When South Philly’s Doogie Horner left the area to head to New York City, he did so with intentions of furthering his comic craft and expanding his horizons.
He wrote and published his debut, fictionalized novel, ‘This might hurt a bit,’ and young adult short story books, ‘Some Very Interesting Cats’ — which feasts on 100 funny tiny tales and his full-color illustrations — as well as his silly holiday classic ‘A Die Hard Christmas.’ He got married, and had a child, too.
Yet, when it comes to recording new live albums of fresh material, such as 2016’s dry witted ‘A Delicate Man’, Horner always returns to Philly – to Sansom Street’s Helium Comedy Club, in particular. Like his upcoming second comedy album, ‘Dad Max’, which he’ll record at Helium on Sept. 28.
Horner recently sat down with Metro to discuss what makes his particular brand of smart and silly stand-up comedy work.
How swell is it that you’re still able to do what you’ve been doing for so many years – pandemic or not?
The quarantine was like a comedy detox for me. When corona hit, I had been doing standup for so long that I had started to take it for granted. I told jokes because that’s what I did. It was a habit. Maybe it was more than a habit, maybe it was even an addiction. People with real addictions — heroin, chocolate, buying Legos — might think I’m exaggerating; maybe I am, but I know that my identity and self-worth depended on the attention and affirmation of public performance. That dependance was sapping some of the fun out of standup, although I didn’t realize it at the time. Taking a break helped me remember what I enjoyed about standup when I started doing it, years ago. When clubs reopened, I resumed performing because I wanted to, not because I felt compelled. I guess there’s nothing complicated about it, it makes sense: if you take a vacation, you’ll come back ready to work.
How is the new material you’re presenting at Helium, and how representative of your current headspace is it?
About half of the hour that I’m going to record at Helium on the 28th are jokes that I’ve written in the past six months. So, a lot of them are about living in the country. When the pandemic hit, my family and I fled NYC like cowards, and we landed in a tiny, tiny, tiny town called Alfred, New York. Amazingly, there’s another comedian in town, a guy from New Zealand, of all places. His name is Steve Wrigley, and he’s going to open for me at the recording. Considering that I recorded my previous album six years ago, the material on this new album is similar, but different. I have more long jokes, and the style is a little more conversational; the different subjects connect more through free association. I think I’m hiding the segues better, and also getting more performative.
With all this change—moving around, aging—do you feel funnier now than you were when you started out?
That’s a great question. I think I’m a better comedian now than I was on the last album. I think so… I hope so! However, it’s interesting. The time that I felt like I was the funniest was when I had only been doing comedy for two or three years. I went back and listened to one of those sets recently, and it was objectively not as good as one of my recent sets. But three years in was the time when I was making the biggest advances in my skill level. At this stage, the improvements are smaller, more incremental. One thing I’m trying to do is tell jokes that seem like they plausibly might not be jokes—but they’re still funny. Do you know what I mean? Like I’m saying things that are funny, and I just happen to be on stage. People laugh more when they forget that you’re a comedian. I don’t know if the laughs are louder now, but I don’t have to work as hard for them. I’m trying to make the act seem more genuine—which it is.
Why do you return to Philly to record your comedy albums as opposed to doing them in NYC?
I prefer recording in Philly, rather than NYC, because I like the crowds better here. In some ways, Philly crowds are tougher than NYC crowds—I’m much more likely to get heckled here—but they’re also more engaged, and lively. Everyone in NYC is exhausted from spending half their day commuting and the other half working. Plus, Helium is where I stepped on stage for the first time, so it feels good to record there. I have history there.
Doogie Horner will perform at Helium on Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. For information and tickets, visit philadelphia.heliumcomedy.com.