With a stage name like “Emo," audiences might not expect Emo Philips to be a particularly playful comedian.
Philips, who will perform at the 15th annual North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival tonight, has been doing comedy since the 1980s.
“Festivals are great because there’s nothing but other performers as far as the eye can see," said Philips in an email. "It’s like taking a plane to Comedy Land."
Franklin Street's Dirty South Improv started and hosts the festival. Every year, owner Zach Ward tries to get big names to headline.
“Emo has to be one of the most dedicated joke writers in comedy,” Ward said. “Every time a comic like Emo comes to the festival it lends credibility to the festival, our theater here in Chapel Hill and the comedy scene in North Carolina... It feels like we're doing something right.”
UNC freshman J.J. Tyson has been a fan since he saw Philips in the "Weird Al" Yankovic movie "UHF" movie at 13 years old.
“When I heard Emo Philips was headlining, I got really excited," he said. "A lot of people don’t know who he is and I think that’s a shame — the minute that you see him, you pretty much have to become a fan."
Philips said he loves performing comedy because of the adrenaline rush.
"Imagine that your job is to open a tiger cage and let the tiger out and run from it for an hour and then put it back into the cage," he said. "You feel nervous and scared beforehand — then you release the tiger and it chases you and you get the most amazing adrenaline rush and for an hour all non-tiger thoughts are banished from your mind and it's exciting and wonderful."
Junior Eric Clayton, president of False Profits, saw Philips when he came for the festival three years ago.
“He’s not commonly known among the student body but he’s a big deal in the comedy community and has been around for a while," Clayton said. "For someone to make money making people laugh is an incredible feat — for someone to do that for 20 years is just breathtaking.”
Since debuting his album "E=mo2" in 1985, the comedian has performed at thousands of shows and recorded two additional comedy albums. His stand-up influenced stars like Jim Carrey, Demetri Martin, Patton Oswalt, Mitch Hedberg and Bo Burnham.
“Emo is his own brand of comedian — he invented this outlandish character and a lot of celebrities-comedians use outlandish characters in their works," Tyson said. "I think he was one of the first to personify that."
To Clayton, inspiring the way other people perform is ultimately one of the greatest legacies a comedian can make.
“Making people laugh is one thing; making people think is another," he said. "Long after Emo Philips has passed away, his performances will live on in other people. That’s one of the strongest things that a performer can do.”
Ward, who has spent time with Philips both on stage and off, considers him one of a kind.
“Nobody else will be -— can be — Emo Philips.”
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