I’m not only trying to showcase the amazing food and drink scene that Philly has become, I also want to feature the city’s most interesting people and voices that contribute to our food and drink scene in any significant way with my new segment, Good Food, Good People – Articles that highlight some of Philly’s most interesting people directly or indirectly involved with the city’s thriving food and entertainment culture. Case and point: Comedian and Philly legend TuRae Gordon.
I spent the better half of a decade working directly and indirectly with TuRae through our work at the now closed Laff House comedy club, which was a legendary comedy establishment located in the heart of South Street. Like a lot of huge names in comedy (Kevin Hart, Keith Robinson, Bill Burr, and Deon Cole come to mind), TuRae frequented the Laff House’s stage while finding his comedic voice in the early stages of his career before making the obligatory trek up to New York where more opportunities for paid gigs in stand up came about. He’s traveled all around the world to perform stand up, even in countries as foreign to the art as Korea, but he still manages to keep a regular schedule in Philly to provide us with his take on any issues facing Philly and abroad, as well as bringing in the many friends he’s made along the way in comedy on a weekly basis. It wasn’t until later in his career that I met him and eventually came to know him as one of Philly’s funniest, most original, and dare I say, important voices.
Admittedly, his bluntness can sometimes come off as crass to those not yet used to meeting him both on and off stage, as the two personas can sometimes become mistaken for one another, but that’s in my humble, yet educated opinion, what keeps people interested in his comedy and personal philosophy. There have been countless social settings inside and out the comedy clubs where TuRae didn’t shy from telling someone, myself included, what he or she desperately needed to hear, or at the very least give them a perspective that they didn’t yet consider for one reason or another.
One of his classic bits that could introduce you to his comedic “brand” is his philosophy on living the life you want. In his case, being a comic.”This is the best job you can get without having to take a drug test” is one of his many quotable punchlines that stuck in my head over the years, first heard when I was but a lowly entry-level employee at the Laff House, serving two-drink minimums and trying to gain my footing in creative writing and local media.
After the Laff House closed down, Philly’s urban comedy scene more or less took a hit, forcing a good portion of the city’s comics to seek regular gigs elsewhere, whether it be in new cities or by starting their own weekly or monthly shows in various bars, showrooms, and even movie theaters. TuRae was quick to further dig his comedic footprint in the city by starting his weekly Soul Comedy series at the established Warmdaddy’s restaurant off of Columbus boulevard, where he brings in seasoned comedy headliners from all around the country to perform for Philly crowds, as well as allow newcomers to stand up to perform short guest spots to nurture their craft.
Among his list of comics who gained momentum on Tu’s stage is comedic superstar and Philly native, Kevin Hart, who first went by the stage name “Lil’ Kev, the Bastard” when he started performing at the Laff House. At that point, TuRae was already producing his own weekly comedy show at the club and gaining a significant following in Philly. Since then, the two started stacking their TV credits and the rest is history. They’ve kept in touch since then as Kev even featured TuRae in his feature-length stand up film, Laugh At My Pain.
TuRae is by far one of my favorite comedians, and his wit and ability to shut people down with his philosophies are what makes him a great comedian (not to mention that his complete loyalty to the city of Philadelphia, regardless of his commercial success and travels, makes him a man of the people), but being the comedy nerd that I am, my favorite thing to discuss with TuRae is his extensive relationship with someone I consider to be one of the greatest comedians of all time, the late Patrice O’Neal.
TuRae and Patrice met through being in the same comedy circuit in New York. When Kevin Hart invited TuRae to his place in L.A. during his filming for the movie Soul Plane, the two had a chance to meet and establish a kindred spirit of professionally talking shit.
“I guess we bonded because we were both loud and black!” Tu laughs. “But he took a liking to me, we got really close when I crashed at Kev’s spot in LA while Kev was doing Soul Plane. Patrice was out there doing something. We taped [the HBO stand up series, Def Comedy Jam] together in 2008, and when I moved to NYC, we lived near each other and our friendship was bigger. We worked some of the same circuit.”
After the two established their friendship, Patrice started inviting TuRae, along with a few other selected comedians, to his house in New York for annual Thanksgiving dinners and 4th of July barbecues to ensure that nearby comics on the road had a place to break bread with other like-minded people (in fact, I recently came across some comedy-nerd worthy footage of his time with Patrice online which you can watch below).
TuRae’s experience as a Philly native comedian exemplifies the exact type of stories of which I hope to cover in my series of articles documenting Philly’s entertainment culture as well as it’s food. But by now, you may be even asking yourself “What the hell does this have to do with food in Philly?” I’ll explain that to you now.
If it’s any kind of dinner and a show that go hand in hand in Philly, it’s TuRae’s weekly Soul Comedy series which happens every Wednesday at Warmdaddy’s. For those who haven’t been there, Warmdaddy’s menu specializes in classic, southern styled soul food dishes with a hint of modern presentation that doesn’t take away from the cuisine’s traditional roots. And in my eyes, it’s as American as any food can get, which says something coming from a foodie living in the birth place of America.
Whatever you end up getting their, from their southern fried chicken platter with a side of turkey collard greens, to their low country catfish in a spicy creole sauce, always get it with their skillet baked corn bread, which always comes fresh out of the oven, coated in a thin layer of sweet honey, ready to eat out of the skillet upon arrival.
To me, those who say that America doesn’t have an identity in terms of cuisine really show their lack of consideration on the matter. Say what you will about the conditions prefacing its conception, but soul food is hands down as American as it gets. With all due respect to cheeseburgers and steaks, the process of making soul food alone exemplifies what it means to live the American dream of making something out of nothing. Like beginning a comedy career in a city as brutally honest as Philly, soul food has no room for errors because the ingredients in which you make it with were, originally, not much to brag about. Kind of like the shitty jokes you take on stage with you at your first open mic. But with a little work and dedication those ingredients will eventually become something worth taking to the table.
Soul Comedy is a weekly production that happens every Wednesday at Warmdaddy’s which TuRae hosts along with another personal favorite of mine, comedian Buck Wild (known from, among other things, his recent tour with comedian Mike Epps). The next installment of their show on March 2nd is already sold out as TuRae celebrates the 2nd anniversary of Soul Comedy with comedy superstar, Sommor, know from her appearances in The Queens of Comedy and The Comedy Central Roast of Flavor Flav.
That’s not to say that you can’t visit him at Warmdaddy’s any other Wednesday or keep up with what he has to say on Twitter and Instagram @ComedyByTuRae. You can also take a look at Warmdaddy’s full menu at warmdaddys.com or follow them on Instagram @Warmdaddys.
Warmdaddy’s is located at 1400 S Columbus Avenue, right next to the United Artists movie theater.