My Comedy Hero: Ahir Shah on Emo Philips

My Comedy Hero: Ahir Shah on Emo Philips

Ahead of his new Machines tour, the stand-up picks the Chicago gagsmith

I've been fortunate enough to see Emo Philips live twice. The first time was 2010 in the Cabaret Bar when he last did the Edinburgh Fringe, and it was just extraordinary. Previously I'd seen him on YouTube and I was aware of him being this great joke crafter but I just wasn't prepared for being in that room and it must still be the most I've laughed over the course of an hour.

He hadn't done the Fringe in about 15 years and he opened saying 'the last time I did it, I had a terrible time and it was horrible, but my agent said "you've got to do Edinburgh again". I said, "look, I'll do Edinburgh the day the United States has a black president".' And he just shook his fist in the air, in anger at Obama making him do this.

His work is diametrically opposed to the stand-up that I do and largely listen to, but whenever I watch clips of him or listen to him or when I last saw him in Montreal in July, it reminds me that this is what stand-up can be. He just batters you with unbelievably good jokes and an astonishing hit rate. Occasionally with stand-up, there's this thing of 'ah, a grown-up is getting away with doing this', so it's incredible that this guy is clearly having so much fun and playing: what a lovely thing that a man of 60 can still do that and hasn't lost his childlike charm or the ability to be totally engrossing from the first moment you watch him until he gets off.

A few days after the Montreal gig, we were in the same bar but I was far too nervous to talk to him, because what if Emo Philips thinks I'm not cool? I think I would have had to refer to him as Mr Philips; it would have seemed disrespectful to have gone straight to his first name. But this guy just embodies what a person can do when they totally commit to jokes and to being funny as possible.

Ahir Shah: Machines is on tour between Wed 14 Sep–Thu 9 Feb.

Ahir Shah: Machines

  • 5 stars

An hour of comedy from Ahir Shah, covering topics as diverse as democracy, internationalism and lizards.