Comedian/musician/filmmaker Henry Phillips returns to Austin this Thursday night for a one night only show at Beerland. Henry is one of my favorite working comics whose unique voice and unconventional mix of comedy and music set him apart from other so-called guitar acts – just ask Doug Stanhope. Through his work in his feature film Punching the Clown, The Loner short films, and his YouTube cooking show Henry’s Kitchen, he has elevated awkwardness to an art form with characters that are at least loosely based on his own experiences and usually named Henry Phillips.
I spoke with Henry about his solitary character, why Doug Stanhope thought he was going to suck, and that one time he hung out with the cast of Taxi.
I love The Loner shorts. The character you created there eventually made it’s way into Punching the Clown and is often at the center of your standup. Can you talk a bit about the genesis of that character?
I’ve always liked the idea of being the guy who tries to do what everyone else does, but is just really bad at it. The subject matter just mirrors whatever phase I’m going through in life. It started with music, and at the time of The Loner it was meeting girls at bars, and now it’s living alone and teaching people how to cook. Everything Peter Sellers did was a huge inspiration (The Party!), along with Spinal Tap/Christopher Guest movies, Albert Brooks, Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy, etc. I like so many kinds of comedy, but that’s really the genre I feel like I can actually do.
I’ve read that you’ve credited Doug Stanhope with giving you your start/getting you on the road. How did that come to be?
For a couple of years Doug and I were drinking buddies in LA, and eventually he saw my act and started bringing me out to open for him. (He later said he purposely avoided seeing me perform because he knew I was a guitar act and thought I was gonna suck, and it would make the friendship awkward). Through that, I was instantly in with some of the best clubs there were at the time, like the Houston Laff Stop and Acme in Minneapolis. Then I was able to branch out from there. Doug continues to inspire me by beating down his own path to a career as opposed to trying to impress the gatekeepers that decide who succeeds in show business.
What was it like growing up with a dad who was a character actor?
My Dad, while never becoming a household name, was successful in that he was able to make his living at it, and that was inspiring enough for me. The most notable moment was in 1980 when he taped an episode of Taxi and my brother and I watched from the sound booth (I was 10). There was a party afterward, I think for Tony Danza’s birthday, and we all went and met the cast: Andy Kaufman, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, etc. They were all very festive and polite to my brother and I, making jokes etc. All I remember was that I was extremely bored. A couple years later I met John Stamos, and that was much more exciting for me at the time.
What’s your favorite thing about visiting Austin?
Austin. Wow. I’ve never NOT had an epic time there. I’ll be hanging with my old pal Mike MacRae, who will be on the show as well. I love BBQ, barhopping, hanging with musicians/comedians/filmmakers, etc., and if this time is like last year, I’ll be doing all those things. Can’t wait actually.
Any new projects on the horizon?
In terms of new projects, we’re going to start raising money for a Punching the Clown sequel, which will mostly cover a development deal we just had for cable to turn the first movie into a series. You can imagine how the plot will end up. Also, I’m always making my web videos and releasing music, so there will be more of that, and maybe eventually something will end up on TV. If not, no one can’t stop me from calling a bar somewhere and doing a show there with my friends!
Henry performs at Beerland this Thursday night at 8pm. Tickets are available here.