Standup Henry Phillips on YouTube videos, why it's hard to make fun of Bob Dylan
Henry Phillips started off as a serious musician before discovering, sort of by accident, that deadpanning silly lyrics could generate big laughs. He's been doing standup and singing funny songs ever since. But just because his songs are funny doesn't mean he's any less serious about music.
"I don't think I'm lacking in the music department, because I still put out records," he says. "There are still full bands and arrangements. On the last one I used a lot of orchestral arrangements. It's still an album, and I'm still writing songs, but I just use more satirical lyrics."
That last CD, Let's Get Suicidal, was essentially a soundtrack for his hit YouTube series, Henry's Kitchen. It's a parody of the self-made cooking videos that populate that channel.
Phillips creates everything at home, and that includes music for others projects, such as the film Punching the Clown, a 2009 effort that he starred in. A sequel is scheduled to start filming in November. Phillips also did the music for the film Women Aren't Funny, directed by fellow standup Bonnie McFarlane. "I'm sort of a one-stop shop for producing video and music and audio, so that's how I make my Kitchen videos."
Having the recording equipment at his fingertips hasn't changed his creative process though. "For music, I always try to have a completed piece of music whether it's a song or an instrumental piece," he explains. "Then I start on the performance end and lay it down, then start adding layers of things to it when it's time to record."
And that's pretty much the same process he's always used. "It's not too much different. My first few albums were recorded in big studios, but the method is still pretty much the same," he says. "You want to have all of your music done, but everybody does it differently. I've been trained to have all of the ideas arranged and then go to the computer and start doing that."
While his own music elicits laughs, his musical tastes run to the more serious side.
"I'm a big fan of singer-songwriters," he says. "Ben Folds is someone I like a lot. I also like some of the harder-edge stuff like Jack White. I'll pretty much listen to anything. When I'm driving, I usually throw on an album I grew up with and listen to it. Something that gets me full of nostalgia like ELO or Queen. But I've got a lot of friends who are turning me on to newer music lately, really cool stuff."
For his music, he usually parodies the singer-songwriter genre, though his new setup may allow him to tackle other styles. "I think that would be great," he says. "Something has to make me laugh about it, and usually the stuff that makes you laugh is the stuff that takes itself most seriously. So if there's any kind of playfulness that's part of the musical genre you're trying to make fun of then it's harder because it's already self-aware."
"It's easy to make fun of Neil Diamond in the '70s, because he was always so over-the-top, always wearing his heart on his sleeve, and taking himself very seriously," he further explains. Now contrast that with someone like Bob Dylan. "There was always a self-awareness, a little wink like he's in on the joke, and it's harder to make fun of that. Anything that takes itself too seriously leaves itself open, so that's just a general rule that I have. Country music, when it does take itself too seriously, is a little easier to make fun of, and I've done that. But I don't have any specific styles I go after."
IF YOU GO:
Acme Comedy Co.
708 N. First St., Minneapolis; 612-338-6393
8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about arts and culture events in Minneapolis & St. Paul and offers you won't hear about anywhere else.