Helium Comedy Club at 20th and Sansom has cancelled all shows — but online business is picking up

Like the rest of us, it’s a tough time for local comics. Many have taken this opportunity to pivot to virtual joke-telling, and are hoping it’ll be mutually beneficial.

“Business went from 100 down to 0 right away,” said Chip Chantry, a Philly-based standup comedian. “It’s a two-way street where I want to provide some entertainment for people and get my name out there, and, is there a way to monetize this and supplement an income?”

Nearly a month into social isolation, comedians are navigating how they can translate their work to the digital sphere. It’s not as easy as it might sound. Without back-and-forth with the audience, stand-up often falls flat.

“Without that response of a crowd, it’s really hard,” Chantry said. “We’re trying to figure out a way to take that standup comedy writing, and couch it into a more organic presentation.”

So what have they come up with? So far, there are interactive Zoom shows, Facebook vids and podcasts. Comedians are promoting their previous stand-up albums, and posting old performances on YouTube.

Brad Grossman, who’s been in the business 15 years and is now VP of Helium Comedy Club, has never seen anything like it before. But he’s long imagined the industry could take advantage of community engagement online.

“This is the first time we’ve been very focused on this,” Grossman said. “This has really pushed us to do something we’ve wanted to do for a long time.”

Helium has taken a huge hit during the coronavirus pandemic, Grossman said. With all shows canceled, they’ve had to issue countless refunds — and virtual content doesn’t yet bring in the same kind of revenue.

The club did launch a GoFundMe at the quarantine’s inception, hoping to pay staff while operations are shut down, and Grossman’s holding out hope.

The response to the cyber comedy so far has been overwhelmingly positive, he said.

“They’re really just thanking us for giving them something to distract them from their own personal challenges,” Grossman said. “They’re just grateful to know they can interact, and there are other people sitting with them online watching comedy.”

Need a laugh? Here’s who you should follow

Know any other hilarious Philadelphians? Tell us.

American Immigrant

Che Guerrero’s podcast talks about… exactly what you might think. The “American Immigrant” podcast is grounded in themes of identity, heritage and liberty, seen through the eyes of a witty Philadelphian. Check it out on Stitcher.

Black Gentrifier

The force behind the Comedy Central web series “Delco Proper,” Darryl Charles is a mostly-Philadelphia-based comedian who released his hilarious album just two months ago. Perfect timing!

P.S. Charles is also working on some funny virtual Facebook events.

Chip Mary Quarantine

The inaugural episode of this virtual quarantine comedy features two local comedians, Chip Chantry and Mary Radzinski. Every Sunday, kick over $7 to tune into a light-hearted Zoom discussion about social isolation. And you can email Helium in advance to submit a comment to be read live on the show.

Dad Meat 

This podcast is run by two Philadelphians, Tim Butterly and Michael Rainey. Lots of solid sports content and Dude Jokes™. Episodes come out super regularly and you can get access to even more if you pay them on Patreon — basically an endless content hole when you need it most.

David James 

The first-ever winner of Helium’s “Philly’s Phunniest” award in 2006, David James likes to craft his comedy routines around his relationships, his pet peeves and his old job as a probation officer. You can find his stuff archived on YouTube. 


Mary Radzinski is a Philadelphia-based writer and stand-up comedian. The Helium and Punch Line regular released her own comedy album, Discomfortable, in 2018. The whole thing’s available to stream on YouTube.

Duofest 2020

The Philly Improv Theater opted not to cancel their annual comedy festival this year. The club is still running Duofest 2020 every night until April 4, with improv performances streaming on Zoom starting at 8 p.m. Peep the lineup here.

Roasts, live shows and Q&As

Philly’s Helium Comedy Club is running a ton of events throughout the quarantine, featuring both local performers and nationally recognized headliners. Pay just a few bucks and pop into a show this week to laugh and support a local business.

Swingers Party!

Chip Chantry just released his most recent comedy album last year. It’s a whole hour and four minutes of laugh material dissecting bathrobes, ancestry websites and Radioshack. You can listen on Apple Music or Spotify.

Ya F#cked It

This weekly comedy podcast is brought to you by two locals, Brian Six and Ryan Shaner. It’s essentially a rundown of their own personal chaotic-slash-hilarious life decisions. Listen on their website.

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...