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Teachers in Oregon have found a solution for burnout: stand up comedy

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

You know, teachers are the ideal stand-up comedians. I mean, think about it - constantly working on material for the toughest audiences - bored kids. And all the time, they bomb.

DON GAVITTE: We bomb first period, third period, fifth period sometimes.

SIMON: High school history teacher Don Gavitte is the creative force behind "The Teacher Show," a comedy showcase in Oregon and Washington that gives audiences a taste of the classroom from the stage.

GAVITTE: If you haven't seen a freshman boy in a while, they're about 3'11. They got that backpack-to-body ratio that's just not working out for them. They're always falling over. They're like little turtles.

SIMON: Oregon Public Broadcasting's Natalie Pate was in the audience for a recent show.

TINA HOGSTROM: Make some noise if you're a teacher in the audience.

(CHEERING)

HOGSTROM: Make some noise if you are a partner of someone who is a teacher.

(CHEERING)

HOGSTROM: Now, those are the real heroes (laughter).

NATALIE PATE, BYLINE: It's Saturday in Salem, Ore. Tina Hogstrom has been working with preschoolers all week, but tonight, she's in front of a packed room of grown-ups.

HOGSTROM: Recently, a child said to me, your teeth are too loud. My mouth was closed.

(LAUGHTER)

HOGSTROM: And I've not thought about anything else.

PATE: Welcome to "The Teacher Show: Comedy From The Classroom."

HOGSTROM: I can always tell what kind of day I'm going to have based on what kind of outdoor playground equipment a child tells me I'm going to break if I try to use. A kid recently did tell me not to sit down on a stainless steel bench made for an adult. They said, (impersonating child) whoa, teacher Tina, you're going to break that.

(LAUGHTER)

PATE: By day, these educators work with students of all ages, teaching everything from the ABCs to college robotics. But after the bell rings, they head to the clubs.

TODD BASIL: I can't work with adults who say crisscross applesauce. I just can't do it. I can't do it.

PATE: Todd Basil is a college calculus instructor in Portland and is a regular with the local crew. "The Teacher Show" has been playing at venues throughout the Pacific Northwest, with another batch coming this semester. The lineup may change, but the theme stays the same. It's part of a growing movement in comedy, where often beleaguered working professionals like nurses and teachers poke fun at their day jobs.

BASIL: I instituted a new binary grading system in my classroom last year. Students either pass or they try and get me fired.

PATE: From viral videos on social media to themed cruises and international comedy tours, educators are in on the joke.

BASIL: I dropped 69 in my class the other day. I was like, 69 - our favorite number. And anyone know why? The second row blushed. I'm like, 'cause that's right on the border of a passing grade. Round it up to 70 - you're good.

(LAUGHTER)

PATE: The show's it factor is that anyone can relate or, as the showrunners put it, if you've ever worked in, gone to or even driven by a school, this show is for you. Just take it from high school Spanish teacher Katie Nguyen.

KATIE NGUYEN: And I'm always thinking about the advice we give to kids. For example, when a kid is being made fun of, when a kid is being bullied, all we say to them is I am rubber and you are glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.

PATE: She also teaches stand-up to aspiring comedians.

NGUYEN: And in my experience, it's been a lot more like, I am Tupperware, and you are a tomato sauce.

(LAUGHTER)

NGUYEN: Whatever you say becomes a part of me and ruins me forever.

(LAUGHTER)

GAVITTE: One of the shows we did, somebody wrote online that the show was restorative.

PATE: Speaking with the comedians backstage after one of their gigs, show creator Don Gavitte said part of the show's power is the catharsis it gives fellow educators in the audience.

GAVITTE: I think that was the best review we ever got. They felt better. They felt restored when they left the show.

PATE: Gavitte got his start in comedy at his father's funeral, of all places. Overwhelmed by emotion while delivering the eulogy, he cracked a joke. That's when he realized his comedy could help people, including his students and himself.

GAVITTE: You're tired when you walk in after a night of a show, but if you killed, you're walking on air - right? - and you could walk into that school, walk in tall - right? - because you killed last night, and that's a great feeling.

(APPLAUSE)

GAVITTE: I know what we need to do with the educational jargon. We need to use collective terms like they have in zoology. Right? Like, a group of middle school boys is an awkward. A group of soon-to-retire elementary school teachers - that's a sauvignon blanc.

(LAUGHTER)

PATE: At the end of the day, the comedians say the magic goes both ways. Teaching informs their comedy, and the comedy informs their teaching.

HOGSTROM: I've been Tina. You have been fabulous.

BASIL: Hey, my name is Todd Basil.

GAVITTE: I'm Don Gavitte. Thanks for your time. See you later.

(APPLAUSE)

PATE: For NPR News, I'm Natalie Pate in Salem, Ore.

(SOUNDBITE OF NATE SMITH'S SONG "WHAT IT DO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Natalie Pate
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