In partnership with Philadelphia Black Gay Pride, every day throughout the month of February we will spotlight an influential black mover and shaker in the city.
Today: Philly playwright, comedic storyteller and all-around hilarious person R. Eric Thomas. Since moving to Philly from Baltimore to chase down Patti Labelle (an adventure he describes in the video above), Thomas has racked up all kinds of accolades and achievements. He’s won two First Person Arts StorySlam competitions, he was invited to give a TedX talk, and he’s written and performed some of his most popular work, including Will You Accept This Friend Request, to sold-out crowds. He is currently working as an admin at the Philadelphia Theatre Company, and continues to perform his unique style of “stand-up dramedy” around the city. You can catch him this week, in fact, when he hosts First Person Arts‘ annual Valentine’s Day story slam, “The Ex Files.” More info here.
What’s your Philly connection?
I’m from Baltimore, which is like Philly but with crab cakes instead of cheesesteak. That’s pretty much the only thing you need to know. Oh, and also The Wire. People get really excited when I tell them I grew up on the same block as Omar’s house. What I don’t tell them is that that block is actually located on a soundstage in Toronto. My Philly connection is Patti Labelle. I don’t actually know her — I only met her twice — but I moved here to stalk her. Well, stalk is a loaded word. I moved here to be close to her without her knowledge or permission.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Paula Abdul. I don’t know why. I don’t even like Paula Abdul. And that MC Scat Kat gives off a real creeper vibe. But I had this book that I ordered from one of those Scholastic Club catalogs called How to Be a Child Star and it had Paula Abdul and Neil Patrick Harris on the cover, and I was obsessed with it. Come to think about it, I don’t even know why Paula Abdul was on the front. She wasn’t a child. She was a grown woman singing about her love-hate relationship with her cat. And, in that sense, I did become Paula Abdul. All my dreams have come true.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
Oprah. Cake. Beyoncé. My parents. Clair Huxtable. That little girl in the Cheerios commercials. Places that make copies of your keys (How do they do it?!) Harriet Tubman. Storm. My trainer at the gym (LOL, just kidding, I mean the barista at Starbucks who is nice to me.) Phil Connors from Groundhog Day. Olivia Pope. Leslie Knope. The Audacity of Hope. Irish Spring Soap.
I feel fiercest when …
I’m at work. Maybe it’s lame but I really love my job (I work in theatre admin at Philadelphia Theatre Company) and I feel like I’m good at it. And I spent so much of my 20s doing jobs that didn’t matter at all, where my presence had no import or impact, so to show up and feel like I’m accomplishing something really means a lot. I know I’m not saving lives or whatnot. I’m not performing heart transplants (at least not officially. I mean, for a small fee I can hook you up.) But it matters in its own small way. It does. I feel the same way after getting off stage, actually. I really like performing and I’m fortunate to have found a niche where I feel comfortable — storytelling, mainly. Or stand-up dramedy (branding!) Sometimes I’m on stage and I become super aware of how tuned in an audience is to what I’m saying and I think, “This is exactly how Celine Dion feels every minute of her beautiful damn life.”
What’s your proudest achievement?
I once had three brunches in a day.
If you had one super power what would it be and how would you use it?
I want to say invisibility because I’m a sneaky-ass bitch. But that would probably get old after a while. So … let’s go with flight for $500, Alex. Because I am constantly late and I suspect I wouldn’t be if I didn’t have to deal with the tyranny of reality. Train schedules and traffic are beneath me. Literally. Cuz you’re in the air when you fly, right? Anyway, I always wonder if the physical exertion of flying would be the same as that of running. Because I am 100 perent not here for that! Like, what if flying to Austin (to meet the hipster barista of my dreams!) would be equivalent to running a couple of miles. Can you imagine? You touch down from your flight and you’re drenched in sweat and wheezing and throwing up a little? Do you bring a change of clothes? Where can you shower? This is not as efficient as you thought. And who knows what kind of disgusting stuff is in the air. It’s like ocean but with no water (that’s a scientific fact) and the ocean is filled (FILLED!) with fish shit. So you’re soaked, exhausted, giving all kinds of struggleface and you’re covered in air grossness. Not a good look, my friend. Not a good look. In conclusion, the superpower I would like is the ability to swim in money like Scrooge McDuck.
Finish this sentence: In 10 years I …
Oh gosh, the future! What even is it? That is a serious question. What is my aspiration in life? My aspiration in life is to be happy. Cue fountain of tears. Anyway, in 10 years I hope to be writing and performing in a sitcom. It will probably be on the Internet or Instagram or something. Or just, like, a series of GIFs. But whatever. That’s what I want. And also a baby. Maybe the sitcom will be about my baby. Oh, gosh! The future! Have you heard? It’s incredible!