True to his Quaker sensibilities, William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, was a serious and sober fellow. The same cannot be said for Benjamin Franklin, whose saucy and irreverent wit earned him the title of “First American Humorist.”
In Philadelphia, his lifetime home after moving here in his late teens, the Founding Father unsparingly poked fun at the political, personal, and social issues of the times—and himself. His aim was not to ridicule, but to entertain while encouraging positive change.
From the self-deprecating (think hometown comedienne Tina Fey) to the downright dirty, humor is a long-running tradition in Philadelphia. For groups meeting here and in adjacent Valley Forge and Montgomery County, where planners are encouraged to “think beyond the meeting,” comedy headlines a diverse lineup of entertaining diversions for loosening up the agenda.
Healthcare is serious business here in the birthplace of American medicine, where half of all meetings are life sciences-related and the Philadelphia CVB has its own dedicated life sciences division, PHLLife. It’s also a prescription for memorable gatherings that include a healthy dose of the best medicine going—laughter.
Putting science and art together for laughs is John Kelly IV, University of Pennsylvania surgeon and associate professor, who doubles as a stand-up comedian, corporate and charity events included (see “Zoom In” Q&A; in the Philadelphia/Valley Forge section on MeetingsFocus.com this month). Planners looking to add major muscle to their event can also call upon longtime local radio personality Joe “Man of a Thousand Voices” Conklin, renowned for his impersonations and skewering routines and one of the area’s most prized corporate banquet speakers. For groups seeking uninhibited comic relief, Mike Hans raunchily interprets Neil Diamond songs with his parody band Dirty Diamond, while also leading adult-only tours at Philadelphia’s Yards Brewing Company.
Popular venues, meanwhile, include the Laffhouse Comedy Club at Harrah’s Philadelphia and Helium Comedy Club, which offers full room rental and food and beverage packages. The club is also home to the Philadelphia Comedy Academy, where acclaimed comedian Brad Trackman offers workshops, seminars and private coaching for aspiring talent—including corporate executives looking to enhance their presentation skills with comedy.
And there’s plenty more on the “play” bill.
“Beyond Philadelphia’s professional and industry advantages, the city is a playground for convention attendees,” says Jack Ferguson, president and CEO of the Philadelphia CVB. “From Colonial pub crawls to record-breaking video games played on skyscrapers, there’s no shortage of fun to be had when meetings have ended for the day.”
The latter refers to Drexel University’s transformation of two city buildings into giant video game screens for Philly Tech Week in 2013 and 2014, on which gamers played the classic games Pong and Tetris. Another visual spectacle is the 2,100-square-foot video wall in the lobby of the Comcast Center, featuring constantly changing programming 18 hours a day.
Other interactive fun includes major events such as this month’s Philadelphia Car Show, Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention and the globally renowned Philadelphia Flower Show.
In late May, Philly Beer Week (www.phillybeerweek.org) is billed as a “10-day celebration of beer in America’s best beer-drinking city.” Held each New Year’s Day, the colorful Mummers Parade is the nation’s oldest folk parade. Groups can also visit or rent the Mummers Museum, where exhibits include costumes and learning how to “strut” like a Mummer.
Groups looking to unwind like their business counterparts in Japan have event-ready Yakitori Boy, Philadelphia’s first izakaya (Japanese pub) and upscale karaoke lounge.