On Seeing Emo Philips At A Terrible, Now Defunct, Comedy Club Several Years Ago
Emo Philips

Cover of Emo Philips


Field Marshall Stack, Dale and I got to see Emo Philips March 12, 2004, at the Urban Comedy And Jazz Cafe in Seattle. We arrived about 8:30 or so and sat down. The first thing we noticed was how sad this club was. Like, really sad. Really, really sad. In the stairwell leading to the club was a giant faux-charcoal drawing thing of Jerry Seinfeld, and as we went in the door we saw the other Huge Drawings of “Comedians”, including Jay Leno. Field Marshall Stack had a hunch that the presence of these pictures was intended to make the Actual Real Live Comics look better; after all, it doesn‘t matter who you’re seeing, at least you’re not seeing Leno.
Otherwise, the place was, to be frank, kind of a dive. A tiny, tiny box to stand on for a stage sat in front of a neon light on the wall reading “Urban Comedy” in the Miami Vice colors (!). This was one of the most crushing places we’d ever been in. What they should do with all those kids (like I was) who wanted to be Stand Up Comedians when they were 4 or 5 is take them to this club and show them what it’s like; be sure to tell them that they’d be going around the country to be in places like it for their entire professional life. They’d probably be crying within 10 minutes.

No, seriously, you’re all good sports, and it’s really great for you all to come here, hey, why don’t you try the veal, huh? And remember to tip your waitress, eh?


There were 4 comics on the bill. One of which was Emo Philips. The other three, however, were not Emo Philips, and are therefore INFERIOR.

The first guy (also the MC) was a local guy whom I actually felt bad for. He was a gym teacher by day, and comedian by night. He told some traditional-style jokes, but with a strange Stage-Fright-Coupled-With-Lack-Of-Timing demeanor and rhythm that led to his bombing. He had a mild case of Tourette’s (and he’d work this into his routine). He seemed like a really, genuinely nice guy, and I wanted to like him. Based on his sheer affability, I ended up giving him a few pity laughs; his jokes weren’t often very funny, but he seemed genuine, and you could tell that he was really uncomfortable.

Next was a national touring guy who was a bit more successful. He still told a lot of Traditional “I Am A Stand Up” type jokes, but he at least had a decent sense of timing. He wasn’t too bad; I mean, he was pretty square into the whole Warm-Up Act territory, but that’s cool too – after all, he was a warm-up act. He was probably the best of the non-Emos.


Next was the third guy.

The third guy.

Whoa, man.

First off, the MC scared the bejeezus out of everyone by making it sound like Number 3 was the headliner, instead of Emo. The audience (sadly, there were only about 35 of us; I would have thought there would have been more for Emo, but he did do a set earlier in the evening so perhaps everyone went to that show) looked around at each other in that “Did I hear right?” sort of way, and everyone just claps nervously.

I admit, this isn’t exactly the best way for a performer to be presented to an audience. When doing a performance, you typically don’t want them to be fearful that they’re not going to see the person they paid for.

At least, in this case, it wouldn’t have helped. It turns out the guy’s like King Of The Fratboys. I swear, I went to college with like 500 guys exactly like that.

He bombed – but HARD.

He starts his act by going off about some TV shows, apparently on MTV, that no one in the club has seen, and as such, no one has any idea what he’s going on about. The one show he kept harping on was Newlyweds — at least I think that’s the title. Is that the one where the two vapid pop ninnies get married and do crap? For myself, as far as MTV is concerned, if it’s not animated, and it’s not a music video (not that they play those), I don’t care. And I only marginally care about the videos, since when they do play them, it’s always boring rap ones, with the people standing around their cars, waving their hands.

Anyway, when it became clear that no one had any idea what he was talking about, he got really angry and started berating the audience.


Eventually, he got tired of berating the audience for not watching goddawful television. So, he decided to go into his McDonald’s routine. This routine was about how in their (then new) ad campaign for the new white meat Chicken McNuggets, in his mind, they’re saying “Sorry, We Made A Mistake, But We Are Heroes For Fixing It!” (Never mind that the ads weren’t really like that.) Of course, though, on the topic of how the McNuggets are all white meat now, he wants to know what it was before.

This part of the joke was odd, since it was framed in such a way that it sounded like a joke. It followed the form of that particular type of Ur-Joke, and it had a place for people to laugh and everything. This joke actually would have worked if the real answer to his joke question weren’t so plainly obvious, even with the way he worded it: It Was Dark Meat, Idiot.

