Manny Brown: “Lawyer by day, comic by night.” This line from his Instagram bio only begins to scratch the surface of Manny’s successes and escapades.
Manny Brown spent his youth burning comedy CDs by Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld and Eddie Murphy, among other legends. His obsession was steadfast, but Manny did not take to the stage with his own material until reaching age 30. Comedy felt as though it was a far off possibility in his twenties. “It seemed like some magic other people could do,” he reflected.
Turning 30 mucked his courage up. Manny took a class at Helium with instructor Chip Chantry, who he fondly referred to as a “very funny local comic.” Manny told no one but his wife of this new development. He was pleasantly surprised by his natural comedic inclinations and overall performance in the class. He received laughs from his peers, but knew the real test would be an unfamiliar audience.
At his first open mic in Philly, at an old steakhouse that has since closed, Manny distinctly remembers the first time he got a laugh from a stranger in the audience. “I’ll never forget that person or where they were in the room,” he recounted.
As critical as he may be now towards his material from those first few weeks, he remembered doing well right off the bat. Three and a half years later he continues to thoroughly enjoy performing standup.
Manny is passionate about the Philly comedy scene. He revels in the community of knowing most writers in the area, and the drive that creates for each comic to create new material, as they see each other’s sets more often than not. Manny values the grit of Philadelphia as a cold, dark northeast city, and the increased quality of comedy said grit breeds. He loves to harness the “tell it how it is” attitude Philly folks admire. Manny describes a culture of audiences that can sniff out authenticity and appreciate conversational, communal energy. Manny described this as a stark contrast with places like DC that prefer comics to dive right into their material, without acknowledgement of the audience-comedian apparatus or dynamics.
Manny’s latest project “Next In Line Comedy” was co-created with Tyler Wolf about a year ago. The premise of the title is that audiences will get to see the comics who are “next in line;” Manny elaborated, “You may not know them right now, but in a few years you will.” The pair set up a show in which comics from places like New York would come to Philly and headline, enabling Manny, Tyler and their friends to open the sets, in addition to offering up to an hour of stage time for comics from New York. An example Manny offered was Devon Walker. Devon headlined a Next In Line show, having done two Comedy Central sets, in addition to writing for the animated sitcom “Big Mouth.” This year, Devon is a new addition to the cast of Saturday Night Live. “It felt like he was already famous when we met him,” Manny affectionately recalled. Next In Line shows are every Saturday at the Victoria Freehouse at 7:30pm and 9:30pm.
Manny’s material generally centers around politics and race, but he loves to step out and engage with new topics. The beauty of comedy, Manny mused, is that “anything can be funny! Comedy about race in America could be funny, [just as] Jerry Seinfeld talking about toothpaste could be funny.” Manny remembers the joy of being a comedy fan. He now delights in the privilege of making people laugh on the other side of it.
The style of Manny’s comedy, in keeping with the Philly culture he’s observed, is rather conversational. He offered this scenario: “Imagine you’re talking to your friends at a party. Imagine if you could work on refining and editing how you could talk in that conversation to make it as funny as possible.” The effectiveness of this analogy is evident in the way Manny carries himself throughout his sets. Manny believes in the importance of writing how you talk, not how you write. He believes standup should sound impromptu, not like a valedictorian reading a page of eloquently scripted words.
For comedians just starting out, Manny instructed, “get onstage and write.” He acknowledged the widespread nature of this advice, but verified it to be worth heeding. “If you really want to do it,” Manny proposed, “but you’re terrified of going onstage… then good, because that’s how everyone else was!” Manny laughed at himself for the fact that the only nerves he experiences now are worry regarding his lack of nerves.
The long-term dream of Manny Brown is to cultivate a following. Down the road, Manny aspires to be in a position to headline and have a group of people that keep up with his material. He loves the way that so many comics are famous solely to their fanbase. “I think that’s really what all comics want,” he shared. “You’d be able to perform for a bunch of people and dig deep into yourself and express your ideas for people who want to hear what you have to say.” Manny’s passion for and strength in the trade are signs he is likely to achieve this goal.
By Risa Bolash