Emo Philips. Emo Philips. Guys. Emo Phlips.
  • Pat Moran
  • Emo Philips. Emo Philips. Guys. Emo Philips.

I spent a lot of time with Paul Provenza yesterday. No complaints here—dude looks like Al Swearengen, sounds sounds George Carlin, and played host to my favorite moments of Bridgetown so far.

I'd planned to hit the Harmontown podcast taping yesterday, but failed to get in due to some miscommunication about wristbands. (Volunteer-run festival, deep breaths. No one is getting paid and everyone is doing their best.) Instead, I found myself at the open mic for Set List, a show created by Troy Conrad and hosted by Provenza, which I'd follow up a few hours later with a full-fledged version of the show.

Set List asks comics to improvise a set, on the spot, based on prompts provided to them while they're onstage. The prompts are deliberately off-the-wall, both because phrases like "Soupicide" and "the inner monologue of a shelf dildo" are funny, and to minimize the likelihood that comics will be able to repurpose any of their existing material. What I saw of the open mic was an utter crapshoot: Some comics nailed a good line or two, some did fairly convincing dildo impersonations (Danny Felts), some admitted defeat (Laurie Kilmartin, on Jesus's penis: "I wish I wasn't saying these things either"), some flaunted their improv backgrounds and barely broke a sweat (GABE DINGER AND BRI PRUETT).

The open mic was a fun sampler, but seeing the formal Set List show really made me appreciate the brilliance of the concept. Not only is the material created onstage often hilarious, but the structure of the show provides a window into how each comedian's mind works. You can see who labors over a joke, who's comfortable riffing, who makes on-the-spot conceptual leaps. Take Sean Patton: Given the term "Oregonorrhea," he was on his way to what sounded like a sex joke when he mispronounced the word "sensation" as "sation." From there, he started riffing on the practice of shortening words, which brought him to "words are like Legos. Build whatever you want." Bam. This guy's brilliant and I need to finish writing this blog post so I can catch him at the Bossonova closing night show.

Where Patton was high concept, Australian comic Wil Anderson was like a firehose of aggressive enthusiasm, immediately launching into a Stevie Wonder impression that saw him dismantling the mic stand; a rant about how the Square Space sponsorship placard was actually a rectangle (was it?); and, in one of the best one-liners of the evening, in response to the prompt "Mannequoitus": "I fucking love going down on people, but you know what I don't like? Genitals." Anderson is delightful and he threatened to move to Portland about 40 times during his set and I hope he does. (Also on the Bossonova closing bill! Write faster, Alison.)

Everyone on this bill was excellent—local Kristine Levine, Eliza Skinner, Matt Kirshen, Sean Cullen.

BUT FUCKING EMO PHILIPS, MAN. GAHHHHH. It was so cool/inspiring/hilarious to watch this man work. Between the Prince Valiant haircut and his odd, childlike affect, Philips puts up a pretty effective smokescreen between audience expectations and his brain. His brain is a genius brain. His jokes were genius jokes. I'll give examples of the prompts and his setups, but... reading a joke isn't the same as hearing a joke—or watching someone invent a joke on the spot in front of a live audience—so keep that in mind.

Postmortem Strip Tease: "Most people don't know much about the rituals involved in necrophilia..."

Erotic Electric Chair: "In our never-ending quest for humane execution..."

Oof. Guys, it was just great. I'm sorry my writing can't fully capture the magic of this intangible art form that only exists for a moment in time between humans in a room together, fuck. Thanks for that one, Bridgetown.

Additional things:

-Another installment of Scott and Andie's Brunch Time Friendship Bridgetown Blog! This time, featuring Dylan Reiff and NYC based comic Will Miles.

-Are people from Denver literally the nicest people? I met part of the crew behind The Humor Code at the festival this weekend and based on a sample size of two, they are, scientifically, the nicest. And now I have to read their book.