KATHLEEN PHILLIPS IS BESIDES HERSELF Written and performed by Phillips, with opener Katie Crown. Presented by Jake Labow Productions at the Diesel Playhouse (56 Blue Jays Way). Tonight (Thursday, June 19), 8 pm. $10. 416-971-5656. Rating: NNNNN
Like a lot of brilliant character comics, Kathleen Phillips has no problem finding her inner child. Right now, we’re sitting in an arty west-end café, and that kid has suddenly grabbed hold of my coffee cup to prove a point.
“Look at this cup,” she says, her eyes flashing. “If it could talk it would sound like this.”
She moves the cup around and puts on the gruff, overworked voice of someone who’s walking slowly on the table and perspiring.
“‘It’s so hot in here,’” says Phillips, playing the cup.
That kind of quirky sensibility – some might call it nuttiness – is what fuels Phillips’s comic creations, who take to the Diesel Playhouse stage tonight for her first-ever full-length solo show.
“I’ve done sets of about five or seven minutes, but nothing this long,” she says. “My work’s so different from stand-up, which I don’t think I could do at all. I’m pretty shy.”
Is she ever. When she’s not hiding behind a character, I can barely hear her talk.
“My work is all about the voice of the person – their comments, how they see the world. It’s not about me. My own observations aren’t as interesting as the ones filtered through these other people.”
The show includes some of her best-known characters, including her tough-talking west-end landlord and Yonona, the ultimate put-upon victim.
“I’ve written a new piece for the landlord,” she says. “He’s telling a classroom of children a story about what’s important in life. Of course, to him the most important thing is having a job. ‘Is it part-?time, full-?time, how many jobs have you had before?’
“That’s important to him because he came from some other country, with nothing except a hat and a muffin he got at the airport. Now he owns a bunch of buildings and has two houses in Brampton and a ride-?on mower. These, to him, are things that if you work hard enough you can have.”
Phillips recounts those details with the same care and empathy a novelist lavishes on her protagonist.
If her work has changed in the past few years, it’s become sparer, relying less on props and costumes.
“I don’t need to glue a whole bunch of stuff to my face and put on a costume,” she says. “Everyone knows it’s just me behind all that. It’s really about the voice and the way you move onstage.”
She pauses, considering something.
“Also, I don’t like wearing something and having people think, ‘This is what this person looks like,’ which isn’t half as important as ‘This is what this person has to say.’”
Phillips is one of the best of the city’s so-called alternative comics, who often congregate at the Rivoli on Sunday nights for Laugh Sabbath.
“I think we’re some of the more prolific comics because there’s this motivation to make each other laugh all the time,” she says.
Lately, she’s spent a lot of time perfecting her videos, often filming them solo in her apartment kitchen. And earlier this year, she finished taping a new sitcom series for the Comedy Network called House Party. She plays Hannah, who’s got a crush on/fetish for the series’ lead character.
“She’s a bit of a wallflower and a creeper,” says Phillips. “She spends a lot of the series trying to get the guy to notice her, and her tactics get more bizarre and psychotic.”
When I ask if there’s any connection between her House Party character, her character in the mockumentary series Cock’d Guns and her work on the Web series Good Morning World, she laughs.
“Nebbishy wallflower weirdo – that’s me! Hooray!”
Phillips on the similarities between her characters:
On making her comedy videos:
Beer And Carrots: