Tasty News: Read An Exclusive Excerpt from The MODEST PROPOSAL ANTHOLOGY ft Interviewee/Comic Henry Phillips
Anything that takes more than eighteen years to put together is well worth investigating. The Modest Proposal Anthology, edited by comedy zine maverick and Emmy Award winning producer Ryan McKee, is just the passion project that demands the attention of comedy fans and future comics of the world. The comedic time capsule, Bob’s Burgers‘ Tina Belcher would truly be proud of, harkens back to a time before Twitter diatribes existed and overnight TikTok stars reigned supreme. The compilation features original interviews from over 40 comedians, writers, and directors spanning the period between 2003 and 2006. In addition to never-before-printed interviews, it included updates from the subjects in 2020, with updated quotes, and a backstage/under-the-table look at the comedy culture away from stage and screen. Just some of those stand-up comedians who’ve made a name for themselves since being a part of this genius endeavor include Dave Chappelle, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Sedaris, Marc Maron, Maria Bamford, Patton Oswalt, David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, Jim Breuer, Paul F. Tompkins, Doug Stanhope, Anthony Jeselnik, Jonah Ray, Dave Attell, Eugene Mirman, Kulap Vilaysack, and Greg Fizsimmons.
Since we’re feeling generous and (we received the editor’s blessing), we have for your an updated interview from the anthology featuring “guitar comic” Henry Phillips. The interviewer, fellow comedian Ron Babcock, recounts experiencing the amazing, unique humor of Phillips, and going on to befriend the legendary entertainer. Then we get some insight into life on the road, Henry’s heavy metal days, and his decision to part with those flowing locks. Nosh on some pumpkin pie as you savor the good old days.
by Ron Babcock
Original Interview: Modest Proposal Magazine 2005
Updates: Modest Proposal Anthology May 2020
When Henry Phillips walked on stage at the Tempe Improv carrying a guitar, I didn’t want to like him. You weren’t “supposed” to like guitar comics in the aughts. It’s a crutch, man!
“Well, Ron and Ryan,” you may ask, “didn’t you use musical instruments in your act?” Yes, but we at least had the decency to not know how to play them.
All that went out the window as soon as Henry started. His understated delivery of sincere ballads with sadly absurd lyrics made me totally forget to not like him.
“I have one foot in the music door and one foot in the comedy door,” he said. “So, I’m not getting anywhere, I’m just sort of humping the wall in between the two doors.”
After the show that night, we befriended both Henry and the opening act, Chris Fairbanks. A few years later when we moved to LA, we invited them to one of our first shows. It was at this hip bar in Silverlake with white upholstered cushions for walls. We didn’t think they’d come. Comics almost never go to a shitty bar show that they aren’t booked on. But in walk Henry and Chris. They said they came to lend support. Although the most supportive thing they did was not comment on how bad we bombed that night.
A few months later, Henry headlined our monthly show at The Paper Heart back in Phoenix. When Ryan reached out to him about updating his interview, he commented on how many good memories he had from that trip, but he apologized for spilling beer down Ryan’s back. Ryan joked that he didn’t even remember. That’s probably because it didn’t happen to him, but to me. Here’s my journal entry for that night:
After the show we moved down to Bikini Lounge where we started drinking like Prohibition was starting tomorrow. I have never had as much fun there as I did on Saturday night. Henry poured beer down my butt crack …
The joke’s on him because later in that same entry I wrote: We got home in the middle of the night, after a six-hour car ride, where I learned that I apparently heavily fart in my sleep.
Before falling asleep during that car ride, I opened up to Henry. I was very self-conscious about being a virgin in my mid-twenties, even though I joked about it on stage. (If you want to learn more, listen to “The Virginity Story” off my album THIS GUY on Spotify.) He was so kind about it. He just said, “Ron, don’t worry. You are going to have so much sex in your thirties. You won’t believe how much sex you will have.” And you know what, he was right. Well, he was mostly right. It depends on what your definition of “so much” is.
Since pouring beer down my butt crack, Henry has released multiple comedy albums, earning him a Critic’s Choice in BillBoard Magazine. He also made the semi-biographical film Punching the Clown, which received the Audience award at the Slamdance Film Festival, and the sequel Punching Henry. They are the best examples I have ever seen of a comedian translating their act to a different format and making it even better.
