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Emo’s Back at the Improv

Comedian Emo Philips--a quick-thinking, slow-talking, child-like crane of a man with a roughly chopped pageboy and thrift-shop garb--returns to Orange County for a 6-night engagement at the Irvine Improvisation starting tonight

Philips, who hails from Downer’s Grove, Ill., is never going to be accused of resembling other comics--or of using generic material. Enormously committed to his revenge-of-the-nerd persona, he’s an extraordinary wordsmith whose act is sprinkled with literary and philosophical references.

Not to mention many bait-and-switch jokes and clever reversals. Sometimes the twists are literal: For his young nephew’s birthday party, Philips donned a clown suit and entertained the kids, but his nephew complained, “ ‘Uncle Emo, you’re a lousy clown. I want to see a trick.’ So I took his dog and twisted him into a balloon. . . .”

Emo-philiacs are familiar with his non-standard stand-up through his heavy itinerary of club and theater dates, his appearances a few years back on “Late Night With David Letterman,” and his albums and cable specials.

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Many of them find Emo engaging because he comes across as an otherworldly, helpless innocent who has a running battle with a persecution complex. Beyond that, at a time where many of his comedy compatriots traffic in scatological stuff or racist/sexist/misogynistic blabbering, Philips is a refreshing change, a blast of fresh air. In addition to being masterfully written, his material is squeaky clean, free of slurs--and very smart.


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