Doogie Horner Is the Most Hilarious Guy in Philly

Horner got a taste of fame last year on “America’s Got Talent.” So why is he still telling jokes to a roomful of South Philly stoners?

To Horner, comedy is art, just like the book covers he designs. Still, he and his friends admit they want to do it full-time — something that’s not possible here unless you hit the road every week or you have a radio gig like Conklin or Big Daddy Graham. For guys like Chantry who are on the verge, taking the next step is a struggle. He’d love to write for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” Then there’s Gerben, who is selling his house in Havertown to head north, and could help put his hometown on the national comedy map. “Headliners like Joe DeRosa and Kevin- Hart are known as Philly guys, but since Helium opened, no one’s gone [from Philly] to New York and made it,” Gerben says, pointing to the Boston circuit that’s produced Louis C.K., Dane Cook and Patrice O’Neal. “Scenes are defined by that.”

Horner falls somewhere in between. He has an agent friend who sent “packets” to some late-night shows — a few pages of timely jokes to give them a sense of his writing. He hasn’t heard back yet. Horner admits the lack of forward progress has been frustrating. “After being on ‘America’s Got Talent’ and winning ‘Philly’s Phunniest,’ it was really hard for me to be happy, because my expectations had been raised so much. I got gigantic exposure, but it didn’t lead to any real opportunities.” But the idea of working a soul-sucking job in New York to further his comedy career at night isn’t an option. “I like my job at Quirk a lot. I could never go back to doing graphic design that I don’t believe in. I’d murder my boss. It’s not worth it.”

ASK ANYONE who’s plugged in about the funniest Philly comics, and besides Horner, one name that always comes up is Anton Shuford. He won Helium’s contest in 2009, and last year moved to Jersey City to make a living telling jokes. On a snowy Wednesday night in December, Shuford shows up for an open mic at O’Hanlon’s, an Irish pub on the outskirts of the East Village. He spent his last five bucks on admission to another mic earlier that night. Shuford doesn’t have a day job — he’s currently getting by with paychecks from out-of-town comedy gigs and winnings from playing poker, either in Atlantic City or online. A good month for Shuford is having enough money to pay his rent and buy train tickets so he can get into and around the city and hit the clubs. It’s a lifestyle he admits is not for everyone. “New York is like a crazy girl,” he says. “Every second that she’s not my ultimate fantasy, she’s my worst nightmare.”

Shuford borrows five dollars and signs up for his turn on the cramped stage. The room is dark, and there’s all of eight people in it — six of them are the performers, and one is the host. Shuford’s name is called last. The emcee asks two comics to take their coats off and stick around for his set. It’s a depressing tableau, but Shuford isn’t bothered. “At the end of the day, it’s either go back to Philly and get a job and be unhappy,” he says, “or do what I love to do.”

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