One of the cool things about being a comic is sometimes I get to hang out with cool people. Last week Henry Phillips was in town (Acme Comedy Club, Minneapolis). I caught his set on Thursday night and got to chat with him before and after the show. I met Henry ten years ago at the Improv in L.A. Since then, every so often, our paths have crossed. I’m always glad when that happens. He’s not just a cool guy to hang out with, I’m a big fan of his work.
I’d list Henry Phillips as one of my favorite comics except I’m not so sure the term “comic” precisely applies. Henry’s a talented musician who plays guitar and writes and sings original funny songs. I believe he started out performing serious folk music. The kind of stuff you hear in coffee shops. Somewhere along the line he put a satirical spin on that genre and created his own brand of musical comedy. But it can’t be described completely as musical comedy either. A lot of laughs come from the things he says while setting up each song. It’s a cool kind of funny and he’s a funny fucking guy.
I’ve always felt an affinity for comedians who do their own thing. Although mine and Henry’s acts are very different, I’d like to think there are similarities. Like for instance, we’re both very different. Plus we both write punchlines of the make-you-think, read-between-the-lines, fill-in-the-blanks variety. And for sure we’ve both been in front of crowds that didn’t appreciate different or want to fill in the blanks. Henry politely puts it this way, “Sometimes you don’t connect with the audience.” Though he seems better at handling those situations (though I’m sure I’ve had more practice), I know he shares my angst. In his movie Punching the Clown (mostly autobiographical) there’s a pivotal scene in the beginning depicting one such painful show. He told me the real-life story it was based on last Thursday night.
Punching the Clown is an independent film directed by Gregori Viens. Henry co-wrote the screenplay and plays himself. It’s about a tortured artist musician comedian who quits the road and tries to make it in L.A. The movie was released a couple years ago. It has won film festival awards and received lots of great reviews. I feel stupid for not being aware of it’s existence. Maybe I vaguely remember something…. The first I remember for sure hearing about it was when Henry mentioned it on stage last week. That says a lot about the kind of guy he is. It didn’t come up in conversation before the show. I hope he wasn’t offended that I didn’t ask about it. I really need to crawl out of from underneath…. But anyway… After the show Henry gave me a copy. I watched it a few days later. The very next day I watched it again. I only do that when I really love a film. Plus I wanted to make sure it was really as good as I thought it was. That I wasn’t just sleep deprived, imagining things or high. Or just laughing because I knew the guy. But in fact I laughed even harder the second time. That’s why instead of renting it, I recommend you buy the DVD. That way, in addition to watching it over and over again, you can share it with your friends. It’s one of those movies you and your friends will want to quote from. “I smell pizza,” is my favorite line. That wasn’t Henry’s. He has an amazing supporting cast. Henry’s brother Matt (Matt Walker) was especially hilarious. “I got a slogo and a logan,” was my favorite line of his. Although the cast was outstanding, Henry wasn’t out-shined. My favorite line of his was, “That was mostly my fault I think.” If you’ve seen the movie you’re laughing again.
Because he’s as funny on screen as he is on stage, I’d list Henry Phillips as one of my favorite new actors except I’m not sure the term “actor” precisely applies. I don’t know if you call what he does “acting” because he’s really just being himself. But whatever you call it, watch it and I am pretty sure you’ll agree — certainly if you know him – he does a really good him. Or as Dane Cook would say, totally captures his own essence. That’s a lucky thing for those of us watching. In Punching the Clown, Henry Phillips is his brilliant self.