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Live Comedy Review: Emo Phillips at the Punchline in Sacramento, California

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Last night I had the chance to fulfill a dream. I got to meet the legendary Emo Phillips at the Punchline in Sacramento. That goes to show you I might not have a lot of really great dreams. Still, this was a once in a lifetime chance and I was not about to blow it.

I first heard of Emo 20 years ago when I bought a second-hand audiocassette at the North Little Rock, Arkansas Public Library book sale. It was probably the best half a buck I ever spent. I kept that tape, E=Mo2, until I used it up while I was in the hospital two years ago. They say laughter is the best medicine, and while I am still pretty sold on a well-trained medical staff, that tape did keep my spirits up while I was in there.

On Tuesday of this week I got an email saying Emo was going to be at the Punchline all weekend and I immediately starting kissing up to my beloved wife, Patti. After a few tears and several promises dealing with yard work I am hoping she forgets this weekend, I was told I could go see the show. That was the easy part. I started trying to figure out what to wear and worrying about what the show was going to be like. I didn't know if I would have a minimum to drink or if they even had soft drinks. I admit it; she don't let me out much anymore.

I was worried about how I was going to act when I got to meet him face to face. I had already conned, er, discussed with the management about meeting him, but it was still up in the air. What if I belched in the middle of the meeting or, God forbid, farted? What if I ate something and had a stain on my shirt? How would he react? Would he think I was an uncouth slob with few manners? That would normally be an accurate assessment, but this time I wanted to impress someone.

I wore a nice shirt and no tie. I didn't want to look to geeky. Hair nice, just a soda to drink, and sweet lordy how good those nachos looked at the table in front of me. Plate piled high with cheese, chips, and black olives. I honestly wondered what they would do if I just joined them for a bite or two. I thought about the bouncer and just decided to suffer. They say suffering is good for you. I don't think so.

Finally the show started. Emo is everything in person I had listened to over the years. Sure, his hair is different, but then he is hitting fifty-one now. It is grayer and cut in a more 'hip' style, and the chicks really liked it. You could tell he had them wrapped around his little finger, which wouldn't take much. Emo would be the first to admit that he is on the, well… 'slim' side. At one point, I thought I could see the backdrop through him. God, the man needs to eat some chicken or something. Have a steak now and then, some carbo's dude.

He is now 51 and is currently in the middle of a cross-country tour. He still loves the ladies, but he says, "A lot of girls go out with me just to further their careers. Damn anthropologists."

He did well over an hour on stage last night, and even though I was familiar with a lot of his work, I only heard him repeat about three or four jokes. For me, it was pretty much all new material and clean as well. Sure, some of it got a little blue, but 'blue' just makes an audience think. Dirty is a crutch. Part of an Emo show is watching him react on stage, moving into various stances and poses as he works to draw an audience into his realm. As you watch him, you realize these poses and stances are simply a part of who he is. You almost believe that if you met him walking down the street and asked him about his day, he would begin shaking his arms and saying, "Hunnnn Hunnnnn" over and over until he finally got a sentence out.

As is usual with most comedians, Emo is not afraid to talk about himself or use his past to get a laugh. I think that is common with people in the stand-up business. They use their own history to build a show, but Emo takes those same situations and expands on them, making us laugh because of what is in our minds – like surprising his mom and dad when they were having sex when he was a kid. This has probably happened to most of us, but Emo expands on it, getting a laugh. Then he goes on to act shocked and explains the reason behind the first laugh, getting a combination of laughs and groans now.

Two of my favorite routines of Emo's are "Old Lady Digging Through Trash" and "Downtown Downers Grove," both of which elicit laughs and groans. I kept hoping he would do them during the show but instead he blasted me with new jokes. I wish they had recorded last night’s show because I would love to hear it over and over. Emo is a word-master. He is a punster and is able to end a sentence at just the right moment to make you stop, shake you head and think, "Did he just say that?" before you burst into laughter.

Emo is starting his own line of greeting cards on his website. Since the birthday season is coming up, he shared one with us. Picking up his notebook, he turns to a page written in black felt tip pen; "It'll look better in color" he assures us. "So, you are another year older" he reads. Then, opening the card it says, "Let's see you blame the Jews for that one." It took about two seconds for the audience to erupt into laughter.

Through all the jokes about his family ("I crashed the car once and was afraid to tell my dad. When I finally did, he said 'Emo, it was not your fault. I trusted you enough to think you were mature enough to handle the responsibility of driving the family auto. It is all my fault that you had a wreck.' I said to him, 'Well thanks a lot, you stupid D***, you almost got me killed!'") or a past marriage, you still see the man who created this realm and this world.

While you know it is an act, you wonder how you can get to this place because Emo seems so happy in his little universe and you could see that most of the audience wanted to be a part of that universe. As Emo spoke to different folks who were there, they responded to him naturally with almost no self reserve. It was like they were speaking with an old friend who just happened to be standing on a stage.

He is able to make people around him relax, able to make them feel a part of who he is and what he is doing on stage. It was really remarkable to watch. From almost the moment he hit the stage, you could see that he was actually in control of the room and everyone in it – except for one thing; cell phones. Man, he is a lot more patient than I am. At least three went off during his show and all three times he stayed a gentleman, didn't cuss, or throw a chair at anyone, but I think he wanted to. You could see it in his face that he was annoyed. At one point, he seemed to lose his train of thought and had to backtrack to get to the joke he wanted to tell.

Leave the cells on vibrate, people. Show some courtesy to the other patrons and most of all to the performer. Unless you are with the F.B.I. or some anti-terrorist military unit out to defend the U.S., you can wait a lousy hour to get a message.

After the show, I got to meet with Emo for a few minutes and just talk. His sense of humor is still active in his personality, but is much more subdued. He is a perfect host, offering me a drink and more interested in me than talking about himself. We discussed his favorite Super-hero. He is a Batman fan, but as a Superman person I won't hold that against him. We both like the Lone Ranger, although we both also agree that he is not a 'Super' hero, just a hero.

He told me about the upcoming film his girlfriend, Kipleigh Brown, is in — Yesterday Was A Lie — and we discussed just missing each other at Wonder-Con. Off stage, Emo is still a nice guy, but it is hard to shake the image of him cavorting around on the stage with a mike in his hand. Once I got past that, I was able to breath again.

Emo Phillips is simply a joy to watch. He is funny without being rude and he is wild without being crude. I would not hesitate to introduce anyone to his humor.

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About Larry Stanley