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Henry Phillips’ slow rise to being almost famous

Comedians love him, and the rest of the world is starting to catch up.


David Britton


Posted on Sep 1, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 3:12 am CDT

If you do standup comedy long enough, it’s bound to happen. Constantly writing, hitting area open mics with vigor, sooner or later you’re going to write a perfect joke. Years of work will culminate into 10 seconds of gold onstage and, if you’re very lucky, you’ll get the ultimate compliment: Another comic will come up to you after the show and say, “That new joke was hilarious! It sounds like something Henry Phillips would write.” 

Although he’s not part of the collective conscious the way Amy Schumer or Louis C.K. are, Phillips is loved by fellow comedians and has built a sturdy fanbase by touring all over the country. His semi-autobiographical film Punching the Clown garnered an 86 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and the New Yorker called it a “wry, poignant, smartly satirical comedy.” The sequel, which stars comedic heavyweights like Tig Notaro and Sarah Silverman, debuted at South by Southwest.

“The premiere was packed and well received.” Phillips tells the Daily Dot via email. “However, being that we were a small fish in a big pond, I felt like it was harder to get in the spotlight. We have a couple more festivals coming up this year, so let’s hope that they’re much more small time!”  

It’s been a busy year for the comedian, singer, and songwriter. In addition to his film work, and touring, his new standup special Neither Here nor There hit the web this summer.

And this all puts Phillips at a crossroads. Although he will continue to do both standup and movies, with a finite amount of time and energy to expend, he needs to invest in one.

“There will always be a unique thrill that happens when you make a crowd of people laugh with something you say live, especially on a great night. I don’t think anything can compare to that,” he says. “[B]ut if you figure that the goal of a comic is to express funny things/thoughts that arise, filmmaking seems to be the more complete medium. If a funny, ridiculous or embarrassing situation occurs, as a filmmaker you can re-create the scenery, hire people to play the parts of those involved, tell them to say it in the way that you remember it happening, and then everyone can experience it the way you did.”

He says he loves getting to see so much of the world, and meeting people from all walks of life, but the grind of being on the road is getting to him. “The day of travel before and after the gig takes years off your life, and depletes your soul,” he adds.

While it has a more of a humble budget than his movies, Phillips is also known for his YouTube cooking show, Henry’s Kitchen, where he fumbles his way through some of the saddest meals of all times. Only a true genius could purposely edit something this poorly.

The ability to do things like that Henry’s Kitchen is something that he feels is one of the positive changes that has occurred since he started doing comedy.

“It’s much more proactive. When I started, there was no social media, or podcasts or YouTube. So in order to ‘make it’ you had to make this impossible jump from the club stage to national TV. Seems ridiculous when I look back now. Now I have 2 indie movies, and even my own little series that 10k people watch every month, and I didn’t have to get a deal or anything. The new normal is producing things yourself, and I find it empowering,” he says.

An empowered Henry Phillips is something everyone can enjoy.

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*First Published: Sep 1, 2016, 4:00 am CDT