On Stage: Finding live comedy is no laughing matter in the era of COVID

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times 


Efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic have created many unpleasant side effects.

One of these side effects is that finding a live music show in the area by a national act is an unachievable task.

A resulting side effect from this is that many people who are accustomed to attending several concerts and stage shows each month have been going stir crazy. They have been jonesing big time for a night out in front of a stage.

Fortunately, there is a route to escape cabin fever.

Finding a live comedy show by a national act performed locally is relatively easy thanks to the different series presented each weekend by Punch Line Philly (33 East Laurel Street, Philadelphia,www.punchlinephilly.com).

Following the venue’s successful Patio Series, Punch Line Philly, the comedy club in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia, is bringing comedians Godfrey, Chris Distefano, Corey Holcomb, a Philly All-Pro Comedy Series, and others to the club for a series of socially distanced performances.

The first show to take place inside Punch Line Philly since March was the Philly All-Pro Comedy Showcase on November 4.

The new series continues with Godfrey from November 5-7, The Corey Holcomb 5150 Show from November 12-15, and Chris Distefano from November 19-21. More artists will be added, and the Philly All-Pro Comedy Showcase will become a reoccurring show on the first Wednesday of each month.

Godfrey has established himself as one of the hottest comedians on the circuit. Like many comedians, Godfrey’s entry into the world of comedy started when he was a class clown in grade school – but that’s not the complete picture.

“I wasn’t ‘the’ class clown,” said Godfrey, during a phone interview Wednesday evening from his home in New York City. “All my friends were clowns. We were always funny — and always getting in trouble. Teachers always scolded the funny kid.

“It shouldn’t be that way. You shouldn’t get punished for making people laugh. Comedy is a form of intelligence and it doesn’t get the respect it deserves.”

Some of Godfrey’s ability to be funny could have a lot to do with genetics.

His full name is Godfrey C. Danchimah, Jr. and his parents are both from Nigeria.

The ability to laugh at others, themselves and their situations comes naturally to Jamaicans and West Africans – especially Nigerians.

“Nigerians love to laugh,” said Godfrey.

Godfrey incorporates impressions of Africans speaking in realistic-sounding dialects with routines about growing up in America with Nigerian parents. His depictions of his father – complete with Ibo accent – are highly requested parts of his performances.

Ibo (or Igbo) is one of the two main languages in Nigeria. The other is Yoruba.

“We didn’t speak Ibo at home and I never learned it when I was a child,” said Godfrey. “My sister was born in Nigeria so she spoke Ibo but my brother doesn’t. My parents left Nigeria to escape the Biafra war and they didn’t teach the language to my brother and me when we were growing up in Chicago.”

Godfrey’s parents unknowingly encouraged his bad/comedic behavior by showing him classic comedy films from an early age.

Despite his disruptive tendencies, Godfrey was a good student.

He attended Lane Technical College Preparatory High School and received an academic scholarship to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he majored in psychology.

At the University of Illinois, he made the varsity football team and performed at a traditional talent show for new team members. He stole the show, performing impressions of his coaches and teammates and discovered his comedic talent. While performing impressions of his college football teammates, Godfrey realized his irreverent style of comedy might be more than just a hobby.

“In college – in my last year – I thought I’d try standup,” said Godfrey.

“In college, you’re a free thinker and can rebel against things. With comedy, you can be rebellious and funny at the same time.”

Godfrey honed his stand-up skills at the All Jokes Aside comedy club in Chicago in the early 1990s.

“I was nervous the first time I went onstage,” said Godfrey. “It takes a lot of stage time until you really get comfortable. You have to do it 100 times.

“It really takes about 10 years. Your outlook changes. You get comfortable with yourself. My early influences were Cosby, Pryor, Carlin. Eventually, you find your own style.”

In 1995, Godfrey made his New York debut at Carolines on Broadway and the Comic Strip Live and was soon signed by the William Morris Talent Agency.

He began working regularly in television, first behind the cameras as a warm-up comedian for The Cosby Show and Soul Man. His first on-camera appearance featured him performing stand-up comedy for NBC’s Friday Night Videos, followed by more small television and film roles.

In 2000, Godfrey appeared in the Aspen Comedy Festival and on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend. He also played a comical role in the movie Soul Plane, acting as an African pilot. He has also been in numerous episodes of BET’s Comic View.

