WHAT: Phil the Void Evening Banana
WHEN: Friday, April 16: doors open at 6:30 p.m. (reception with food and wine); show starts at 7:45 p.m. $30
Saturday, April 17: 8 p.m.; $20
WHERE: IndyFringe Building, 719 E. St. Clair St.
Phil van Hest AKA Phil the Void has now been to Indianapolis three times performing at the IndyFringe. His show is a delicious combination of intellectual and guttural — and is one of the most dependable tickets at the IndyFringe. Indianapolis, then, has a treat in store: Phil van Hest is filling the void and coming here, mid-year, to perform at the IndyFringe Building this weekend.
When I reach Phil in Los Angeles, we begin with me asking Phil if he remembers the first time he ever got a laugh.
PHIL: There was the one when I was three, and a more informative one when I was 15.
NUVO: Let's start with the three.
PHIL: My parents lived in on-campus student housing [in Davis, California] — both getting their masters degree — and they had a professor friend over for dinner. When the doorbell rang, I went over to answer the door and said, according to legend, "My father has hair on his testicles and I don't. Do you?"
NUVO: What about the laugh you got at 15?
PHIL: I was looking for a place to hide during lunch [in high school] and I wandered into this room and before I knew what was going on someone said "Hey, you're upstaging yourself," and I turned with a mouthful of burrito and said "Huh?" and a roomful of people was laughing at me. I'd wandered onto a stage where an improv show was going on.
NUVO: You literally, accidentally, became a performer?
PHIL: Yeah. I went back there every day.
NUVO: What was so compelling about that experience?
PHIL: I'm a sensitive ego-maniac in that I can tell when people's moods are changing. I can tell how people's feelings are, and then I immediately presume it has something to do with me. Which is rarely the case. But when I was 15, I just knew that people needed me. If I wasn't going to be there to tell them how to enjoy their lives, then what were they going to do?
NUVO: Especially in infancy and toddlerhood, we think everything IS us.
PHIL: I feel like society at large is doing us a huge disservice by even starting us off with this "You are different from everything else" or "You are separate from everything else" or "This is you and that is him and that is her and that is you..." That is not true. This dangerous detachment happens. If you don't feel like you ARE the earth, then you're not going to care about it. If you don't feel like you ARE other people, then you aren't going to care about them.
NUVO: But isn't being able to discern self from others fundamental brain development?
PHIL: The definition-by-opposites introduces us all into this world of duality that we spend the rest of our lives trying to transcend.
NUVO: This makes me think of your email signature, which reads, "Love, everyone, Phil." – Your exhortation is to love everyone.
PHIL: That's the ideal, right? But as we all know, some people are just really really hard to love. I've been battling with the concept of being able to instantly forgive those trespasses. Usually, when people are mean to you, it's an accident, but if you take it personally things can get out of control.
NUVO: What's a recent example where you went through one of these interactions?
PHIL: It was a dialogue I had with myself – and this is not just because I'm a Gemini.
I was trying to go to sleep and I had an epiphany – as so often happens in that pre-unconscious state ... and it was thrilling and revolutionary and instead of writing it down, my brain said "oh don't get up – if it's THAT amazing you'll remember it in the morning" and of course I didn't. And then the same thing happened a couple days later, and then a week later, and then two days later it happened again, and then a month later, and I realized I've been doing this for years. I've been avoiding recording this thought — and I don't know if I am forgetting a new thing every time or if I've been forgetting the same thing over and over. I can't tell the difference. And if I can just remember this one thing, I would have most of everything figured out.
NUVO: A lot of the humor in your work comes from you observing your own brain.
PHIL: Your thoughts consist of electric pulses and chemical pathways that carve themselves into your brain like canyons in a river and then they want to keep going that way. But that's stagnation ... death. You have to force your brain to do new things —to see things in the new way. If you don't pay attention your brain will just do the thing it wants to and not let you know about it.
NUVO: There is the paralysis that comes from being overly self-conscious.
PHIL: That's the biggest pitfall of them all. Like Theseus and the Labyrinth. Any fucking jackass can wander into a labyrinth. If the labyrinth is your mind, getting out and still knowing where you are – that's the tricky bit. All of the religious and spiritual readings I've been doing ... stress going the middle way, this balance. Go wherever you want, just be aware, you can go too far that way. You'll get used to going too far. You have to reign yourself in.
NUVO: You're speaking to the necessity of self-discipline.
PHIL: The concept of personal responsibility is negated by this culture that we live in where we have so many cultures that we have NO culture – we have law as the only culture we fall back on.
NUVO: And it seems we're also so isolated.
PHIL: Completely. And more and more – we're isolated in the name of connectivity. Connecting with someone via the Internet has zero to do with connecting with someone face to face.
A lot of my concepts of dis-connectivity are informed by the fact I live in Los Angeles, because people ignore you as a matter of course because other people are potentially dangerous — or time consuming. Only homeless people talk to you... and they all want change. It's just safer for everyone to keep their head down and not acknowledge each other. There's a conscious effort to exist alone in the crowd.
NUVO: I always see you interacting with all sorts of people during the Fringe.
PHIL: I want to make everyone talk about anything, because so many people have so much to say that is so different from the way I look at things. I can't do this alone. I can't sit here and imagine the world the way I think it is and pretend that's how it is. There's no way that's going to work.
By the time something reaches the stage, I've talked with 80 random people about it.
NUVO: You're constantly trying out your material – even on complete strangers?
PHIL: The way I get my ideas is by harassing people.