Comic Chris Morris keeps the laughs coming in Borgata’s ‘Burlesque Show;’ ‘Miss’d America’ at Hard Rock AC
There’s no debating that it’s the female ecdysiasts (Google it!) who are the top attractions in The Burlesque Show, the every-Thursday-evening adult extravaganza that is currently in its 10th year—which concludes Sept. 28--at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. But there’s also no debating that the naughty and bawdy show is borne on the meaty shoulders of Chris Morris, the 43-year-old funnyman who serves as its emcee.
Morris, whose dad is the legendary Philadelphia high-school-and-college basketball coach William “Speedy” Morris, occupies the Music Box stage longer than any other of the presentation’s acts—which is a good thing because he is, in a word, hilarious.
Morris, a husky, dark-haired fellow who looks like a cross between Jackie Gleason and Lou Costello, deals in what is rapidly becoming a lost art in these politically correct times: Classic dirty jokes.
Seeing an icon
Using graphic imagery and locker-room language, he keeps audiences howling between turns by the featured female performers and specialty acts. Interestingly, his journey to the stage began not with the influence of some foul-mouthed standup comic, but with the far-more-gentle Cozy Morley, the late and beloved North Wildwood-based entertainer who was a Shore show-business institution for decades.
During a recent interview, Morris recalled being eight years old or so and on vacation with his family in Wildwood when, one evening, his dad announced he was taking him to see Morley at the comic’s Club Avalon. Despite his pleas that he’d rather go on the Boardwalk, Morris wound up at the nightclub.
“So,” he offered, “I go in not knowing what to expect. I'm a kid; I don't know what this really is. But I remember seeing the stage, the people sitting around at these tables and the microphone. And I remember vividly him coming out of the kitchen area--red sport coat, white slicked-back hair. He came over and said ‘Hi’ to us, messed around a little bit.
“And he took the stage for, I don't know, like three hours, and did a full-on Vaudeville act. And I sat there mesmerized. I didn't get all the jokes, they were over my head, but I sat there, kind of mesmerized at what he was doing. The other acts were great, but I was so focused on him.
“That was the starting point. Not saying, ‘Oh, I wanna do comedy,’ but the starting point of something.”
Morris noted that he came by his love of, and predilection for, telling, jokes from his father, who has been cracking up audiences at speaking engagements, charity events, press conferences and the like for generations. It was through a friend of Speedy’s that Morris made his stage debut at age 17. The gig, a fundraiser for the local CYO, occurred at a tavern in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia, where Morris was born and raised.
From the start, he admitted, he wasn’t interested in doing normal observational-type standup routines. Instead, he found enjoyment in doing impressions—especially those he picked up from other comics, including longtime Philly favorite Joe Conklin--and telling jokes—most of which were ancient when his dad was a boy.
That put him on a path that ultimately led him to Biloxi, Miss. and a gig that had a profound impact on his future.
It was 2016, and his career was pretty much at a standstill; he admitted he was working as a department-store doorman and seriously contemplating giving up his dream of being a comic. But through a comedian pal of his, Vince Valentine, he learned that Burlesque Show producer Allen Valentine (no relation to Vince) needed a comedian for a version of the show he was planning for a Biloxi casino. That friend had heard about the opening through Jeff Pirrami, the brilliant and unforgettable comedy star of The Burlesque Show” who died of heart-related issues in 2020.
“He said they needed a comedian who tells old jokes. And Vince had seen me enough to know what I do and he said, ‘Chris, that's a no-brainer.’”
Morris believes that it wasn’t exactly love at first sight for producer Valentine, but that he hired him because of Pirrami’s endorsement. Today, Valentine has nothing but praise for the way Morris has filled the exceptionally large shoes of Pirrami, who was the heart and soul of the show onstage and off—something about which Morris was well aware.
“That first show was very, very, very tough,” he said. “But then I got a beautiful message from one of [Pirrami’s] daughters afterwards. That was really cool. But it was scary because, I didn't want to imitate Jeff. I wanted to bring my own style, which I think I did.”
Now in his second edition of Burlesque, Morris insisted he is far more at ease in his role and surroundings.
“I’m a lot more comfortable,” he said. “I think at this point, everyone's accepted me. I consider them all friends.
“When I came in, they had just lost somebody that was very, very close to them: ‘Who's this guy coming in?’ I can understand why there was a little bit of standoffishness there. It's not that they're ever gonna stop missing Jeff. But this year we're all kind of friends. We're all right. They’ve accepted me as part of the show, and as part of the family.
The Burlesque Show runs every Thursday at 9 p.m. For tickets, click here.
Don’t miss ‘Miss’d
Drag shows may be controversial in some parts of the country, but in Atlantic City, one in particular is part of the cultural fabric.
That, of course, would be the annual Miss’d America Pageant that’s set for Sept. 9 at the Sound Waves theater inside Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.
The contest features drag queens from around the country competing for the title in four categories: talent, swimsuit, evening gown and interview. As he has since the event was revived in 2010, cable TV star Carson Kressley will serve as host and emcee.
For tickets, click here.