Emo Philips’ Falsetto Laughs Ring True

Emo Philips

Emo Philips and I at the 2012 Jakarta Fringe Festival.

Sandra Siagian

Emo Philips has definitely made his mark in the world of comedy. The 56-year-old entertainer, known for delivering clever one-liners in a falsetto-style tone, has enjoyed a career making people laugh for almost four decades, and soon he’s coming to Jakarta.

The American comedian, who kicked off his stand-up career performing in comedy clubs around Chicago in the early 1980s, got his break when he made his first appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman” in 1984.

Since then, Philips has released three comedy albums, acted in a handful of film and television roles, performed for a two-week run at the Playhouse Theater in London’s West End and worked as the associate producer for the film “Meet the Parents” (2000).

US talk-show host Jay Leno once called Philips the “best joke writer in America.”

The Los Angeles-based comedian, who grew up in Downers Grove, Illinois, is making his Indonesian debut at the inaugural Jakarta International Fringe Festival.

The funny man spared some time before his 36-hour flight to Indonesia to have a chat with the Jakarta Globe about his style, idols and upcoming trip to the Big Durian.

What made you decide to pick a career in comedy? 

When I was growing up my mother used to laugh hysterically at everything that I said. Later I found out that she laughed hysterically at everything that everybody said. But by then it was too late — I was already famous.

You have a distinct style when you perform. Is this a formula that is a consistent crowd pleaser? 

Yes. I’ve always held that the audience helps a comedian write his act by telling him through laughter what works. So if you find me funny, please spare a moment to silently thank my 7,000 past audiences. And please feel free to blame them if you’re disappointed.

Are there any comedians you look up to? 

My hero is Charlie Chaplin. He could turn an audience from laughter to tears and back again in seconds. I’ve gotten it down to one hour and 27 minutes.

How long will you be in Indonesia?

After my final show [on Saturday], I’m staying in your country another 20 days. I’ve never been to Indonesia before and I’m really looking forward to experiencing it.

What do you want to see here?   

I want to visit a shadow puppet theater. I want to be surprised by strange constellations in the night sky. I want to see the temples in Yogyakarta. I’ve heard Bali is amazing. And I would love, love, love to encounter some orangutans. In fact, if anyone reading this is going on holiday and needs an orangutan sitter…

Will you go check out any of the other comedians at the festival? 

Of course. And other comedians love me because I’m a very good laugher. With the exception of one comedian, many years ago. I was the only person in the audience laughing at him, and he started mocking me. That made me stop laughing. Now no one was laughing at him. Obviously, he had not thought the whole thing through.

You say on your website that you’ve performed more than 6,000 times. Have you kept track of all your performances? 

When I first started, I numbered each show in my calendar. I performed the most shows my first couple of years: 500 the first, 500 the second. After that I performed fewer shows per year, but still quite a few. At around 5,993, however, I stopped counting. That was in the late 90s, so I’m sure the tally is well over 7,000 by now. I really should go back through all my contracts and come up with a definitive count, but that’s human nature for you: we often put off the tasks that are the most important.

Any advice for local comedians who are making their debut at the festival? 

[Try to perform] 500 shows the first year, 500 the second…