Emo Philips w. Tim Cavanaugh
Penguin’s Comedy Club — Nov. 21 at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.
The singular stand-up style of Emo Philips — delivering bizarre yet undeniably funny one-liners as a wide-eyed man child whose vocal cords seem to be failing just as wildly as his limbs — launched him to stardom in the ’80s. Though his celebrity status has faded since then, his stand-up remains as successful as it is iconoclastic, and this Friday and Saturday he brings his act to Penguin’s Comedy Club.
“[When] I watched stand-up in the ‘80s, [he was] one of the most the unique voices. There was nobody doing quite what he was doing,” comments comedian Eugene Mirman, who has introduced Emo to a new generation of fans by helping him get into the alternative comedy festival circuit.
Mirman’s appreciation of Emo speaks not just to his off-kilter mannerisms — something many assumed was just a shtick that he would move away from once he achieved success — but also the fact that he’s such a fundamentally good joke writer. Whether or not they’re told with his oddball delivery, there is a transparent quality of (mad) genius to one-liners like “Always remember the last words of my grandfather, who said ‘A truck!'” and “How many people here have telekinetic powers? Raise my hand.” Three of his jokes made the list of GQ’s “75 Funniest Joke of All Time” and one of his stand-up bits was voted as the funniest religious joke of all time. As Emo related in his interview with the A.V. Club upon his full-fledged return to stand-up in 2000, it’s the “material that’s very, very witty and clever” that he now tries to showcase in his act because it’s what really sets him apart as a comedian.
Emo has sometimes been criticized for coming off as aloof since he never seems to break character (a special annoyance of media folks looking to uncover the “real Emo”). And, yes, in most of his interviews, he typically eschews personal questions to instead riff on material from his act or come up with new jokes on the spot. But his fans, who Emo regularly communicates with through social media, know that he’s more than capable of connecting with them sincerely — and that includes Mirman.
“When I was in college, I came to New York to see him at Caroline’s. And I gave a letter and a videotape of myself doing stand-up to the bouncer. And I was, ‘Oh you know, whatever.’ And then a month later, I received a five-page, typed letter with comments and suggestions. It was just like the sweetest thing that somebody had ever done, especially somebody who I so greatly admired growing up.”