September 10th, 2011 | Live reviews

Emo Philips

So, why go to FYF and spend my time at the comedy show? Well, because you DIDN’T, and that’s a shame. While Japanther and Olivia Tremor Control were doing their totally normal deal outside, these hard-working comedians, most of whom normally stand onstage in the backroom of Meltdown Comics telling jokes to a core set of followers, were waaaay out of their element—being out in the daytime, in a tent, with loud, LOUD rock bands playing just yards away, and with crazy security guards keeping people a safe and uncomfortable distance from the stage. And yet some of these funny men (no women in the set, for some reason) pulled off the performance of the year, with tons of laughs and not one regret in our joke-saturated heads that we might be having more fun with the heat-stroke crowd outside.

Of course, the “Splinter’s Den” tent was parfait-ed with bands between the comedy acts, so to get front-row spots, we had to get there early and battle our way past part of that crowd still watching the tail end of Fool’s Gold. Let me tell ya, if ever a band was not at all the preferred lead-in to a comedy show, it’s these dudes. I’m not putting down their music, which comes in a unique retro flavor that’s hard to pull off even when you’re far younger and leaner than these guys. But I am saying that their post-wave, Nu Romantic pinings were the opposite of humor and mirth. Not even their bassist’s striking resemblance to Zach Galifiniakis could make them blend in with the acts that were to follow.

After the post-wavers washed out, and after the security guards forced the crowd to back up three paces and form an imaginary barricade against the comedy stage for NO conceivable reason, hosts Jonah Ray and Kumail Nanjiani hopped right to it and started through the stack of comedians. The theme this Saturday afternoon was ONE-LINERS, and being the slow fan of media that I am, it was only at a rock festival tent in 2011 that I realized that ALL comedy is now the Henny Youngman one-liner. Steven Wright by way of Mitch Hedberg has won the battle: turgid break-up stories and making fun of pop stars are out; surreal two-sentence twists are all the rage.  No back-stories, no set-ups, no preaching about how both political parties are in collusion to keep us down—the only set-up we needed was just maybe a persona to keep the quirkiness going.

And Jim Hamilton is nothing if not a persona. Out in front of the crowd, I feel like he pulled back on his normal retarded Jack Nance mannerisms a bit—maybe he was worried the crowd would be too distracted by the noisy bands nearby to know he was faking it, or that they’d be confused at his slower pace. But he got laughs, and was able to pull out some of my favorite chestnuts, which I feel are too fresh to reveal in print yet but involve “fumigation” and “Applebee’s.”

Up next was the token guitar-strummin’ comedian, Nick Thune. He almost lost me by blatantly stealing Neil Hamburger’s bit and requesting “more laughs in the monitors.” Fuck you, you cocksucker! But then again, Neil Hamburger almost certainly stole it from some Gong Show-era comedian, and Thune had a lot of really witty originals, including some math-related humor that might not have worked nearly as well in a boozy nightclub as it did for young high-schoolers at the crack of mid-afternoon.

Speaking of boozy, have you ever had a friend that you don’t know has gone sober until a weird, obvious party moment? I had no idea that long-standing friend-of-the-scene comedian Matt Dwyer had given up drinking and drugging until his performance this very day, when he started in on some jokes about wanting to get O’Doul’s in the VIP beer tent. Whoa, what demons of his was I not seeing due to my own booze consumption? Anyway, Dwyer’s newfound straight-edge lifestyle made him a “minor threat” onstage. Once again, here was a comedian with some seriously good one-liner jokes: a few classics that the Dwyer fans will always know, but also one or two new zingers that had a dash of even more bitterness than I’m used to from Matt. Maybe without the crutch of alcohol, he might one day pop a blood vessel, or just kill us all? This cat has anger issues, and as he gets older, he’s looking more and more like Lee Harvey Oswald, with a bit of Richard Nixon’s 5 o’clock shadow. Don’t get on his enemies list.

Jon Dore worried me a bit when he hit the stage: he had a smirky gleam in his eye, and his tall, bearded manliness made him seem a bit older than the other comedians, somewhere between a Judd Apatow character and Men of a Certain Age. But oddly enough, despite a bit about the importance of our not coming up and talking to him after the show, he was the comedian who bridged the gap between audience and comic in a very appropriate rock and roll way, not only by berating the security guards (“This one doesn’t even have a headset! He has no connection to the outside world!”) but also by getting us together and crowd-surfing through us while reciting some of his jokes.

At long last, the great Emo Philips got up to perform, and thank god he’s given up the short-haired dad look he briefly adopted in the late nineties/early aughts. Fueled by the crowd’s energy and angry from a recent divorce, he was head to toe Emo, and a bit darker than I’d remembered him being, despite his blood-bath appearance in Weird Al’s UHF. He had a ton of great one-two liners, and some well-crafted birthday card jokes in his notebook that I wish I could buy, but my favorites were the puns—especially when he said the city of Winnipeg sounded like “a cheap contest for pirates.” As reigning king of the comedy tent at FYF fest, it made me think of how off-the-wall he must have seemed in the midst of the angry-loud-homophobe comedy that was the mid-late 80s. Today, he definitely fit in, and seemed almost… prophetic.

It was a lot less crowded for the comedy than it had been for Fool’s Gold, but the tent was still packed with enough people that it was hard to vamoose from after it was over. And as I sauntered over to see the bands outside, I felt like some of that comedy energy had spread to the rest of the entertainment. Even the Strange Boys were goofin’, trying to take requests from the audience, and covering a bit of “Everyday People” by Sly and the Family Stone! They weren’t able to finish it, but hey, sometimes we’re right, and sometimes we’re wrong. Putting a bunch of funny people in with the musicians is NOT wrong, and I can’t wait to see more of this happening in L.A.

-Dan Collins