It’s a lively Tuesday evening at Dalessandro’s Steaks on Wendover Street in Roxborough, as scores of people line the restaurant’s narrow counter. Everyone seems to know Roxborough comedian Chris Morris, burly, baby-faced, and standing out in the crowd with his bright Red Phillies shirt and matching white hat. A lady behind the counter, men eating their cheesesteaks and a young boy who plunges his fist into Morris’ drink, all seem to gravitate toward the guy. Morris has performed stand-up comedy in Roxborough since he was 17 years old. His comedic routine began with little more than four or five convincing replications of celebrity impersonations he had mostly lifted from Saturday Night Live. He honed his act with shows at Keenan’s Valley View Inn until it closed earlier this summer. Morris has found a new home to perform monthly comedy showcases at JD McGillicuddy’s in Manayunk on the second Saturday of every month. Morris will headline the inaugural comedy night upstairs at McGillicuddy’s this Saturday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m., joined by comics Ed Scanlon and Joey Dougherty. “A lot of people thought Keenan’s was the only place I ever did comedy,” said Morris. “Billy and Beth Keenan basically gave me a room to perform in front people and build my audience all these years.”
Since then, Morris has developed a stand-up style where his self-deprecating and light-hearted humor muses about being single, race, his family members and an Irish Catholic upbringing. But every show is different, he says, as he regularly breaks from his scripted jokes to speak with audience members.
“I’m good on my feet. A lot of people have told me the stuff I say when I’m talking to the crowd is some of my best stuff,” Morris says. “It’s a confidence game.”
Although Morris has plenty of fans in his Roxborough neighborhood, he rarely performs at Philadelphia’s comedy clubs, such as Helium. It’s not unusual for him to go a month or two between performances, unlike other comedians Morris knows, who sharpen their routines at open mic shows nearly every night of the week. “I feel like I’m sort of a throwback to older comedians,” Morris says, whose favorite comics are Rodney Dangerfield and Don Rickles. Morris says his goal is to use stand-up comedy as a springboard to propel him to comedy acting, aspiring to take on dramatic but humorous roles similar to Zach Galifinakis, Adam Sandler and John Candy, or even becoming a character actor.
The 33 year old divides his time between Philadelphia and commuting to New York City for auditions. Summer is typically a slow time, but Morris says he expects his audition schedule to pick up in the fall. “I’ve gone to New York City for auditions just to be turned down because I’m non-union, or sometimes they want older people,” Morris says. “I’ve been on those streets so many times depressed after an audition, thinking the streets are so lonely.” But his persistence has also paid off. Morris recently starred as a crossing guard going through a midlife crisis in the 2011 independent film 99 Percent Sure, a role Morris says resonated with him because of the uncertainty and doubt both he and his character sometimes face. Morris is also writing an autobiographical stage show about his life as a struggling actor and comedian, in which he would portray the eccentric people who have shaped him into the person he is now. Saturday night’s comedy show has a $10 cover.