His first one-hour special, “Godfrey: Black by Accident” was shot for Comedy Central in 2011 at the Gramercy Theatre in New York City to a standing room only audience. In 2013, he had his own solo show called “The Godfrey Complex” in the same festival for a whole week. His second one-hour special, “Godfrey: Regular Black” was shot in Chicago in 2016.

Ben Stiller cast him to play himself in “Zoolander,” a performance that has since achieved cult status. Godfrey has also appeared in “Johnson Family Vacation,” “The Cook Out” with Queen Latifah, “Phat Girlz” starring Monique, and “Soul Plane” alongside Snoop Dogg.

IMDb lists 55 credits in Godfrey’s filmography – most recently “Americanish,” “The Truth about Santa Claus,” “The Binge,” “Tournament of Laughs,” and “Rapid Eye Movement.”

Godfrey has also made many television appearances, including stand-up specials on Showtime and Comedy Central.

“My style is conversational – conversational edgy,” said Godfrey. “I was always able to do impressions. It’s easy for me to change voices. Then, I wanted to get away from doing impressions. I didn’t want to be Rich Little. I like languages in general and I love accents – Spanish, African, British, Arabic, Indian.

“I keep it fresh by taking chances. You have to watch stuff. You’ve got to watch the world – including social media. You’ve got to look at the garbage.”

Godfrey hosted his own show on SiriusXM satellite radio, and he currently hosts the “In Godfrey We Trust” podcast.

“My podcast is on GaS Digital Network every Tuesday and Friday at 9 p.m. eastern,” said Godfrey. “I recently shot a pilot and just did Tiffany Hadish’s show ‘They Ready.’ I also do a lot of social media on Instagram and Twitter.”

While most bands are unable to take a chance of mounting a tour and having it sabotaged by mid-tour COVID-caused cancellations, it’s much easier for a comedian to take chances and deal with similar situations.

“It’s just one person and one microphone,” said Godfrey. “I’ve been working steadily for the last two-and-a-half months. I’ve been doing shows, but the capacity is cut down by the number of people inside. For a while, it was reduced to almost nothing.

“I’m looking forward to coming back to Punch Line. I played there for the first time last year. It’s a great room.”

Adhering to guidelines issued by the City of Philadelphia and the State of Pennsylvania, Punch Line Philly is now offering indoor seating with a reduced venue capacity to adhere to social distancing measures. Masks are mandatory inside the venue and must be worn at all times except while eating and drinking.

Punch Line Philly will also offer an expanded menu of food and beverage options with contactless payment during the performance. Tickets for all Punch Line Philly shows – both outdoor on the Patio Series or inside the club – are on sale now at PunchLinePhilly.com.

Video link for Godfrey — https://youtu.be/TY7jU0MBaTk.

Show times for Godfrey are 7:15 and 9:30 p.m. each night from November 5-7. Ticket prices start at $32.

There are several local venues presenting live music shows throughout November.

Sam Seider

Cedar Hollow Inn Restaurant and Bar (2455 Yellow Springs Road, Malvern, www.cedarhollowinn.com) will present Sam Seider on November 5, Chris Lebresco on November 12, Sunshine Jones on November 14, Kendal Conrad on November 19, Nicki Sbaffoni on November 20 and Matt Sevier on November 21.

Brickside Grille (540 Wellington Square, Exton, bricksidegrille.com) is hosting Madeline Rumpf on November 7, Mike McVey on November 8, Paul & Dave on November 14, Bob Starner on November 15, Madeline Knight on November 21, Michael Kropp on November 22, Nicole Zell on November 28 and Steve Rhodes on November 29.

The Bordley House (1520 Tattersal Way, West Chester, www.bordleyhousegrille.com) will host Bryan McDermott on November 7 and Chris Lebresco on November 14.

Tuned Up Brewing Co. (135 North Main Street, Spring City, www.tunedupbrew.com) will present Mike Kropp on November 7, Bill Ferreri on November 13, John Costello on November 20 and Mr. Mody on November 27.

Creekside Sports Bar & Grille (765 N Lewis Road, Royersford, http://www.creeksidesportsbar.com/) will host Beg Borrow & Steel Duo on November 7, Wildflower on November 13, Brass Pocket on November 14, Shot of Southern on November 20,  Musician Impossible on November 21, Coast to Coast on November 25,  Uptown Band on November 27, and Buzzer Band on November 28.

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