Q&A: Henry Phillips
Henry Phillips is one of the most versatile comics on the comedy scene. The lifelong Los Angeleno splits his live act between music and jokes. His one-liners focus on awkward human interactions and everyday grievances while his original songs hone in on jilted love. Phillips, a guitar player, has released five albums, landed airplay on nationally syndicated shows, and appeared on Jimmy Kimmel.
Phillips also cooks—or attempts to—in “Henry’s Kitchen,” an instructional YouTube series where his curse-filled culinary adventures often end in disaster. More of his short video series include “The Loner,” about a man who flubs barfly come-ons, and “You and Your Fucking Coffee.” Deadpan delivery and a resigned attitude are Phillips’ trademarks; he rarely smiles onscreen, but he leaves his audience in stitches.
Q: How did your musical comedy style develop?
A: I did a lot of open mic nights as a musician. Eventually I started laughing at some of the people I was working with and how they took themselves too seriously. I started satirizing that and it became an act of making fun of folk music, kind of in the way that Spinal Tap made fun of heavy metal music. It took off from there.
Q: Which musicians influenced you?
A: The kind of stuff I’m making fun of would be Neil Diamond, Gene Chandler, and Billy Joel’s more serious songs.
Q: What sorts of experiences are you mining for material? They seem to be primarily love songs.
A: That’s what most songs are about. I never liked it when people did a song about something that has nothing to do with anything a real artist would sing about. For example, Billy Joel has this song “She’s Always a Woman” and it’s about how this girl does all these awful things but “she’s always a woman to me.” So I listened to that and thought, “What if there was a guy who wanted to sing that same thing, but had a reverse situation where she was brought up well and lived in a wealthy country, and yet somehow she’s a bitch anyway?” [My musical persona is] a guy who wants to sing like the big boys do, but his experiences are not quite the same.
Q: Your YouTube series “Henry’s Kitchen” is hilarious. Who taught you how to cook?
A: I don’t know how, actually.
Q: When you made the water bath for the cheesecake, I thought for sure you knew what you were doing.
A: Wait, which?
Q: When you submerged the cheesecake tin in a pan of water? That’s a “water bath.”
A: Oh, yeah! I think that was just in the directions. I try to make it so I’ve never done the dish before [filming]. When I made the sushi in Episode Five, the sushi came out perfect. It was a real problem, ‘cause I was like, “There’s nothing funny about this sushi.” So I had to do it again and this time I had to overstuff it and use a butter knife to try and cut it so it would go all over the place. Making sushi is not quite as difficult as you would think.
I think being a good cook is like music—some people have a knack for it. Having a sense of how long to cook stuff or how much of a certain seasoning to put in, that’s just sort of a natural thing. Maybe you get better at it over time, but I’m not very good at it in real life. And, remember, no one can taste what I’m making.
Q: What recipe would you use for a seal-the-deal meal?
A: It would probably be stir-fry, which I’ve only recently started experimenting with, and some kind of fish, but I would hope to God that it came out good. Generally, I like to go to a restaurant and leave that to the professionals.
Q: Do you have any plans for future series?
A: I have “You and Your Fucking Coffee.” I purposely used the profanity because I knew it was never going to be on TV. I don’t know how its commercial success will be, but I will continue to make those two-minute vignettes of me making coffee and making a decision that winds up destroying the lives of people around me. We’re probably going to make a sequel to the movie “Punching the Clown” and that will shoot in November.
Q: Was the coffee bit based on yourself or something you observed in the population?
A: It feels like when you’re a coffee drinker and someone offers you something to drink and you choose coffee, they always get this look on their face that’s disconcerted, like, “[Groans] Why do you have to make me go make you coffee?” So that’s what it’s based on. It’s all exaggeration, which is what most of my comedy is.
Q: Failure and loneliness seem to be recurring themes in your work; what makes those things funny to you?
A: I think that’s what all comedy is. I don’t think I’ve cornered the market on that one. I guess there are certain comedians that are more about chest-bumping and bravado, but I don’t find that funny. I think it’s funnier to laugh at people when they’re down and out. Maybe it’s cruel but there’s nothing funny about watching when life is well put-together and you’re making all the correct decisions.
Q: Do you find any humor in how people live in
A: Our lives are very similar [to other places]. Everything’s becoming more global. We’re all watching the same media nowadays. We listen to the same podcasts and satellite radio. People think everybody in
L.A. is rollerblading in
their thong bikinis and drinking cappuccino with Paris Hilton. And, yeah, I do
that every week.