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Emo Philips on Being Funny

Stand-up comedy's zany godfather on humor, relationships and therapy.

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

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.

Do you seek out friends/girlfriends who laugh easily?

I find it unbearably uncomfortable to be around people who do not get my jokes. And it is almost equally as uncomfortable offstage. On the flip side, it would be just as hellish if, as in some Twilight Zone episode, everyone laughed hysterically at everything I said. Which is why I am against the legalization of marijuana. I need to be with a woman who can make me laugh, and I vastly prefer her to be "the funny one." I am quite lazy in that respect.

Have you ever been in therapy?

Back in the Nineties when I was feeling a bit down, I went to a therapist a few times, at a hundred bucks a pop. But then I realized that no therapy session would ever cheer me up half as much as if I was just strolling along and found a hundred dollar bill.