Emo Philips, stand-up comedy's zany godfather, is known for lines such as "A lot of girls go out with me just to further their careers... damn anthropologists." Philips, who insists his spasmodic stage presence and quavering voice are not part of a persona, celebrated his 30th anniversary as a comedian with a yearlong, "round-the-world-ish" tour. For his fans, he posts a fresh joke each day on emophilips.com.
I read that your mother laughed easily—do you think that encouraged you to be funny?
Well, had she administered an electric shock to my nether regions in response to the first joke I told her, I doubt very seriously whether I would have treated her to a second. (Which, by the way, is why I never tried twice to make my dad laugh.)
Have you always been so funny?
It is a romantic myth that we comedians are naturally funny. We are like scientists: When we write the joke in the afternoon, that is the hypothesis, and our performance that evening is the laboratory in which we get to test it out. If the new joke doesn't get a laugh, we rewrite it and then we retest it. Once I wrote a joke about Thomas Edison inventing the light bulb. I had to try it 999 different ways before I finally got it to work.