There is talent — really, truly, talented talent — in the proud, only-in-Philadelphia Mummers Parade.
- String Bands playing banjos, violins, accordions, etc. while marching down Broad Street
- Brass bands-for-hire blowing into trombones and tubas atop moving flatbed trucks
- Intricate costumes, not only the standard ruffled satin “suits” or spray-painted gold sneakers (both chic as hell), but the giant feathered, sequined, wheeled getups and floats the Fancies make and then lug around town
- Elaborate, moveable sets the Fancy Brigades assemble and vigorously perform with — twice on January 1 — inside the PA Convention Center, neon plywood testaments to the creativity and collaborative skills of their volunteer builders and decorators and designers
- Fancy Brigades’ dancers — if not for their natural physical gifts, then for their steely effort
Also, the fact that Philadelphians have been Mummering for, what, 125 years? Here in the 215, we stick to our traditions.
The Mummers are a total institution, the best New Year’s Day party on the planet, an essential must-do worthy of braving the cold, dealing with the crowds, and postponing a mayoral inauguration or whatever other things might be going on on January 1. It’s a great time. Kids get beads and selfies. Onlookers and (more than a few) marchers get lit. Old people dance in the street. It’s sort of the best.
And yet … I gotta say … it could be better. At least, a few thousand Mummers could.
Philadelphia, a joke that writes itself
Between the Fancies (who start the parade) and the String Bands (who end it), the procession gets… boring. Watching the Comics’ and Wenches’ full-on skits from the bleachers at City Hall, where a TV production crew is making sure they keep it moving, is one thing. But for the traditionalist — the sidewalk camper along South Broad — the meaty middle of the parade falls flat fast. About 20 minutes of these marchers gives you more than a full picture. You’ve seen one strutting or stumbling Wench, you’ve seen ’em all. Your couch beckons.
It’s clear the Comics and Wenches are having a blast. Of course they are. They are joyful and wonderful: how they interact with the crowd, hold aloft costumed infants, high-five kids on the sidewalk, resist beating up the 12-year-old who booed a member of Froggy Carr carrying a 15-foot-tall “Make America Great Again” Trump flag. (The flag-bearing Wench had a few select words for the middle-schooler, but good on the big man in the frock for resisting violence this go-round.)
The problem: The themes. Some are current — Barbie abounded this year — but most feel entirely generic: The Wizard of Oz, under the sea, 101 Dalmatians, on the farm, The Addams Family, in the casino, Dancing With the Stars. (I will say Bryson’s sendup of the Vacation movies deserved an A for effort, right down to the guy in the hunting cap whose bathrobe’s backside read “Shitter’s full.”)
The Mummers are a total institution, the best New Year’s Day party on the planet, an essential must-do worthy of braving the cold, dealing with the crowds, and postponing a mayoral inauguration or whatever.
At points, the Mummers Parade could be taking place in any city where 10,000 people wear satin prairie dresses, bonnets and bloomers while carrying parasols in the hopes that thousands more people will look at them as they prance on cold asphalt.
But this is Philly. We are already the brunt of all the best jokes. We are so weird that we don’t even recognize our own oddness. We aren’t just the birthplace of the very unique Mummers. Philadelphia also gave birth to liberty and Gritty and bubblegum and the Slinky.
Our city has a store that sells (and sells out of) $25 beanies bearing the circa 2018 Jason Kelce quote, “No One Likes Us and We Don’t Care.” Our paper of record employs a full-time columnist devoted solely to covering what’s “weird, wild and wonderfully unique” about us. Our taxes pay for someone to grease street-side poles ahead of championship sporting events. And yet: No one paid South Philadelphia resident Alexander Tominsky to turn eating a whole rotisserie chicken on the abandoned “Walmart” pier into an international moment. See what I mean?
Philly has plenty of public figures to parody. But really, we’ve got so much material, there’s no need to get personal. Even our history is funny. Our Liberty Bell is cracked. Our number one inventor and statesman had a pet squirrel named Mungo. We have rampant potholes, the PPA, trash barrel fires, stoop life, old-timers versing ridiculous gentrifiers, the Schuylkill Expressway, the miracle on I-95, cheesesteaks wrapped in giant slices of pizza, the most amazing accent, the Phanatic …
Chances are, you’re already thinking of better, funnier ideas.
On the other hand, if Philly funny is too heavy a lift, a Mummer could reach out for local professional help. Fancy Brigades contract with Broadway-esque choreographers to teach members of construction and electrical and plumbing locals how to salsa or dance like Martians or whatever. Surely, a Wench or Comic could DM, if not Kevin Hart or Tina Fey, then, I dunno, Malik Joe, or Jen Childs, or, Aunt Mary Pat, for crissake.
Philadelphia is lousy with vacant lots to turn into parks — and things to make fun of.
Mummers: You got 360-some days to think of one good joke.