivery that has you howling in approval.
I tried in vain to write down some of them for you, but often found my pen hand so jittery from the rest of my body laughing to get it down right. Here are but a few I managed to scribble…please keep in mind, that reading them doesn’t do them the same justice as hearing and seeing Emo deliver them…
A conversation with a Mormon friend about drinking coffee. Emo: "Drinking a cup of coffee a day gives you many benefits. He said, ‘Name one, mwuah mwuah mwuah.’ Well, for one thing, it keeps you from being Mormon."
On coming back to NYC, where he once lived: "I miss New York so much sometimes I fill my humidifier with urine."
On President Bush: "He outlawed human cloning. Now we’ll never find out how many of him it takes to screw in a light bulb."
On living in Los Angeles: "We have a lot more homeless people there, because the weather doesn’t kill them off."
On his aging: "I feel sorry, because I let my hair go gray…for a movie…I wanted to get into cheaper."
On alcoholics drinking nonalcoholic beer: "I don’t get it. If you’re a pedophile, they don’t give you a midget in a Cub Scout’s uniform."
And this one: "Cell phones are like a dog’s genitals. You don’t have to shout into them."
In a word: Riveting! You must see Emo Philips perform live. He’s at Comix again tonight, the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif., on Feb. 2, the Punchline in San Francisco from Feb. 6-9. More tour dates located on Emo’s site.
Eugene Mirman and Leo Allen went to Emo’s early show last night and got to hang with him backstage for a while between shows. Jealous! I spotted comedian Shane Webb in the audience at the late show. The Onion’s Marianne Ways had seen the first show and was glowing even more when I offered her my extra ticket, and still glowing after a repeat viewing. I stood awestruck with a face in a permasmile, like a 4-year-old who just saw Santa for the first time. Ventriloquist Carla Rhodes said she had a huge crush on Emo. I shot a video of Marianne and Carla meeting and posing with Emo, which is funny just because. Waiting my turn, I still found myself awestruck. Direct evidence: Holding that E=MO2 cassette in my left hand, I never managed to utter the appropriate words before Emo offered, "Do you want me to sign that for you?" My only reply: "Uh huh." It was like the scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie finally gets his chance at Santa to ask for the Red Ryder BB Gun, only to freeze when the moment arrived. Emo and I sat down and I mumbled something about how I used to perform stand-up and now write about it as a journalist and something something how it’s all because of this cassette making me laugh so hard 20 years ago, and Emo was so nice and sincere. Even if he declined Carla’s offer to come out with his for banana cream pie (and I think she actually meant pie, not a euphemism) because he was losing his voice. He didn’t need worry keeping up the Emo voice. About an hour later, I realized I got his autograph but not an actual photo of me with him. Ack. Next time. Next time.
A short video. "We’re going to make an Emo sandwich." "OK, snap it!"