• Photo by Andy Hollingworth

Comedians are often friendly and thoughtful people in interviews, but rarely are they actually funny. But Emo Philips proves the exception to the rule, rambling off sometimes a dozen hilarious one-liners in the course of a single sentence.

Here, for example, is his explanation as to why he’s playing the NC Comedy Arts Festival at Cat’s Cradle:

“Well, about two years ago, I played Charlie Goodnight’s in Raleigh, and (festival creator) Zach Ward came up to me afterwards, and asked, ‘Would you like to play this festival?’ And I thought, ‘Boy, it’d be nice to play a slightly different market.’ Because Charlie Goodnight’s is amazing, but this festival is pretty far away, and it’s probably going to skew a tad younger, and it’s good to get the younger generation excited about me, because by the time I go back to Charlie Goodnight’s again they’ll all have families and they can afford me with their jobs working for the government, monitoring people’s thoughts or whatever we’ll be doing, I don’t know how technology is going. But then again, an asteroid might be heading toward Earth by 2036, so that takes the pressure off considerably.”

[The club formerly known as Charlie Goodnight’s is now called simply “Goodnight’s Comedy Club.”—Editor]

Philips came to prominence in the 1980s, with his witty wordplay and bird-like voice and features granting him a distinct stage presence. He’s toned down his look—gone is the Prince Valiant haircut from his early years on stage—but there’s no mistaking the voice that uttered such classic one-liners as, “Some mornings it just doesn’t seem worth it to gnaw through the leather straps.”

He often uses religion in his humor (a few years ago, one of his longer jokes was picked as the best religious joke of all time).

“For some reason, religious jokes seem as trivial as jokes about food or driving,” Philips says.

He says that religion is a topic that almost everyone in an audience can relate to. “Even if you don’t care about religion, your neighbor might, if he votes.”

Philips admits times have changed since he started doing stand-up.

“A few days ago, it was my birthday, and it was in the newspaper, and growing up I never would have guessed that a) my name would be in the newspaper, and b) that I might outlast those papers.”

Even in today’s age of MySpace, YouTube and Funny Or Die, Philips remains a staunch supporter of old-school stand-up comedy. Still, he’s adapted to new media (“My latest Facebook fan is a teenage girl studying drama, kind of like a Mexican taking Spanish”), but he doesn’t text and needed confirmation from this reporter to confirm that “LOL” stands for “laugh out loud.”

He prefers the communal feeling of a live show to a tiny screen on the Internet.

“I understand if you want to stay home and watch me on YouTube, but it’s like incest—you’re putting convenience over quality.”

Emo Philips plays Cat’s Cradle Friday, Feb.18 at 9 p.m. as part of the NC Comedy Arts Festival. He has been in town all week, though, and additional sightings are possible.