Splitting sides since 1976

Splitting sides since 1976

Emo Philips returns to Wiley’s

By Leo DeLuca
Photo: Comedian Emo Philips returns to Wiley’s Comedy Club Feb. 21-24; photo credit: Kevin Thom

Comedian Emo Philips has been splitting sides since 1976. Hailed by Jay Leno as “the best joke writer in America,” Philips has appeared on David Letterman, Conan O’Brien and Arsenio Hall. In addition, the inimitable “Weird Al” Yankovic finds Philips to be “one of the funniest people on the planet” and cast him for his 1989 feature film “UHF.” Philips performed alongside David Bowie, Fran Drescher, Victoria Jackson and more in the aforementioned role.

With well over 6,000 shows logged, Philips is a seasoned vet. TV voiceovers (“Slacker Cats,” “Doctor Katz,” “Adventure Time” and more) still occupy some of Philips’ time, however, stand-up remains his first love and Wiley’s is one of his all-time favorite venues. I had the honor of speaking with Philips about Wiley’s, his past, his future and more.

You’ve described Wiley’s as one of your “absolute favorite comedy clubs of all-time in all the land ever ever ever.” What sets Wiley’s apart from other comedy clubs? What makes performing at Wiley’s a singular experience? 

They say that if our planet were a bit farther from, or nearer to, the sun, it would be too cold or too hot for life; we’re in the “Goldilocks Zone.” Wiley’s is a Goldilocks comedy club. The seating capacity, the room dimensions, the stage height, the percentage of audience members in front versus at the side ­– since so few comedians are antelopes: it’s all “just right.” –Emo Philips

What compelled you to start performing in 1976? Did you have a set prepared for your first performance or was it impromptu?

When I was a kid, my mom laughed hysterically at everything I said, so I thought, “I should be a stand-up comic.” After I made it big, I realized that she laughed hysterically at everything that everybody said – but by then, it was too late.

My first stand-up appearance was at a tiny nightclub near my house. It was not a comedy club, but it did have a stage – graced nightly by a musical ensemble. I honed my routine for months and months beforehand, too terrified to actually perform, but finally my cowardice was outweighed by the self-loathing it caused and I went to the nightclub and told the owner that I was a comedian, and she let me on. I got two laughs in 12 minutes, and was hooked. My neck still smarts from it. -EP

After you first started performing, did you pour yourself into comedy full-time? If not, when you were younger, what did you do to supplement your income while you worked toward doing comedy full-time?

Because my parents knew how much it meant to me and because they knew that, as precarious as show business was, it was still by far my most realistic option, they graciously allowed me to live at home rent-free so that I could devote myself full-time to stand-up. But when, after two years, and a thousand shows, I proudly placed down upon the kitchen table a fifty-dollar paycheck for just one evening’s work, they knew, at that instant, that it had all been worth it. -EP

Both Jay Leno and “Weird Al” Yankovic have lauded you as one of the greatest comedians on the planet. How did these two first come across your work? 

I opened for Jay Leno, at comedy clubs and colleges, quite a bit in the early 1980s. The instant after finishing my set I would race to the back of the room to watch Jay, laughing hysterically, from his first joke to his last, for ninety minutes, each and every show; yea, even unto six shows a week.

I first encountered “Weird Al” Yankovic through the Dr. Demento radio show, which I would listen to while driving home after Sunday night gigs. (There’s something mystical about listening to radio in the dark, is there not?) I am, of course, a huge fan of “Weird Al” as well. I’ll never forget the time I read for “UHF” and Al, perhaps to quell my nerves, played me, on a relatively large screen, his brand-new “Eat It” video. To this day, I’ve laughed at nothing harder. -EP

You’ve been performing as a stand-up comedian for nearly forty years now. How has the Internet and the digital age affected your career as a comedian?

There’s a perceived notion that the digital age has transformed the stand-up comedian, but in real life, in actuality, when push comes to shove, it’s affected us about as much as it has bullfighters. -EP

What are your plans for the future?

I look forward to being on more episodes of the Cartoon Network series, “Adventure Time” – I do the voice of a strange creature. I also look forward to appearing this summer on an episode of a new Comedy Central series called “Review with Forrest MacNeil.” I play a mental patient – stretching my acting ability to the utmost. -EP

Emo Philips will perform Feb. 21-24 at Wiley’s Comedy Club, 101 Pine St. Doors at 8 p.m. Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and 9 p.m. on Friday. Tickets $10-$15. For more information, call 937.224.JOKE, or visit emophilips.com or wileyscomedyclub.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer LeoDeLuca@daytoncitypaper.com

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