Middle school teacher entertains students by day and audiences by night
Dec 10, 2019 03:22PM
● By Jet Burnham
Standout middle school theater teacher is also a stand-up comedian. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
South Hills Middle School theater teacher Ryan Erwin has a funny after school job. When he’s not teaching, Erwin performs as a stand-up comedian.
“Not every theater teacher is going to be a great stand-up comedian,” Erwin said. “My personality, my training and experience in my career have helped me explode into this realm.”
Erwin performs regularly at Wise Guys Comedy Club (he is headlining at the Jordan Landing location Nov. 30) and has opened for three comedians who now have their own Netflix specials. He recently filmed a segment for Dry Bar Comedy in Provo and headlined a showcase at Flappers Comedy Club in Los Angeles. Erwin also performs for corporate events and private parties.
Erwin believes his background in theater gives him an advantage over a lot of other comedians.
“I've taken script writing and playwriting and public speaking classes, and that's really helped me to find the right pace for how I set up my sets,” Erwin said. “I can take the same storytelling elements that I teach my kids about getting an audience’s attention early, getting a hook, keeping them engaged, building momentum and misdirection—things that I go over in class that I'm able to incorporate into my own personal performance.”
Erwin makes deliberate decisions about what body language, props and stage movements as well as material he uses to fit his on-stage character.
“I only write things that fit my style and fit my voice,” Erwin said. “From the beginning, I didn't have to experiment and try out different things. I just knew what I wanted and what I wasn't going to do.” Erwin’s style is clean (no cursing or questionable jokes), which makes him popular with local audiences and appropriate for students who check out his shows.
Erwin tries to keep his two jobs separate. However, because teaching and comedy are both part of his natural personality, there is inevitable crossover. Erwin gives constructive feedback to fellow comedians if asked and students can expect to laugh in his classes.
“I think being a comedian helps him be a better teacher,” said Thayne Ward, an eighth grader. “He knows what kids like and what makes us laugh. He's just a really fun guy to be around. A teacher who is more friendly and funny is way easier to learn from. It’s harder to listen to somebody who's just putting out the information.”
Erwin’s comedy is also influenced by his day job. Teaching at a middle school, Erwin hears some odd questions and a lot of funny answers that occasionally become on-stage jokes. Recently, a student misunderstood a question, and her bizarre answer made the whole class laugh. She looked at Erwin and said, “You're going to put that in your stand-up, aren’t you?”
Erwin claims that confidence is one of his greatest strengths, which sets a good example for his young theater students.
“With comedians, they really aren't afraid to stand out and to put themselves out there,” said ninth grader Sterling Lund. “As a teacher, him being able to put himself out there helps the students to connect to him a little bit better.”
Rylee Lystrup has taken many of Erwin’s theater classes in the past three years.
“He helps everyone step out of their comfort zone when they're too afraid to be themselves in class,” said the ninth-grader.
Erwin’s theater classes provide a safe space for students to try new things and to be themselves.
Ninth grader Anna Woolley said this is because his three class rules are be friendly, be weird and be positive.