Can you be a star in Philadelphia?

Back in February, Philadelphia magazine profiled Doogie Horner, a quirky stand up comedian who has gotten some national attention, a major publisher’s backing and has the audacity to think he’s going to stay living in Philadelphia.

Doogie Horner is a comedian, and he isn’t encouraged by what he sees inside Noche, a Center City bar filled with binge-drinking 20-somethings on this cold Tuesday night in December. The room is jet-engine loud — not the ideal setting for tonight’s stand-up gig. None of the comics are getting paid. Horner thinks the guy who booked the show is a dentist. Seriously.

While the piece was largely a profile of Horner, there was this undertone of his still trying to make in Philly — a big city in population but not in celebrity or national voice.

Los Angeles has Hollywood. New York is the country’s capital of publishing, financial and TV. Las Vegas had created an entertainment industry. Other cities have a national voice by way of a central figure who forced it that way: CNN made Atlanta a news hub; Oprah gave Chicago a national platform; Warren Buffet made the financial world come to him in Omaha. So can you be a star in Philadelphia?

Philly mag formerly had this popular back page interview series that focused on big name perspective. On the whole, they were celebrities with Philly roots who had made good… elsewhere.

A couple of those interviews in the past year were with comedians actually, one with Dom Irrera and another with Wildwood-area-native Jim Florentine, two Philly comics who felt the need to leave to chase their dreams.

The Philly area has a long list of comics you know but who left to make good. Irrera and Florentine, Bob Saget, David Brenner, Tina Fey, Kevin Hart, Todd Glass an older, dead generation like Curly Joe DeRita, Larry Fine and W. C. Fields (who famously hated Philly more than most).

Bill Cosby sure seems like the kind of cultural institution, like an Oprah, who could have forced his will and made the business come to him, but he took a different route. While he still lives in Philly, he tossed his reputation onto a cultural war and lost.

You look at those like Cosby, stars whose names reach a height that it would seem like the business would come to them, and think that’s the way to create something. In music, Hall & Oates in the 1980s represented an entire genre of blue eyed soul, and the entire Sound of Philadelphia seemed like a shot. In entertainment, Will Smith and his long-time partner DJ Jazzy Jeff seemed like institution enough to build something, perhaps followed by the Roots.

Center City-based Comcast acquired majority stake in NBC, making it one of the world’s largest media companies, though much of its TV and entertainment divisions are staying squarely in New York City.

With so many chances that didn’t much lead to anything, I wonder if there is anything a young comic scene could do, aside from the true value of building another vibrant, local community.

That’s important too, but national perception seems to need a bigger push, and a few stars help do that.

4 thoughts on “Can you be a star in Philadelphia?”

  1. I have a sinking feeling that the local government and arcane union rules have something to do with this. What of the film council? What happened to the Disney deal at 8th? what happened to Will Smith’s soundstage? So many opportunities seem wasted because Philly wants to hang on to their old buddy ways. Philly is more a glorified Pittsburgh than a mini-NYC. (And PGH is a lot nicer in some ways.) Perhaps when union leaders realize that they need to work together to bring in the kind of entertainment deals/dollars then we’ll see more famous faces shopping on Walnut.

    What say you, Wink?

  2. Surely in a lot of ways you’re speaking to a broader worldview that could have informed this all. It’s also important that we know what/why we want. I think my point was we perhaps haven’t created a way to offer a true opportunity for our residents to succeed on bigger stages.

  3. I know the people with lots of money and the city officials (unions, elected officials, etc.) make a difference, but I don’t think Philly has the ground-level communities to support comedians, actors, or other potential stars. I think the many hole-in-the-wall comedy clubs are as important to L.A.’s comedians as the studios and producers are.

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