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Philly's Comedic State of Affairs

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Center City Comedy ClubChris Cotton says Philadelphia comedy is at an interesting stage of evolution. “I think that we’re still in a childhood state, but we’re about to become adults,” Cotton said. “If you were to put it in human age terms, we’re about 13.”

What Cotton says is true. During the past few years, the local comedy scene has emerged. There are a ton of talented performers in the city, who unfortunately haven’t quite captured the city’s attention.

Now is a great chance to catch young stars on the rise, particularly at one of the city’s many open mic nights. The most well-known one is at Helium, where every Tuesday night 30 locals perform a few minutes on Philly’s most well-known comedy stage.

A few blocks away, a new show has taken off. Center City Comedy, co-hosted by Cotton, is held every Thursday night at the Raven Lounge located at 17th and Sansom Streets. Center City Comedy is known for its diverse performers and features every type of comic style.  Observational, profane, neurotic, edgy and all points in the comedy spectrum are represented. Center City Comedy is also known for having one of the area’s best audiences: in true Philly style, the crowd's supportive but also tough.

“It’s a free show and it has a pretty laid-back atmosphere. You can come in here and try out comedy,” Cotton said. “But you’re definitely going to get an honest reaction.”

Center City Comedy also isn’t afraid to try new things. Every week, two comics are pitted in a debate, pontificating on issues like Scrooge McDuck’s alleged greediness. Center City Comedy also recently held a night where each comic was handed a prop and was forced to riff on that object.

“We want to show people that there is more than one way to tell a joke,” Cotton said.

Cotton started stand-up four years ago, while he was a student at Cheney University. His career, however, did not get off to an auspicious start.

“I was booed my entire first set,” Cotton said. But his next one went a little better. “The second time I went up, I was only booed 75% of the time.”

Cotton stuck with it and started performing at open mic nights at Helium and South Street’s Laff House. He soon carved out a niche in the Philly comedy scene, where he’s known as having a very engaging, loose style.

“When I’m on the stage, I want it to feel like you’re sitting with me at table at the bar. I want it to come off like a conversation,” Cotton said. “But it’s going to be a bad conversation, because I’m the one doing all the talking.”

And, hopefully, one day the entire city will listen.

“I think our scene is in a very creative place right now,” Cotton said. “But it just hasn’t gotten the exposure yet.”

What you need to know:

Center City Comedy, every Tuesday. Sign up at 8:30 PM.

Raven Lounge, 1718 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103

www.ravenlounge.com  (215) 569-4869.

Helium open mic night, every Tuesday. Sign up from 6 to 7, show time is 8 PM.

Helium Comedy Club, 2031 Sansom Street,Philadelphia PA 19103

www.heliumcomedy.com  (215) 496-9001.