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Tickle Me, Emo

Spikes replace the Prince Valiant 'do, but Philips still plays the loveable loser.

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From The Tonight Show to Saturday Night Live, TV viewers in the '80s couldn't get away from Emo Philips. In his signature singsongy drone, he fidgeted his way through cracks about nursing a beer with his nipple, getting his unit caught in his fly, and being called a "pervert" by his girlfriend. "That's a big word for a girl of nine," he'd quip.

Then his bank account flatlined: In 1992, he forked over $35,000 to finance Meet the Parents, a comedy about a male nurse on a trip from hell to meet his fiancée's overbearing dad. Out of cash to distribute the film beyond a handful of markets in the U.S., Canada, and Britain, Philips (who had a small role as a video-store clerk) sold the movie's rights to Universal, which remade the picture in 2000 . . . and then made lots and lots of money off it. "If you don't mind, I'll stop now, as it's taken me three years of therapy just to be able to [talk about it] this much," Philips sighs. "Let's just say I'm thrilled to be back at stand-up."

No kidding. With frequent gigs in Europe, Philips is taking a side trip this weekend to Cleveland's Hilarities 4th Street Theatre, the former home of the Cleveland Opera House. "They just don't make theaters like that anymore," he proclaims. "Thanks to those damn child-labor laws."

The Illinois native concedes that he's grown up in the last decade. Even his looks have been overhauled: He's ditched his page-boy bob for a spiked, streaked 'do. But he wouldn't have it any other way. During his self-imposed sabbatical, Philips realized that stand-up comedy is the only job in the world that brings him a decent paycheck. "True, much of my audience is now far younger than I," he muses. "But ideally, they will look at me in a whole new way. Rather than as their coolest peer, I'm the coolest teacher they've ever had."

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