Local comic redefines the class clown

Cullen, presumably about to take a student’s lunch money. (Courtesy of John Cullen)

Cullen, presumably about to take a student’s lunch money.
(Courtesy of John Cullen)

English-teacher-turned- comedian discusses his jump from school to stage 

It’s rare to find a perfect marriage of passions. Often, we find ourselves scattered across a myriad of interests, rarely finding the time to focus on one. But for local comedian and English teacher John Cullen, it couldn’t have been a more perfect fit.

“Every summer, I try to have a project,” Cullen said in an interview with The Link, “or else I just get bored having ten weeks off.”

In 2010, the naturally hilarious Cullen opted to develop his love for live comedy.

Citing his uncle, a professional comedian in Ontario, as a key influence, Cullen mentions that it was merely a matter of writing down many of the thoughts he’d dwell on throughout his day.

Soon his repertoire became large enough that he needed to perform live.

“I fully expected to just suck at it and never do it again .I just wanted to try it — see it from the other side,” he explained.

Of course, Cullen killed it.

Garnering praise from a couple of local pros, it was immediately clear that Cullen was on to something. Soon, the success started to snowball and the writing process became less standardized.

“The more you do comedy, the more you want to be as clever or original as ever,” he said, explaining his constant desire to improve.

Cullen has achieved much in the few years he’s been in the scene. He’s signed as a Yuk Yuks comedian, which provides him a larger, more frequent stage to hone his craft.

Unsurprisingly, Cullen’s immediate successes aren’t attributed to luck or fate, but to being a seasoned performer.

Although he dabbled in the Vancouver music scene with two now-defunct local bands, he is quicker to reference his teaching experience to explain his onstage comfort: “Comedy has always felt easier to me [than teaching].”

[pullquote]”Cullen is unsure whether following a teacher on Twitter is the lamest thing in the world or the best thing in the world.”[/pullquote]

Despite the fundamental skepticism of undoubtedly his toughest possible audience, Cullen has managed to win over many of his students.

By bringing his relaxed, fun demeanor to Shakespeare and Steinbeck, the results have been almost as immediate as they were onstage.

“I have had quite a few students say that while they had fun in my class, they also learned a lot,” he said, emphasizing that his goal is still to teach his students. “I think that’s the best compliment that I could ever be paid.”

Interestingly, while Cullen has started to garner a hefty reputation as a comedian in Vancouver, he has also established a fan-base amongst his students that rivals the comedy scene. Of his roughly 1,200 Twitter followers, the high school substitute instructor points out that just under half of them are students.

Cullen is unsure whether following a teacher on Twitter is the lamest thing in the world or the best thing in the world.

Ultimately, his Internet popularity benefits him as an educator because it humanizes him to his students. His relatable nature makes Cullen a good communicator — with any audience.

“I think comedy helped my teaching, but teaching really helped my comedy.”

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