“You are terrible people!” he yelled. “What’s the matter with you? I’m going to hunt you down. I want a list of all your names!”
Horner started pacing the stage and pointing to people in the audience. “That’s an ugly shirt! Your wife has a funny hairdo! You got a problem, buddy? I like you! I hate you! You suck! You’re cool! I’m gonna lose my voice in three seconds!”
By the end of his manic rant, the crowd was still standing, but cheering. Mandel and Osbourne, grinning ear to ear, never buzzed him. “You are really funny,” Mandel said. “I think this is a moment people will talk about, how they turned on you and you turned it right back on them.”
Horner moved on to the next round, but eventually lost to Murray the Magician in Los Angeles. The judges brought him back for the “wild card” round, and he lost again. (“I do want America to like me,” he said before being voted off for the final time. “But I don’t want to force myself on America. Like, ‘Hey America, do you want to hang out sometime? No pressure.’ If America doesn’t like me, I respect their wishes.”)
Then a funny thing happened when Horner returned home. Nothing really changed. “I got thousands of e-mails and Facebook requests,” he says. “But nothing legitimate, like ‘Here’s a bag of money and a sitcom.’” Horner’s exaggerating, of course — the AGT exposure surely didn’t hurt his chances in the Philly’s Phunniest competition that followed. His hot streak continued in the fall when Harper published his book, Everything Explained Through Flowcharts — an exploration of doomsday scenarios, the afterlife and pro-wrestling finishing moves that’s both cerebral and silly — which earned shout-outs from the New Yorker and Wired.
Yet he’s still living in Fishtown, designing for Quirk and looking for mics at night.
“I finally stopped accepting people on Facebook. You get these strangers like, ‘How’s it goin’?’ ‘Holidays coming up!’ There’s one guy that always recommends I like things. ‘Gary recommends you like the Doors.’ It’s like, I’ve heard of the Doors, Gary.”
AFTER ESCAPING FROM the December gig at Noche with more applause than expected, Horner is doing just as well at the Barbary, a small club usually populated by hipsters, until the impregnate-a-virgin joke lands with a thud. “It’s you,” he tells the audience. “It’s not the joke. That’s the stance I’m taking.” That gets a laugh.
Horner sticks around for a few other acts and slips out the back door after a lanky kid gets up and reads non sequiturs off a clipboard. Outside the bar, Horner says that’s anti-comedy, something he’s not into. “Acting like you’re nervous, not really telling jokes. It’s not real,” he says. “There’s no risk involved, no expectations. If you’re not funny, oh well. You weren’t telling jokes, right? It’s different when you’re up there trying to be funny and the audience doesn’t respond.”