If you notice in the previous paragraph, I made reference not to “This joke” but, instead, “This part of the joke”. See, the White-Meat-Versus-Unstated-Dark-Meat bit isn’t where he stopped. He decided instead to start riffing off the “punch line”, and turn his relatively innocuous if nonsensical joke into a racist one. Since he thought this was the best course of action, he started rambling about how the people at McDonald’s can’t get his order right, and how they should get some White Meat in there manning the registers! Huh! White meat taking the order! Right!!

At this point, the club pretty much went stone silent.

The joke didn’t work, because:
A) The premise of the joke (what was it instead of white meat?) didn’t work, because of the existence of Dark Meat.
B) The racist part didn’t work because he didn’t bother with doing a setup, nor did he HAVE ANY GODDAMN POINT. When David Cross on his new album makes a joke about, for example, Interracial Gay Marriage being Totally Icky And Beyond All Reason, he both has a point he’s making, and it’s clear he’s not a racist. In this example, his point is that the arguments against gay marriage are similar to those used against Interracial Marriage in times past. On the other hand, with the White Meat Joke, as far as I can tell, #3’s point was that McDonald’s clerks are both illiterate and (by default) non-white; therefore, McDonald’s should hire some White Folk (who, as you know, all of them have been granted by GOD hisself the gift of literacy) in so they don’t forget his fries. Number Three wasn’t using irony in his joke; it wasn’t a Postmodern Commentary On That Sort Of Racist Thinking – the joke was both too out-of-left-field and traditional-punch line-y to do that. To compare again to David Cross, it wasn’t like one of his routines where it’s clear that David is saying “Ha ha, I am actually laughing at this sort of mentality!” To be charitable, the best case scenario is that #3 was attempting to get a cheap laugh out of being needlessly shocking without actually having anything of substance to back up his initial shock he applied to the audience.

After the crowd went silent and outright refused to laugh at the White Meat Joke, he started haranguing the audience over not getting it and for being all uptight. Then, of course, he started trying to explain that it wasn’t a racist joke, despite all appearances. And then he got angry at the audience over that.

Admittedly, some of his breakdowns were (slightly) funny; instead of the standard “Ha ha, I’m bombing here!” sort of thing, where a good comedian will Call Out The Joke As Sucking, And Defuse It That Way, #3 just got really pissed off, as if it was our fault for not getting his Comedy Gold. Or, perhaps it was our fault fo
r his apparently not having any clue who Emo Philips was and not bothering to even attempt tailoring his act for that sort of audience.

In between his angry ranting, he’d tell some more jokes that would bomb horribly, and then he’d berate us for those, too.

Sometimes, as a tag on another joke, he would do callbacks to the White Meat joke, since it worked so well the last time, I guess he figured he’d again get a great big laugh from it.

For those not in the know: A callback is when a comedian goes back to a successful punch line and reminds the audience of it; that way, the audience will laugh both at the old joke from earlier in the act as well as the new joke he just told. It’s a nice way of tying up jokes in a nice little bundle and say “hey, I’m here with you”. A callback doesn‘t always work, but the main key to a successful callback is when the older joke was well-received the first time through. If bad jokes get better with age, and I’m not entirely convinced that they do, they certainly don’t do so in 20 minutes. In a case like this, basically all you’re doing is reminding the audience just when they’ve forgotten about that horrible thing you’ve said that made them hate you and think you’re a troglodyte asshole.

To bring the show back full circle, he’d talk some more about MTV Shows We Hadn’t Seen. And then get angry at that, too.

Eventually, he did this thing about how he couldn’t be racist, because his grandmother was racist, and he hated her. Strangely, he didn’t do the White Meat callback in this routine, where it might have actually worked. Maybe. Well, probably not.

After this bit, he berated us some more for not laughing, and stomped off stage to a smattering of applause.


NOTE: I’m a bit of a comedy snob. I’ve seen/read quite a bit about comedy and written things about comedy and how it works and whatnot. I know some of the various types of routines, and I realize that from my description, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “OH, see, you’re wrong, the reason you didn’t get this is that he was intentionally bad! He was trying to antagonize the audience and make them think about the audience/entertainer relationship! It was all part of the act; sort of an Andy Kaufman kind of thing.” Had that been the case, I would have been totally all over that – I love that stuff. I eat it up with a spoon. This was not that. From watching him, you could actually tell that he thought that these jokes were GOLDEN. The particular way he got so ineffectually angry at the audience made it clear that he was panicking and not faking it or getting off on the bad audience reaction. No, this was a Fratboy Telling His Jokes, And When They Didn’t Receive Anything Resembling a Positive Response, Deciding The Problem Was With Us, Not Him. Seriously, I love the Bombing-On-Purpose Ideal-Or-Style-Or-Whatever-You-Like-To-Call-It. And I think I’m a pretty good judge of when that’s going on. And I swear, that was not going on then. His act was much too bland to do that; the offensive bits weren’t even properly over-the-top offensive for that sort of thing to work. It was just deeply unfunny.)


