Emo Philips at Latitude 2010

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

This was the big draw, the comedy arena headliner after three days of seven-hours a day stand-up – the return of Emo Phillips. It’s the first time he’s been here since his fleeting visit to the Newbury Comedy Festival back in 2006, but judging from the size of the audience, he’s still got fans from his Eighties heyday.

I say Eighties heyday, but his powers are a strong now as they ever were. Those powers being the ability to craft perfectly oddball one-liners, as efficient as they are bizarre. Some of the gags in his set seem to have been there since time immemorial, admittedly, but they are comedy’s equivalent of protected historic landmarks, always worth revisiting.

Then, of course, there’s that persona. Many a comic affects the stance of the deranged weirdo for the sake of a gag, but none has the same commitment as Emo. With him, you truly believe the sociopathic creepiness could actually be real. He speaks in that strained, sing-songy alto that’s instantly identifiable, the punchlines followed by the laboured breathing of a nervous pervert.

At Latitude, he took to the stage in flowing orange dressing gown and waistcoat, frequently brushing his asymmetric grey fringe from his face, looking like an early Doctor Who who now has to sign a register every couple of weeks.

The circumstances of the gig sometimes troubled him. As the chords from The Temper Trap on the main Obelisk Arena gatecrashed the comedy tent, he was visibly put off, comparing this to a comedian’s version of hell. But the audience had no such qualms, savouring every deliciously exotic joke. And for an apparent surrealist, he touched on real-life topics, from politics to his divorce, his antipathy for his ex-wife, whether genuine or fabricated, fuelling more than one stinging put-down. There are a few adult jokes, too, but the youngsters at the front had heard far more explicit over the hours that preceded Philips.

It’s always a joy to see the man work – and with an impending Edinburgh show plus a smattering of other gigs, you should grasp the chance while you can.

Review date: 25 Jul 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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