Philadelphia isn’t the best city in which to perform standup comedy, but it’s certainly not the worst. It’s a town, like so many others, that has some nice people, some rude people, and some people who wander Old City all day dressed like Ben Franklin.
Chris Gethard’s Vice editorial, “Philadelphia is the Scariest Place to Do Comedy,” (originally titled “Philadelphia is the Worst Place to Do Comedy”) claimed that Philadelphia has unusually aggressive crowds, and we have replied by threatening to stone him to death with D-cell batteries.
Why did Chris have bad shows in Philadelphia? Let’s break down the three shows he specifically mentioned in the essay:
1. The Chris Gethard Show at Connie's Ric Rac: Chris titled his show "New York is Better Than Philadelphia." This is probably why the crowd was a little antagonistic. I know that someone burned his book onstage, but I also know that it was done as a joke (this was a comedy show), and that it's certainly not the craziest thing that's ever happened on the Chris Gethard show. As you reap, so shall ye sow.
2. An Upright Citizens Brigade show at Villanova University: The show started with someone interviewing a kid who had cancer, which put a damper on the rest of the evening. Well, I'm sorry, but that's how we begin every comedy show in Philadelphia, so just get used to it.
3. A UCB show at the TLA: Chris admits that, despite his initial misgivings, the show went well, and that the crowd only got rowdy when an audience member hopped on stage to propose to his girlfriend. Here's an experiment you can try in any city: Go to a wedding, and right before the bride and groom kiss, hop up onto the lectern and start telling jokes. Observe the crowd's reaction.
Regardless, three shows is a small sample size. I don't think Chris's experience in Philadelphia has been typical. For instance, he mentions two bad shows at the TLA, but I've seen Reggie Watts, Anthony Jeselnik and Michael Ian Black perform at the TLA, and they all had great shows. Nobody heckled them.
I don't want to brag, but I've had horrible shows in many, many different cities, including New York. The worst show I ever had was in at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan. One joke and 20 seconds into my act, 2,000 people were booing me. Now, that was an audition for America's Got Talent, so it wasn't a typical New York crowd. But it demonstrates the unreliability of assumptions based on small sample sizes.
Finally, I think the fact that Chris is from out of town probably affected his experience in Philadelphia. Chris Gethard is hilarious and deservedly has a great reputation in NYC, so he performs on top-notch shows. There are a lot of bad shows in NYC that a performer at his level rarely sees. But his reputation in Philadelphia isn't as strong, so the crowds he draws aren't the quality he's used to.
You can't say Philadelphia is rude and then claim our indignant reaction proves your point. I've done comedy in Philadelphia for six years, and it's one of my favorite cities to perform in. The crowds are honest and genuine. They're real people, and if you act like you're better than them, yes, surprisingly, they won't like it.