Emo Phillips is still ... Emo

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A: Some comedians change their style, often to their advantage; but I see no reason why I can't continue with the "urbane sophisticate" 'til the day I die.

Q: You had a joke voted the funniest religious joke of all time, and by the Internet, no less. How does that feel?

A: Like a million likes!

Q: I'd ask you to tell an abridged version of it, but part of its glory, of course, is in the long walk to the end of the plank.

A: While your print editor might shy at the space it takes, there is no reason your web users need go without: http://www.emophilips.com/video/video/244.

Q: Your web site implies that this joke has been, um, borrowed many times over the years. Is that true, by whom, and what would you do if you were face to face with a comedian who had borrowed it?

A: Whenever I've heard, through the grapevine, that my Baptist joke was told sans accreditation, it's always been by a pastor in one of his sermons; never by a comedian. We tend to be an honest lot.

Q: What can Chicagoans who come to your shows expect? How are you balancing them between old and new material?

A: I always try to have as much new material as I can, especially when I play a club I've returned to so many times throughout the years such as Zanies, but I might perhaps throw in a few classics here and there, just to assure the crowd that I'm the same Emo Philips they came to see so they don't ask for a refund.

Q: What's the best joke you've written in recent months?

A: Let me go through my notes and send it by itself tomorrow. I'll hang a note around its neck, because it's never travelled through the Internet on its own before.

A:(part 2). "I prefer smart audiences because smart people don't heckle. If a smart person doesn't like a comedian, he just blames himself for not having more assiduously researched his entertainment options. Stupid people shout, 'You suck.' Smart people think, 'I suck, for not Googling him.'"

Q: In terms of paying the bills, are you doing any joke writing for hire, like for the "Tonight Show" or awards shows or the like?

A: No, but I'd be happy to make an exception for your Pulitzer.

Q: Do you think your stage persona might be, in some ways, a hindrance? Here's why I ask: When I think "Emo Philips," I readily picture that persona, yet that picture has tended to obscure, over the decades, my memory of how very good the jokes are.

A: I'm sorry, but it's very difficult for me to wrap my head around your question. (I knew my incomplete mastery of Zen would catch up to me someday.)

Q: Many writers have tried to describe the persona. Which is your favorite among the attempts?

A: There have been many remarkable ones, but the only one I can remember here in my hotel room (perhaps because of its alliteration) is People magazine's "a cross between Peter Pan and a plucked chicken."

Q: Perhaps you have one of your own?

A: "The most interested man in the world."

Q: Here's my stab at it, and it is simply a joke from your act, early on: "I had a very close relationship with another child. I was his imaginary friend."

A: The irony, of course, being that I am the audience's only true friend, for only I tell them the truth. Deep!

Q: Why did you move overseas, and do you think moving to the UK, then Australia, hurt your career back here?

A: I think the last person whose career was hurt by too many hemispheres was Magellan. Besides, even though I might not be on TV every week, I'm still going strong on my almost four-decade streak of never having to do anything else for a living other than to get up on a stage and make people laugh. I've never lost sight of how lucky I've been in that respect. When you've squeezed into the last helicopter out of Saigon, you don't moan that you didn't get a window seat.


Twitter: @StevenKJohnson

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