Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. And then there are times when fiction influences truth. Such has been the case with comedian Henry Phillips. In 2009, he co-wrote and starred in a film called Punching the Clown. In it he played a fictionalized version of himself, and the film drew critical praise. These days it can be streamed for free at Hulu, and a sequel called Still Punching the Clown is set for release soon.
“It’s in the can and we’re submitting it to the festivals,” he says. “We just submitted to Sundance, so let’s keep our fingers crossed there. This time we have a lot more bells and whistles in terms of well-known names in comedy.” Starring with Phillips is Oscar-winner J.K. Simmons, along with Sarah Silverman, Tig Notaro, Mike Judge, Doug Stanhope, Al Madrigal, and Jim Jefferies.
The two films are only one facet of Phillips’ comedy though. For years, he was most-widely-known as a comedian who sang funny songs, but these days he’s concentrating more on straight standup. “I play a couple of the songs that get requested, but mostly I tell stories and throw in a few one-liners," he explains. "I’ve always liked a good one-liner. I’ve just had more of a craving to tell interesting stories. Ones we can relate to and all laugh about.”
Phillips has also become involved in creating videos, and produces two different web series, Henry’s Kitchen and You and Your Fu*king Coffee. The former was inspired by the plethora of cooking videos hosted by mostly single men. Phillips stumbled on to these on day, and decided they were ripe for parody. In Coffee, he destroys the lives of various people with his need java.
With so many creative outlets, it’s sometimes hard to focus on one, especially being adept at all of them.
“I’ve thought about this a lot and over the years. I feel one of my biggest problems is I like doing so many creative things it’s hard to pick one to go with,” Phillips says. “But I don know if that’s really a problem. It could be an asset.”
He offers advice to others struggling with what medium to pursue: “Whatever thing you wind up going with, make sure it’s also something that can be an outlet for all your other interests. For example, in my web videos I always have music in there, that way I get a little bit of an outlet for writing my own music. And I also have a lot of one-liners in there so I can be joke writer as well.”
While the idea of making a film can be daunting, Phillips wasn’t rattled. “I didn’t direct the movies,” he explains. “That was a friend of mine named Gregori Viens. He financed the first one himself, and with the second one he got a production company involved. There were several Hollywood producers involved as well. I wouldn’t know where to start with that.”
Phillips does produce and direct the web videos, though. “Over the years the technology has become more accessible,” he says. “You can edit right on your laptop, do your own music, and you can run the cameras pretty cheaply. And if people are onboard with what you’re doing creatively, you can get some very talented people to work with you on the budget you have, which is nice.”
Video, it seems, is now as viable an option for creative people as doing open mic music or comedy. “It’s not as hard as it used to be,” he states. “I mean, you could basically start from scratch the way you can with music or comedy. You can go up and tell some jokes or put a flip camera in front of yourself, start taping, and put it on YouTube. You might wind up reaching the same amount of people. An open mic with 200 people or a YouTube video with two hundred views? It’s kind of fun to think about.”
IF YOU GO:
Acme Comedy Company
708 N. First St., Minneapolis
8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Call 612-338-6393 or visit www.acmecomedycompany.com for tickets