'Nick' host comes home, just a kid at heart

January 06, 1994|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

The stretch limousine pulled around the corner of Denison Street and Carlisle Avenue yesterday morning, and Phil Moore pointed excitedly out the window.

"There, right there is where I used to stand as a safety," he said.

In front of Hilton Elementary School, current safety patrol members Brian Wilson and Louis Spencer waited to greet the television celebrity, a graduate of their west Baltimore school.

"Hey, how ya' doin'? You know I went here, I was a safety, too," boomed Mr. Moore as he climbed from the car and shook the fifth-graders' hands.

Inside, two more designated greeters, Shaun Thomas and Perry Darden, met the 32-year-old host of "Nick Arcade," the most popular game show on Nickelodeon, the cable network for kids. They watched with mouths agape as he adopted a wiggle-waggle walk, making his shoes squeak noisily.

"I used to love doing this," cried Mr. Moore, a student here 20 years ago. But he quickly adopted the stern voice of a teacher: " 'Will you stop making that noise, Mr. Moore?'

"No, I don't want to," the performer declared, as he led his safety patrol entourage squeakily down the hall to the gym. They went right past principal Elaine T. Davis, who did not say a scolding word.

He was the guest of honor, after all.

For the next two hours, Mr. Moore energetically directed a mock game show competition featuring school kids and local sports and media celebrities, then sat the youngsters down to hear a brief but sincere message:

"I used to play in this gym, I used to eat in this cafeteria, I was right where you are. I used to get into trouble and mess around. But I want you to know that, whatever you want to do, make up your mind and do it."

It was quite a homecoming for Mr. Moore, who will present two shows of the "Nickelodeon Live! Tour '94" Sunday at the Baltimore Arena. The show, which includes audience participation, combines elements of his TV game show and the network's silly, slimy obstacle course program, "Guts."

He started his day with early morning interviews at WJZ-TV and WXYV-FM (102.7), then squeezed in phone interviews with WKDM-AM (1570) and WERQ-FM (92.3).

At his old school, he got a hug from Hortense Maddox, his third-grade teacher. He also met a boyhood hero, Al Bumbry, the former Baltimore Orioles star and now a coach in the organization. Bumbry was one of the celebrity contestants.

After the school program, Mr. Moore picked up a boyhood buddy in the limo for lunch. Later, he returned for a live appearance on Channel 13's new 5 p.m. news show. He has appearances planned for today on WBAL-TV and WBAL-AM (1090).

"This is fun!" declared Ann Moore, the performer's mother, who was in his entourage throughout the day. "I get to be with my little boy." Mrs. Moore, a paralegal at the Legal Aid Bureau in Baltimore, said she's never followed her son on such a public appearance blitz.

Mr. Moore said he didn't start out pursuing a career in comedy. After graduating from Polytechnic Institute, he intended to pursue an engineering career, attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida and working as a part-time computer programmer for AT&T.

During an employee strike in 1986, he recalled, "we were out there on the picket line, having way too much fun, and I was doing some joking around, and another worker suggested I ought to get into comedy."

By coincidence, a local radio station was holding a series of amateur comedian contests.

"I entered, and I did horribly," he said. But he also was hooked, calling the experience a rush, "like having a cup of coffee and a Hershey bar."

And by his third or fourth appearance, he won the contest and began a new career as a stand-up comic, opening at various times for such big names as Jerry Seinfeld and Sinbad.

The jump to children's performing came in 1992, when he beat out 200 other auditioners to be chosen host of "Nick Arcade."

"He was always good with kids," said his mother.

"I kind of like it," Mr. Moore said. "If me being involved in Nickelodeon has the residual effect of affecting kids in a positive way, then I feel I am doing what God wants me to do. I'm doing what I'm supposed to do."

NICKELODEON LIVE!'

What: "Nickelodeon Live! Tour '94," starring Phil Moore

When: 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 9

Where: Baltimore Arena

Tickets: $14.50 and $9.50

Call: (410) 347-2006

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