I ask Doogie Horner to tell me something about his friend and fellow Philly comedian Corey Cohen — a funny story, an anecdote, anything.
“None spring to mind,” Horner says. “Oh. One time I hosted a New Year’s Eve show, and we had a woman go into labor and a full-sized man crawled out of her vagina at the stroke of midnight. Corey played the baby. He was covered in blood. True story.”
Facebook photos from that 2009 gig at Connie’s Ric Rac back him up. There’s the newborn and mostly naked Cohen, baldcap askew, lumpy pillowcase diaper barely hanging on, red dye and glitter smeared all over. He’s got a microphone in his hand and a smile on his face.
“Thank God I had a friend at the time who had a place next door, because I had no plan for getting clean. Everybody’s kissing and stuff, and I come off the stage and I’m fucking disgusting,” Cohen laughs.
So, wait. He had no shower-based exit strategy in place?
“I never do. That’s the thing about me. Like most anybody who’s got a decent a sense of humor, I’m probably a little bit damaged,” he says. “That’s why when [Horner] was, like, ‘I need somebody to come out as a baby,’ I was, like, ‘Done.’ I was, like, ‘Cover me in blood, dude. I’ll be as naked as you need me to be.’”
The West Philly-born Cohen, 27 years old and a part-time teacher, has built himself a rep as a go-to guy. There’s the performing, of course, and then there’s the behind-the-scenes stuff.
“From a young age, people told me I was funny, which is a fairly typical story,” he explains. “It was that particular apex: Seinfeld was popular, I was a little Jewball, I was funny, people were, like, ‘You’re a little Seinfeld,’ and then that corollary kept following me my whole life.”
Once he was enrolled at Central High in Olney, Cohen and some classmates took advantage of the school’s halfway decent audiovisual department to write and film comedy bits to crack each other up. “When you’re in high school and you’re with your friends and you’re discovering your creativity, it’s like nothing could have stopped us.” (Cohen still does video sketches with area YouTube upstarts Down the Show.)
After that he went to Temple and moved on to improv and sketch comedy, most notably with late, lamented The Sixth Borough troupe. “All of us sort of had our own strengths and weaknesses. Corey’s strength was ‘being a boy genius,’” says fellow Sixth Borough alum Gregg Gethard. “On top of being funny, he also wrote a lot of smart stuff that actually said something.”
Although he’ll likely be scaling it back soon, Cohen’s Conan-esque regular gig at Underground Arts, The Big Show — where he riffs on the news, interviews fellow comics and so forth — is an ambitious undertaking that showcases his agile and in-the-moment sense of humor. The progenitor to that is Comedy Confessions, a funny, forensic examination into the life and jokes of his comic peers. For this year’s First Person Arts Festival, he’ll revive the concept and pick the brains of national and local funny people Dave Hill, Alejandro Morales, Hillary Rea and Greg Stone.
Cohen’s love for show biz doesn’t stop at stage left, however. We’re talking about a guy who subscribed to Variety as a teenager and who begged his parents to take him to see The Daily Show and Dave Chappelle when some of his peers were pleading for Britney tickets. Back in the mid-2000s, when Connie’s Ric Rac was looking to become a legit music and comedy club, the still-in-college Cohen was showing up at L&I hearings to support the effort. (This inspired a particularly memorable satire of City Hall bureaucracy for The Sixth Borough.)
“I ended up submitting some paperwork on their behalf,” he says. “They still did, by far, the brunt of the work, but maybe I gave them a little kick in the pants. And maybe they were even a little bit embarrassed that I was 22 or 20 and getting involved, but I think that they knew that I was enthusiastic and about it and I wanted to help make it work. That’s why I was down there. But it was also because I wanted to learn everything I needed to know about a venue. I think that I’ve always just had some general fascination with entertainment and how entertainment works.”
He went on to book and promote shows at Connie’s Ric Rac, big names, too: Eddie Pepitone, Todd Barry, Hannibal Burress. These days, Corey Cohen Productions is putting on shows at the larger, newer Underground Arts venue.
“I’ve always been a good connector,” he says of his role in the Philly comedy scene. “It’s a small enough community that I know people from all different swaths of it, that I can bring people together.”
While social media has helped level the playing field for young comedians looking to get noticed, comedy in this town remains a tough gig.
“Crowds in Philly, they start you at a deficit. It’s like, ‘You’re here to make me laugh? Fuckin’ make me laugh. You’re not making me laugh.’”
He shrugs the shrug of a man who’s both killed and bombed on stage, who’s booked big names and lost money. “I’ve done everything under the sun when it comes to comedy, I really have,” he says.
Of course, it’s performing in front of a crowd that delivers the biggest rush. “I have that real nice high when I get off and I’m done, and I don’t feel it again until I’m back up on stage.” Which is probably what drives him to the wilder stuff, like the New Year’s baby sketch. There’s a wistful, regretful look in his eye when he describes a part in a Silence of the Lambs-inspired sketch — naked, junk tucked behind his legs — he once got talked out of.
Comedy Confessions, meanwhile, is a halfway cerebral endeavor, a chance to get into the heads of his peers and into the heart of their shared obsession with making people laugh. “I want to get more into what do you really think drives you to do this. Like, what’s your damage? We’ve all got it, what is it?”