Last May's Bridgetown Comedy Festival didn't lack for jaw-dropping moments. But none quite compared to a one-liner—not even a complete sentence—from Emo Philips. On the Doug Fir stage during Set List, a show that funnels offbeat prompts to comics and asks them to craft fresh material, Philips, with his signature black pageboy 'do and shiny athletic pants, stood in front of a screen. Behind him flashed three words: "EROTIC ELECTRIC CHAIR."
Philips looked at the words. He paused for a beat, taking a breath and giving his shoulders an exaggeratedly weary shrug, as he tends to do. Then he looked out to the audience, eyes wide and a bit buggy. In his trademark wispy falsetto, he half-spoke, half-sighed: "In our never-ending quest for humane execution…"
It was a classic Philips moment, strange and unexpected yet somehow touching. Philips, a 58-year-old Chicago native, gets a lot of attention for his unusual voice and oddball wisecracks, but his standup is also—like that erotic electric chair—deeply humane. Bridgetown, in an effort to book more year-round programming, brings him back to town Saturday. Via email, he spoke to WW about coleslaw, injustice and airplane food.
WW: You come across as supremely friendly and approachable. True?
Emo Philips: It is! I've always suffered from a complete inability to sense who's important.
How do you describe yourself?
As a tall Emo Philips.
How do those who know you well describe you?
âEmo Philips. You know, Emo Philips. Come on, you remember. Emo Philips? No. Really? Emo Philips! Oh, for Peteâsâ¦â
In 1990, you interviewed yourself for Time Out London. What would then-Emo ask now-Emo?
When should I sell my shares in Polaroid?
What would now-Emo ask then-Emo?
How do you make it in show business?
And what would now-Emo ask now-Emo?
How about if we flip a coin to see who takes the car in for the smog check?
What's the deal with coleslaw?
Someone called that question out to me once during a show. My reply: "Well, to me, coleslaw is a symbol for the universe. We all start as a single cabbage, a unified spirit, and then we get chopped up through life and separated. But love is the mayonnaise that holds us together. And you, I think, are the severed mouse head in the middle of the bowl. I don't mean that in an offensive way, but in the best of all possible ways. Because you're the protein!"
You're a great craftsman of one-liners, so I have a few prompts for you. First up: You know you're drunk when…
…you realize, "Darn it, I've got a funny walk! And it would be a sin not to demonstrate it to all and sundry."
The worst hamburger I ever ate…
…was a Twain-burger in San Francisco.
When I leave the house, I never forget...
...my key. Mikey is my imaginary friend. (This joke does not work in print.)
In the event of a tsunami…
…oh, no: I saw what happened to Gilbert.
Which sense is your strongest?
My sense of injustice. No, wait. Irony. My sense of…no, wait. Touch. My sense of touch is by far my strongest. If my driving is anything to go by.
Aliens just want...
…to have fungus.
Just how do black people and white people differ?
Oh, no: I'm having a vision of what will happen to Gilbert.
What's the deal with airplane food?
Although on domestic flights, food is no longer free, it is of excellent quality; most airlines now offer menus designed by celebrity chefs, a trend started a decade ago by US Airways, which famously inaugurated purchasable in-flight meals designed by Wolfgang Puck.
Who should play you in your biopic?
Wait a tick: I'm still working on a jaw-dropping ending.
Please describe my mama.
Yo mama so normal and good-humored (or else you wouldn't have chosen this setup, as you know she might read this someday) yet uncommunicative (because obviously you harbor a deep-seated resentment toward her that has yet to be resolved, otherwise your subconscious would not long to see her ridiculed), that she makes a Mad Men housewife look like that therapist on The Sopranos.
SEE IT: Emo Philips is at Bossanova Ballroom, 722 E Burnside St., 206-7630. 8 pm Saturday, Aug. 23. $20. 21+.