Thursday, May 31, 2012
Typical Henry Phillips tunes start saturated in ’70s-era, James Taylor folk.
“She never was abused when she was younger,” he sings with Neil Diamond tenderness.
Then, when you least expect it, Phillips employs a mild-mannered kick to the groin.
“Her father never up and ran away/ And even though her family gave her all the love she needs/ som ehow she’s a bitch anyway.”
“The Bitch Song” is one of many originals that Phillips – performing Saturday at the Alternative Cafe – matter-of-factly merges polished singer-songwriting chops with unexpected doses of sardonic humor. Irony, satire and juxtaposition are his holy songwriting trinity.
“The more sweet and authentic the song sounds, the funnier it is when you throw in the crazy lyrics,” Phillips says. “When you listen to singer-songwriters from the ’70s, they’re putting themselves out there so much and taking themselves so seriously, that you almost can’t help poke fun at it. I’m trying to work within the genre but give a different twist.”
Far from the raucous, in-your-face musical humor in acts like Tenacious D and Weird Al, Phillips’ approach to timing and non-abrasiveness takes the form of a Bob Newhart-Jonathan Richman club sandwich.
“Some of the funniest parts happen between the silence and the delivery,” Phillips says.
But it’s not as easy as it looks “to be constantly humping the wall in between [music and comedy],” and it’s harder to make a living at it. Fortunately, a few years ago, Phillips’ teeth finally began to puncture the mainstream skin. He and a bunch of friends made Punching the Clown, a feature-length, semi-autobiographical film – co-written and starring Phillips – about a guy trying to make it in Los Angeles.
“It’s mostly about being a fish out of water,” he says.
The film’s only fictionalized element involves Phillips becoming mistaken for a neo-Nazi singer-songwriter through Hollywood’s rumor mill. Since the film’s 2009 release, it’s consistently racked up high scores on Rotten Tomatoes, raked in rave reviews from outlets including The New Yorker and Village Voice, and most importantly, expanded Phillips’ fan base.
“I’m not very fond of my TV appearances or my half-hour special on Comedy Central,” Phillips says. “But the movie I really stand behind because it’s me being me.”
He’s also been working his deadpan humor into his new YouTube series “Henry’s Kitchen,” featuring comedic, awkward cooking demos of Phillips’ favorite dishes like Henry’s Lip-Smacking BBQ Beer Fish, seasoned with chives, “fresh beer” and rosemary “pricks.”
“This next part is pretty nasty,” Phillips explains in the demo. “We’re just gonna take all this shit and stuff it into our fish.”
HENRY PHILLIPS performs at 8:30pm Saturday, June 2, at the Alternative Cafe, 1230 Fremont Blvd., Seaside. $10. 583-0913.