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Emo Philips: Please Witness My Act
Published on Thursday, 26 August 2010

4 stars

Pleasance Courtyard (venue website)
Until 29 Aug, 8:00pm (9:00pm)
Reviewed by Mathilda Gregory

Acts that centre on jokes, jokes, jokes aren't really my thing.  I like my comedy with a bit more heart and meaning; applied rather than pure.  But although Emo Phillips is, indeed, all about the jokes, he is also whimsical enough to keep me happy.

This style of comedy, based on gags rather than stories or 'whimsy', is making a rapid resurgence – just look at the joke-drive comedy of Tim Vine and Gary Delaney, for instance.  Perhaps it's encouraged by the popualrity of Twitter. It is a perfect forum for joke testing, one comedians such as Gary Delaney use regularly.

I don’t know if he tweets, but Emo Philips is a brilliant joke writer – he is the author of several which feature on all-time best lists – and he wraps his brilliant jokes up in a strange physical performance.  His amazing, quavering voice is distinctive and unique, even as mere off-stage introduction.  He punctuates the show with an odd routine where he removes several pieces of clothing and stuffs them into a trouser pocket.  He never comments on this and it adds to the dreamy, slightly trippy air of the show.

I really enjoyed this show, but my main quibble was that it was exactly what I expected it to be.  It was pretty much the same Emo Phillips I remembered from the 80s when I last saw him on TV.  Of course, it's amazing that the act still feels fresh, but it did lack something; it felt like Phillips had been in a time capsule and I didn't feel like there was much connection to the 21st century world.  Not all comedy ought to engage with social issues, but this show, for me, felt a bit irrelevant: there were a few satirical moments - and they were brilliant - but I would have liked rather more. 

Still, the jokes were still amazingly well-crafted.  I actually had to stop myself from repeating the best ones to a friend who was seeing the show the following evening.  This wasn't the best show I've ever seen, or the best show I saw this festival, but, in terms of joke-based comedy as an art form, I think it is quite possible that Emo Phillips might be the best stand-up that has ever lived.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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