Bob Phillips Brings It to TC
Popular podcaster and comedian coming to Traverse City Comedy Club
By Anna Faller | Oct. 16, 2021
When you’re one in a crew of eight Catholic kids, it’s imperative that you find your spot.
For seasoned stand-up comic and self-proclaimed funny-man Bob Phillips, that spot was the center of evening entertainment. “I was the kid who watched Johnny Carson every night just to see the stand-up comedians,” he says.
So, it comes as no surprise that he took the stage himself. “I became very adept at entertaining my family,” he says. “I was encouraged to be the funny kid, so it felt natural to want to be an entertainer.”
Johnny Carson, eat your heart out. Now a long-time humor heavyweight, Phillips has performed countless clubs and theater floors in every corner of the country. His innumerable appearances include Fox’s “Laughs” stand-up comedy series and “The Anthony Cumia Show Featuring Dave Landau.”
Phillips is one-half of the wildly popular podcast, “The Sal & Bob Show” featuring Sal DeMillio and is a regular comedy radio presence, including SiriusXM’s “Rawdog,” “The Foxhole,” and “Jeff and Larry’s Comedy Roundup.”
In addition to his production pursuits, Phillips is a contributing writer for the OG sketch comedy site, “Funny or Die,” and has released three comedy CDs to date.
On Oct. 22, he’s striking another stage off the list: that of the Traverse City Comedy Club. We spoke with him prior to the show – and like one of his performances, we covered a bit of everything.
What attracted you to a career in comedy?
I was a Golden Gloves fighter in my twenties, and to me, stand-up comedy is very much like boxing. It’s all on you; you win or lose by yourself and no one comes to your rescue if things aren’t going your way. I like that dynamic. I also love the idea of conveying (what) moves me and makes me laugh to find commonalities with an audience. The best shows have those magic moments of understanding where the audience is in sync with what I’m saying.
How did you know when you’d really made it?
I started like everyone else: at the bottom. But, about 10 years ago, I started to get regular bookings around the country at the best clubs as a headliner. Working Las Vegas was also a big deal for me, because I worked as an emcee and feature act for about 10 years before that. It’s never been about the money … but it’s gratifying when you start earning headliner pay.
What makes finding success in stand-up so difficult?
When you’re a new comedian, it’s a challenge to get stage time to hone your act. There’s a finite number of comedy club stages, so you’ll have to do venues like coffee houses, or one-nighters like bar gigs, restaurants and bowling alleys – really anywhere else someone might set up a microphone. And then there’s also the challenge of finding your voice while falling on your face repeatedly in front of groups of strangers.
What’s your strategy when you flop?
Every comedian both new and experienced has flopped on stage. It is excruciating while it’s happening, but those are the times you learn the most and it’s in those awful moments that you forge your ability to bounce back and trust yourself. Comedy is about constantly taking chances and sometimes it just doesn’t work. So, I’ll sandwich a new bit in between some tried and true material. If it doesn’t hit, I know the next one will. But the worst moments on stage – and this has only happened a few times in the last 20 years – is when you blank. You forget the next joke or what segue you were supposed to use and you’re standing there with nowhere to go. It might only last for a few seconds, but it feels like an eternity.
How do you know when you’ve found a quality bit?
Most comedians feel that a key element to good comedy is to be relatable, but I think that’s only partly true. For me, it comes down to the idea that good comedy is reality plus or minus: Sometimes you embellish reality to find the funny and sometimes you subtract from it. Jerry Seinfeld once said, “A good joke is nothing more than a surprise.” By that logic, a comedy act is a series of surprises that unfold over an hour or so. The trick is to deliver them in a seamless and entertaining way.
So, how do you deliver your surprises?
My favorite topics tend to cause a visceral reaction in people; touchy subjects that might make (the audience) a little uncomfortable for a moment, but ultimately make them laugh. I like getting audiences to look at something familiar in a different way. When you’re on stage and you see that you’ve created an “Aha!” moment for 300 people, that’s when you know you’ve done your job.
Do you have any go-to content or routines?
At my shows, I talk about everything from my childhood and politics to dating sites and casinos – pretty much anything (of) interest that I can make (into) a relatable conversation. But one of my favorite jokes is about how I put on 30 pounds during the first quarantine. It’s a true story and it’s one that kind of wrote itself. It is about a six-minute story, which is an eternity for a bit, but audiences relate to it and seem to enjoy hearing me make fun of myself. But it’s not (even) my best bit! You’ll have to come to the Traverse City Comedy Club to hear that one.
What advice would you give an aspiring comedian?
Get on stage as much as you can, in as many venues as you can. I’ve played everywhere from hockey rinks and warehouses to bowling alleys and boats. There was even a nudist camp. Keep getting on stage, even if you bomb. You will bomb. So what? Keep writing material and experimenting, and always remember that your goal is to become a professional who gets paid to entertain people. As such, you have a responsibility to give them what they paid for.
The Traverse City Comedy Club at 738 S. Garfield Rd. welcomes celebrated comedian Bob Phillips on Friday, Oct. 22 at 7:30pm. Tickets are from $15-$25; visit traversecitycomedy.com.