To everyone’s relief (both at not having to endure any more shitty standup and also that we didn’t pay our 10 dollars to see that asshole), EMO CAME OUT! YAY!

Emo was really hilarious. There was this guy directly in front of us who kept heckling (he heckled everyone, though), but where the other comedians would just throw insults at him, Emo actually handled him really well. Where all the other comedians (except for The Third Guy) sort of had this “hey, I’m just trying to do my job here” kind of thing, Emo was actually really good at playing off it and incorporating it into his act. For example, the heckler’s girlfriend who was half-Native American (apparently – she announced it), seemed to get really offended when Emo welcomed her to Our Country and told her that her people were totally welcome, because, I guess, she didn’t get that that was the joke. When she said that Emo was lucky she was half-Greek, Emo responded that he didn’t even know what that was supposed to mean, and she got kind of embarrassed and shut up for a while (yay!).

Emo was utterly hilariously funny, and he was on stage for quite a while. I’d put it at about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. The show ended about 11 or 11:30 and it started around 9:30, so I guess that sounds about right. The Third Guy went on the next longest, or at least I think he did. He was so bad, he could have just been up there for two minutes, and it would have felt like 30. Emo did some new stuff (a lot about his divorce), and some stuff from the Emo CD (and an occasional one from E=MO^2, like his tribute to Elvis) and it was all great. He, unlike every other comedian, got a really good response, because he was actually funny, and the crowd was there to see him.


After the show, Emo went to the back of the room. The three of us walked cautiously over there, since we weren’t sure if it was a performer-only space or what. Emo saw us and called us over, and we got to talk to him.

Emo is incredibly friendly.

He signed my E=Mo^2/Hasty Pudding CD (he asked where I got it, since it’s kind of hard to come by – I got mine via Amazon.ca if you’re wondering), and he signed Field Marshall Stack’s E=Mo^2 LP (he was surprised to see it!). My autograph says “Please Stop Telling People We’re Wed, Emo” and Field Marshall Stack’s says “Thank you for being a mammal, Your Pal, Emo”. Then he pulled out some copies of Emo, and I felt bad about having it already, but Field Marshall Stack didn’t, so he bought a copy, and so did Dale (Field Marshall Stack’s was signed: “Thank you for showing me that necrophiliacs are people too”. Dale’s autograph: “Thank you for having safe sex with my family”.), and then I decided to buy one for my hardcore Emophiliac friend Jeremiah (even though I think he already had the CD, I was pretty sure he didn’t have it signed!), and Emo signed it to him “Stop pretending to be me to get laid”. (I mailed it to him without letting him know it was coming, and he thanked me a couple days later with lots of surprise; I figured it was the least I could do – he ‘s the one who pretty much got me into Emo by loaning me his tape of E=Mo^2).

Emo stayed for a while and talked to the Emophiliacs, including a guy who got divorced recently. Emo told him (and us) a really sweet story, and I felt bad for laughing in the beginning, since he was still doing the Emo Cadence (since, well, he’s Emo and all); I thought he was leading up to a joke. It soon became clear he wasn’t – I stopped laughing, but just the same, I hope his feelings weren’t hurt. It’s not like I guffawed at the end or anything. Field Marshall Stack had a theory that he was sort of intentionally doing the Cadence to sort of mess with people, since I’ve heard that he doesn’t actually talk like that in everyday life.

Anyway, though, after shaking my hand like four times throughout the night, he told us that we had to go, and he said “God Bless Us” to us all, which I thought was really nice, because you could tell that he really meant it, which I thought was really sweet and cool.

On our way home, we were all in awe over that we both just SAW Emo Philips (who is pretty much one of my Comedy Idols, and I believe the same goes for Field Marshall Stack and Dale; none of us ever thought that we’d get to see him perform, and that was so awesome that we did) and we MET HIM too. AND he was incredibly nice. That just made the night. Emo is so incredibly talented, funny and just a genuinely warm and nice human being. And it’s cool when you get to meet those.


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