This year, two regional comedy festivals have pulled off the kind of coups that you might, at first, expect from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival or a London theatre. In February, Roseanne Barr appeared at the Leicester Comedy Festival, and this month another transatlantic superstar, Emo Philips, appears at the Newbury Comedy Festival. Both shows were, in truth, a disappointment, with their respective stars past their prime. However, in the case of Emo Philips, it is impossible not to enjoy the consummate gag craftsmanship even if this gift can't stretch to fit a show lasting more than an hour.
Even at the height of his mid-Eighties UK popularity, when he appeared on Friday Night Live, Saturday Live and, in the mainstream, The Bob Monkhouse Show, the dysfunctional, geeky and creepy persona of Philips, topped off by his medieval haircut, was too much for some to bear. For others however, including a significant number of the under-30s in tonight's audience, the American's legendary one-liners are unbeatable. Old favourites like, "What are those things that stick to you? [Pause.] "Allegations of sexual molestation," are revisited in the set, as is a classic from his last UK set, five years ago, about an ex-wife "who shall remain nameless - if I'm ever left alone by her tomb with a sandblaster."
Looking dishevelled, and shambling around in a dressing gown and striped pyjama trousers, Philips (born Philip Soltanec in 1956) mooches about the stage, one hand stroking his now greying bob - resurrected after he went short and spiky in the Nineties. To break up the show a number of gimmicks are utilised - silly poems and faux greetings cards and a charming short film, made twelve years ago, showing the gawky Emo in knockabout, slapstick mode.
At several points it feels as though Philips is trying to close the show; it could be deliberate awkwardness but there is a feeling of lost momentum. And a question-and-answer session at the end reveals that his improvisational faculties are not as sharp as his carefully prepared gags. But, as a testimony to his enduring popularity, die-hard fans are on hand to supply feed-lines in the guise of queries.
At one point he asks his audience: "I look pretty good for 50, don't I?" It's true, he does look good for his age - and his gags have aged just as gracefully.Reuse content