Stop by LOVE Park any sunny day and you might stumble across a peculiar spectacle: a man dressed in a full-body Spider-Man costume doing back-flips or striking a pose with his fans.
He is known as Philly Spidey.
But Philly Spidey is not just trying to be an entertainer. He wants to be of genuine service to the community – something he believes this persona will help him achieve.
“I never planned for this to happen, it was a prank that went wrong that went right,” says Spidey -- who declined to reveal his true identity. “I was a comedian that just did jokes for fun, but now this has taken a life of its own.”
Philly Spidey is 18 years old. He lives with his 72-year old grandmother in West Philadelphia.
After graduating from high school last year, he set off to pursue a career in local comedy and worked in some skits for YouTube. When he stumbled across a Spider-Man costume online a few months ago, he thought he had found his next major skit.
“The plan was to wear it around downtown and prank people. … But nobody took it seriously – all they wanted were pictures,” he said.
Tourists wanted selfies with him at the LOVE statue. Young children demanded he do Spiderman stunts. People in general were fascinated by a man dressed up as Spider-Man.
“It became overwhelming at times,” Spidey said of the immediate draw to him. “It was exciting to feel like a hero to so many people, but then something about it needed to change … I really wanted to help people.”
Shortly after Spidey began to acquire a local fan-base, he started to make a name for himself with random acts of kindness.
Recently, he purchased 26 McDonalds cheeseburgers and gave them out to the homeless across Center City. This fueled his interest to transition into “a local superhero for good” and he started taking bookings to visit places like day cares.
Spidey’s grandmother had scoffed at his work initially.
“She told me to ‘hang it up, it’s gonna get old,’” Spidey said. “After seeing that I’m helping the homeless and children, she is now proudly showing all of her friends and neighbors.”
Life under the guise of Spider-Man has provided Philly Spidey with the joys of immediate fame and popularity. However, being in the spotlight has its challenges.
“Some people will come up to him and just disrespect him,” says Hercules, his bodyguard. “Philly can be nasty sometimes without any reason, and I can only imagine how aggravating it can be wearing that costume to do good with some people around you purposely trying to provoke you.”
Yet despite negative backlash some people give him, Spidey states he “maintains his cool and not break character.”
“People will question my masculinity when I wear this tight uniform, others will just try to create confrontation – either way, I don’t let it get to me because I know there are kids around and this is what superheroes have to face.”
Philly Spidey is not the first major local personality to garner this much mass attention.
“Philly Jesus” was one of the first major public entities that local patrons and the city flocked to.
“We hear the comparisons all the time,” said Spidey’s manager, Trizzy the Mouth. “But Philly Spidey is a superhero for all people of all backgrounds, and doesn’t rely on the polarizing nature of religion to appeal to people.”
In addition to his various daycare bookings and quest for new altruistic opportunities, Spidey is also starring in a web mini-series, “Being a Hero for Philadelphia.”
“This has become a full-time career for me,” Spidey says. “I’m in persona for 6 days a week.”
Spidey’s reason for wanting to continue in this role is very simple.
“It’s about helping people. … If wearing this costume allows me to make a child smile or lets a homeless person know I’m not looking down on them, I’ve saved the day.”