By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Media Services
October 13, 2009
His high-pitched voice and shaggy bangs are as much his trademarks as his dry, sardonic wit. And Emo Philips, 53, a comedian for most of his adult life, can’t imagine doing anything else.
“It’s just something that works for me,” says Philips, who resides in Los Angeles. “I get to travel and tell my stories on stage. It’s the ideal life for me.”
Though he executive produced the original 1992 version of “Meet the Parents” (the film that didn’t star Robert DeNiro) and dipped his toes into film and television work, Philips isn’t looking to make a mark for himself as an actor.
“I’m a good stand-up comedian and can’t say the same about my acting abilities,” he says.
Philips talks about his travels, including a trip to Nepal where he got to witness — among other things — a cremation ceremony.
Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?
A. San Francisco is an amazing city. Lombard Street there is fantastic. But if I could just wish myself back to one place, it’d be Nepal. I loved seeing the wild dogs and monkeys in the streets. It’s so different from what I’m used to. There’ll be like 30 people riding in the back of any kind of vehicle and people will pass on the hills going the wrong way. It’s crazy, wonderful and so much fun. A lot of Westerners will mistake poverty with spirituality. It’s interesting because many Nepalese are dirt poor, but they all dressed nicely. Their pants are pressed, their hair is combed and they’re thin and presentable. And then you see Americans earning more than the whole village and we look like a bunch of clowns wearing T-shirts and gym shorts.
Q. What is your best vacation memory?
A. In 1995 on a riverbank in Nepal, I watched a cremation ceremony during which a few boys chatted pleasantly on a ledge 10 feet or so above the burning body, oblivious to being completely enveloped by the rising smoke. At the same time, perhaps a half-dozen yards upstream, a group of monkeys amused themselves by repeatedly jumping into the river from an overhanging tree branch.
Q. How do you try to fit in when you’re a tourist?
A. When I hung out in Paris a lot, I bought a street cleaner’s uniform and carried a local paper around and didn’t brush my teeth a whole lot and I fit right in. Actually, it’s a myth that the French are snooty and rude. They’re very friendly actually — among the friendliest in the world. I don’t understand how they got the reputation for being rude. I don’t speak French and they could not have been nicer to me or more helpful. I love the French!
Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A. There is nothing I have to have with me to be OK on a trip. I always want to travel light ‘cause then you can just jump on any train. But then you’ve got to go to the store and buy everything or you wear the same thing and wash it in the sink every night.
Q. Have you ever been guilty of being an “ugly American”?
A. No, but I have been mistaken for being Canadian. When you say “please” and “thank you” in some countries, they just assume you’re from Canada and not the United States.
Q. What have you learned from all your travels?
A. The food is worse in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world. The best burger I ever had was in Ireland. It still had a bell on it!
© 2009 JAE-HA KIM
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