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Home > People

Emo Philips: the song remains the same

Jay Leno calls Philips the best joke writer in America. Back in 1999, GQ magazine picked three of his jokes to be among the 75 best jokes of all time (Steven Wright also had three). "That was a wonderful honour," says Emo. "And who knows more about comedy than people who write articles about cufflinks...?"

26 September 2003

Emo Philips' singsong delivery and tendency towards the surreal aren't to everyone's taste, but without a doubt Emo is one of the world's greatest jokesmiths...

"I had revelation last night about the Roman Empire" says Emo. He pauses. A joke is coming. Any moment now... Eventually he speaks: "I was reading Edward Gibbon, and I had an amazing realization. But when I woke up this morning, I couldn't remember what it was. I found this very disappointing."

Oh. It wasn't a joke. He seems sad. Forgetting epiphanies about ancient Rome can do that to a chap.

Emo Philips has short hair nowadays, and is rather less famous than he used to be. But his singsong voice is just the same, and still he tours... "When I play smaller comedy clubs, it makes me realize why I got into this in the first place, because I just love hearing people laugh. The money, the drugs, the beautiful women, that's all nice. But just the sound of a single happy person laughing somewhere in the audience.... means I've got to stop the show and see where he is."

Emo's act is always evolving, and he doesn't talk about his early years as much as he used to "because I'm getting further away from my childhood as I grow older. The thing I find about getting older..." - he breaks off as his mobile phone rings. It's playing Beethoven. He doesn't answer it; just watches listens to it ring. "You know the only time Americans hear classical music anymore is on their cellphones.... everyone knows the final movement from Ode to Joy."

So why did Emo cut his trademark hair? "I changed my image to get a wife. You can't have hair like that when you get old... imagine Dick Cheney with a pageboy haircut." And does marriage agree with him? "I do feel quite happy these days, Iím on a new anti-depressant: St John's Wort. Itís the most popular anti-depressant in Germany, after - I'm guessing - amnesia."

In his absence, some of you may have seen his name attached to the Robert De Niro/Ben Stiller farce Meet the Parents. You probably thought, that must be nice for Emo. But no.

Philips made a film called 'Meet the Parents' for £22,000 in 1991 - which he showed at Edinburgh, and at the NFT and which got rave reviews on the arts pages. Universal bought the remake rights and then, seven years later, butchered it in the remake.

"They put my name on the film in the same way we name streets after Indians we've massacred," he explains. "I haven't been to the cinema since. I hated the ending. In mine, everyone died. But then, mine was a film and theirs was a movie. In a film, anything can happen. In a movie, you know exactly what's going to happen. But I've learnt my lesson. I'm not planning to do any more movies. I know my limitations. I'm a good stand-up. A lot of my contemporaries are now writing gags for sitcoms. That's rather like giving up bullfighting and becoming a meat packer."

But Philips insists he's not bitter about his movie experience, and now past 40, he appreciates the simple things in life. "The little things keep you going. I did this show a month ago and a man in my audience peed in his pants." He sighs. "I guess I'm never going to get rich working a nursing home."

He shakes his head sadly, but then suddenly the sparkle leaps back into his eyes: "Wonderful news!" he chirrups. What is...? "Jeffrey Archer being released. It was such a mistake putting him in prison. An outrage. It was giving him more time to write, and that was only going to hurt society more."

More Emo (including tour details) at his website:


Of the website, Emo admits: "I didnít put it together myself.
I donít even know how electricity works... all I know is it
calms me."

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