He has also appeared in HBO’s Silicon Valley as the ponytailed uber low-energy IT guy and on Comedy Central’s Drunk History. His YouTube series Henry’s Kitchen has millions of views and is quite simply, one of my favorite things on the internet. Plus, Moby once said he was “disconcertingly funny.” I can’t think of a better review.
Henry’s updated responses are in blue
Is the road taking its toll yet?
It’s exhausting. The problem is those two days in between gigs where you’re sitting there going, ‘What the hell am I doing?’
Surprised I didn’t mention the two full days of plane travel that bookended those trips. Your flight gets delayed, so you try to compensate your body by stuffing your face with Pizza Hut and Cinnabon. Those days took years off my life I’m sure!
So, is this what you wanted to be?
I fell into it by accident. I wanted to be a heavy metal guitar player in a rock band.
Looking back, I’m glad I entered comedy instead of rock music. Rock musicians appear to have a tougher time thriving through their later years because they are tied to youth-oriented fan bases, whereas comedy is something you can keep finding fresh ways to do throughout your lifespan.
What bands made you dream of that?
Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Triumph—that one didn’t really fit in there, but I thought the guitar player was so good.
Hell yeah, still love those bands. I should add Queen and AC/DC, and everything in between.
Do you still listen to Triumph?
I have two of their records in my car as we speak.
Yes, mostly for nostalgic reasons. Trying to play some of that stuff to a fresh listener would not be easy.
Did you ever actually play heavy metal?
I was in a heavy metal band in high school that literally went through all the garbage that other bands go through in a twenty-year period within about six months. Our name was Abyss.
I’m still pals with the members of Abyss. It’s a dark childhood secret that we have all kept from our loved ones. We share a common bond, similar to the kids from It, but Abyss was way more embarrassing than the clown.
Triumph would be proud of that name.
We went through the one guy getting a girlfriend and breaking up the band to reforming. Then one guy got into drugs, so we used the term ‘solo project’ for him, because he got kicked out of school for dealing drugs. We also used the term ‘photo session,’ which meant that the drummer’s mom would use her Polaroid and take pictures of us for a flyer.
These are already way too many confidential details about the Abyss days, so I’ll stop it at this.
How much shit do you get for being a guitar comic?
I only get shit if people haven’t seen it before. I started out playing in music clubs—being considered a musician who wasn’t taking music seriously and getting shit for that. And then I moved to comedy clubs—being a comedian who was using a prop. Some comics are like, ‘Well I don’t want to follow a guitar act because a guitar act is going to kill doing “Wasting Away in Diarrheaville.” But a lot of comics note that I’m not hard to follow, because I’m basically just doing stand-up comedy bits to music. Doug Stanhope is the perfect example. I was friends with him for three years, and he purposely avoided seeing my act because he said he was afraid I was going to suck, and he wouldn’t want to hang out with me. But when he finally did, he started bringing me on the road with him and touting me as a good comic.
This is pretty telling of the times. I only really hear older comics complain about guitar comics nowadays. Doesn’t seem like younger people are keeping that stigma alive from what I can tell. Maybe because there have been a lot of great musical comedians: Bo Burnham, Lonely Island, Flight of the Conchords, and many others. I think it’s more acceptable if the act is original, but that counts whether you have a guitar or not.
Why did you cut your flowing rock star glam locks?
Sex. I wanted to have sex more. It just isn’t appealing to hang onto your youth. I could show you a picture of what it looked like toward the end, and somebody needed to put that hair down. It had had a long happy life, but it was time to say goodbye.
This holds up. Now, if you’re FAMOUS and have flowing glam locks, that’s a different story. But I wasn’t.
How do you keep it real?
I don’t make promises I’m not going to keep. If somebody says to me, “Hey do you want to be involved in this project?” I’ll say, “Yeah, but only if tomorrow when we wake up and I’m sober, I don’t have to talk to you about it ever again.”
There are exceptions. But learning how to honestly tell someone you’re not interested in what they want you to be involved with never gets easy. But it’s a necessary skill, otherwise you’ll find you have no time to do the things you love.
Mentions: Pick up the Modest Proposal Anthology on Amazon. The anthology is also available from Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Rakuten, and other international sites. Learn more about Modest Proposal HERE! Follow Ryan THERE.