Benjamin Franklin was rolling in his grave when he found out that he’s only mentioned once — briefly and in passing! — during all two hours and 45 minutes of the Broadway smash hit Hamilton.
That’s what Franklin’s modern day incarnation says, anyway.
In his spare time, Mastery Charter School teacher Chris Kuncio channels Philly’s favorite Founding Father.
For one of the most clever and unique tour options in Old City, Kuncio becomes Franklin, embodies him — not the wizened old man seen on the $100 bill, but the brilliant young dude who kickstarted this nation.
Through sick rhymes and inventive metaphors that would impress even Lin-Manuel Miranda, Kuncio plays Ben as his alter ego rapper, Philly O.G., taking history aficionados around to landmark spots in Franklin’s life.
Wearing breeches, a tricorn hat, a cravat and, occasionally, a 76ers jersey, Kuncio tries to stay humble (never Ben’s strongest virtue) while separating the man from the myth, the myth from the legend, and the legends from American nationalism tightening its grip on the education system.
Coincidentally, the board Kuncio uses during lectures for his high school classes shares a wall with what used to be Ben Franklin’s house.
For Kuncio, a Billy Penn Who’s Nexter, becoming a Franklin impersonator was part fate, part frustration. He got his first taste of the tour guide scene during grad school, when he needed a side gig as he was earning his masters in education.
The double-decker buses were fun — “I got to be snarky, work my own jokes and expertise in and pump up Philly,” Kuncio said, “which is one of my favorite things to do” — but not living up to their full potential.
“So many of these tours were too generic,” Kuncio explained. They were led by “a bunch of old dudes” who skipped a lot of rich Philly history. They were all saying the same thing, and plenty of it was not only boring, it was inaccurate.
Franklin cheated on his wife? “Deborah Read Franklin was a ride or die chick, so Ben would never,” Kuncio said.
Give Ben credit for “inventing” electricity? “You can’t ‘invent’ electricity. Like, that’s not a thing. Please stop teaching children that,” Kuncio groaned.
He’d gotten into rapping in college, and decided it would be the best (and most entertaining) way to teach about Franklin’s place history, not only because of Hamilton‘s fame but also because most of the iconic thinker’s greatest feats happened while he was in his 20s and 30s.
“Ben was so young when he did all of the stuff he’s known for,” Kuncio said. “He was only 26 when he set up the library, only 30 when he set up the fire company.”
If he were alive today, Kuncio suggested, Benjamin Franklin would be a successful polymath millennial, or maybe “another Jay-Z.”
Chris has “a lot of beef” with Hamilton because it doesn’t mention Philadelphia at all, but he does give the play credit for inspiring a couple of Philly O.G.’s lines.
As far as raking in the Benjamins, that paper is hard to come by for Kuncio, despite a solid slate of online reviews.
The dilemma lies is getting people to go on walking tours. Sometimes, even the promise of a resurrected rapping Ben Franklin isn’t enough to get the tourists out of their Segways.
Kuncio is working on a new marketing angle: get recognized by the 76ers somehow.
The new “Phila Unite” campaign for the NBA Playoffs campaign has a logo based on Franklin’s “Join or Die” snake, so Kuncio sees opportunity. Need another halftime performer, Sixers?