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Jaime Pappas had done sets at Punch Line Philly before, but in late November she saw the Northern Liberties comedy club as never before.
“I’ve never been there either watching or performing for an entirely sold out show,” Pappas told Billy Penn. “I’ve never seen [it] so full.”
The show sold out the venue’s 300+ seats in under an hour, in part because of the evening’s sponsor: North Philly rapper Tierra Whack.
Since the release of 2018’s “Whack World,” Whack has been known for the wit that infuses the delivery of her raps and visuals. So her announcement that she would host a comedy show — while a welcome surprise for fans — was not out of character.
The idea for the event came from an understandable set of emotions.
“A lot of the issues that were arising in Philly, they were hitting close to home for Whack,” said Sam Black, the show’s project manager, who remembered her saying, “I’m tired of crying, I’m just gonna laugh.”
A call for artists went out in late October, to highlight “all the people that were already doing the work of making Philadelphia laugh,” Black said. She coordinated auditions and Whack herself sat as a judge.
The Whack A** Comedy Show took place a little over a month later. It featured eight local comedians: Funny Bul Quill, TaTa Sherise, John Phillips, Anthony Moore, Shanell Renee, Lawrence Owens, Jamie Pappas, and Jay Simpson.
Sherise, a 31-year-old comic from Camden who’s been working the scene for the past five years, noticed a difference that night.
Growing up, she was “always thrown in the middle of the circle at the barbecues,” so she hopped at the rare chance to perform with a DJ and strutted onstage to the synth-laden Jersey club beat of Lil Uzi Vert’s “Just Wanna Rock.”
“From there, I just won them over and I was able to go to the jokes and have a good time,” Sherise said. “Tierra Whack’s fan base and her audience, they were just full of life.”
Moore, a West Philly native, started his career here but now does most of his performing in NYC. He offered an explanation for why the Whack show felt different than the average gig: the relatively young age of the audience.
Comedy shows are “a more grown type of event,” Moore said. “Just from the money standpoint, you’re spending real money just because you got to pay for the ticket, you got to pay for two menu items, then parking.”
Recognizing he was dealing with a younger crowd at the Whack A** Comedy Show, Moore adjusted his act.
The plan was to “hit them with the heavy hitters and get out of it,” he explained, adding, “I did make some references to stuff that I knew will only work in Philly.”
The whole night moved quickly. Each of the eight performers was allocated only 10 minutes on set, but it was enough time to make an impression. “I left there with probably 150 more followers,” Sherise said.
Whack wants to create more opportunities for local artists to shine going forward, according to Black, the project manager — through various mediums. But comedians may be especially grateful, since the city’s scene isn’t as strong as they think it could be.
“You can find a room every night in major cities except for Philadelphia,” said Sherise, referring to venues amenable to comedic gigging. She contributes with a monthly program called TaTa Tuesdays. “That’s something that needs to change for it to be a lucrative comedy scene here.”
Pappas, a Temple alum who started her standup career in NYC but has been gigging around Philly since 2019, said crowds as lively as the one at the Whack show are far from a guarantee.
Unlike a band performing in a Philadelphia bar, she said, “unless people are seeking [comedy] out, it’s a lot different.”
In the spirit of Whack’s show, Pappas, Sherise, and Moore shared other Philly comics who deserve some shine.
Moore paid tribute to local legend Tu Rae Gordon, who helped him out early on, letting Moore sharpen his sets during biweekly workshops he convened.
Nights like A Whack A** Comedy Show, can and will be replicated, they said. If it happens, Sherise believes “we can have a jumping scene like the rest of the cities, where there’s a room every day to go work out as a comedian.”
For now, Pappas was just happy to take part. “I just really appreciated that Tierra was able to sift through all this comedy, and really put on a show for Philly, by Philly.”