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.

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.