The Comedy Stylings of Grant-Lee Phillips

From The San Francisco Examiner

January 7, 2010
By Tom Lanham

Talk about wit. Thanks to the birth of his baby daughter Violet, chuckles raconteur Grant-Lee Phillips, the tone of his new album “Little Moonâ” is “less Thurber and more Gerber.” Since his gig at Berkeley’s Freight and Salvage next week also features Glen Phillips, he slips into carnival-barker mode: “Come one, come all. It’s a double header! Two Phillipses for the price of one!”

The Stockton-bred folk singer, who’s funnier than fans might imagine, will test his standup strength the night after on Jan. 15 at Sketchfest, when he appears alongside Dave Foley and Illeana Douglas at the Paul F. Tompkins Show.

His close chums know the former Grant Lee Buffalo bandleader’s secret.

“I’ve always had one foot in the comedy world,” he says. “Years ago when I first moved to L.A., I became friendly with comedians like Paul F. Tompkins, and we’d often perform together. I usually had a guitar around my neck, but we’ve often blurred the lines between music and comedy.”

The duo’s best skit? The show where Phillips presented a seasonally-depressed Tompkins with a ribbon-tied shotgun at Christmas. “And he said ‘Great! I can finally do it!’ It was such a terrible, tragic moment,” Phillips says.

Who does what during the routine? They never answer that question until they’re onstage. Phillips says, “At best, Paul will e-mail me an hour before the show, asking if I know that old Rush song where the trees can’t get along. And then I have to scramble.” Comics and composers have much in common, says Phillips, 46: “There’s just a certain temperament. One has to be very critical of everything around them to write a joke or a song, and when you’re thrust onstage, you have to sink or swim.”

So he’s honored that his subtle, Wilde-ian wordplay on “Little Moon” just earned him a Best Singer/Songwriter Album of 2009 nod from iTunes.

Phillips started out as a magician, formed Shiva Burlesque in ’86, Buffalo in ’91, then wrote jokes for a short-lived VH1 sketch show before going solo in 2000. His comedy career still might catch fire — he and Robyn Hitchcock have been working on a rock opera called “Jason Keane — Man of Action.” “It’s about a superhero who’s completely prepared for anything, but nothing ever happens — he just sits at a desk,” says Phillips. “I think it’s high time for such a thing!”

Grant-Lee Phillips
Where: Freight and Salvage, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 14
Tickets: $22.50 to $23.50
Note: The Paul F. Tompkins Show is at 8 and 10:30 p.m. Jan. 15 at the the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., S.F.; tickets are $25

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