Special Education and P.E. Teacher Pursues Interest in Stand-Up Comedy

Most students are accustomed to seeing Special Education and P.E. teacher Bob McFarlane out on the track, running his students into the ground during the mile-run. But who knew such a burly, tough teacher could also tickle people’s funny bones and make them break down with laughter?

In August of 2006, McFarlane started attending stand-up comedy classes at the Sunnyvale venue for the San Francisco Comedy College. After hearing about the class from a friend, McFarlane felt it was something he wanted to do to “grow as a public speaker.”

“I really enjoy watching good stand-up comics,” McFarlane said. “I was looking for a way to stretch myself a little bit and expand my speaking skills. I thought that would be a fun way to try and get up in front of people and put something together to talk about and be challenged.”

The class taught McFarlane “the basics of stand-up and joke structure” and “lasted about a month.” At the end of the beginner, McFarlane enrolled in the school’s advanced class, which allowed him to perform a five to six-minute act on stage at the San Jose Improv in honor of his graduation. As his first time on stage performing comedy, the experience was “one of the most frighteningly challenging things” he has ever done.

“It was completely nerve-racking … but invigorating at the same time,” McFarlane said.

After his first performance, McFarlane continued taking the advanced class and performed new acts at the Improv at the end of each month, which totaled to about six or seven routines.

Although McFarlane has always had some “quick wit,” performing on stage did not come so naturally.

“Formulating jokes or saying things in a manner that’s funny is really difficult,” McFarlane said. “It’s easier for me to be funny when I’m just playing off [of others]. … But to just stand there solo and you’re just creating everything is much more challenging.”

Part of the challenge for McFarlane was that he “liked having a point” to what he said.

“I’m not a big fan of talking with nothing to say,” McFarlane said. “If there ‘s no message or purpose behind it, then I’m not as motivated to do it. I’d like to find a venue where I can speak on something, but make it funny as hell so people can relate to it, that I’m actually making a difference with my time.”

Once he gained more experience as a stand-up comedian, McFarlane decided to enter the amateur contest at the Improv. According to McFarlane, it was up to the crowd to vote for the top five performers and send them onto the next round. McFarlane said that the point was to get your friends to come out and vote for you. (Students have not been able to see him perform at the Improv because most shows are for 21 years and older with a few shows for 18 years and older.)

“I tried to get as many people as I could,” McFarlane said. “You have to get out and get a following, get people to see you. That’s the business side of it.”

McFarlane invited staff members such as counselor Perla Pasallo to come see him perform.

“Bob makes fun of real-life situations and therefore provides us with an opportunity to laugh at ourselves and what happens normally in our lives,” Pasallo said in an e-mail.

Computer Support Specialist Jay Santiago saw McFarlane perform twice. After hearing about McFarlane’s class, Santiago asked if he could come watch a performance.

“Knowing him as a friend and see him being his goofy self on stage making people laugh was pretty cool,” Santiago said in an e-mail. “His act was about ‘normal,’ everyday events that happen in life, but with a funny, dry deliver for an audience. He delivers his stories and jokes along with funny facial and body expressions.”

Though students don’t have the chance to see McFarlane in action, they’ve certainly caught wind of his new hobby and want to learn more. Mountain View High School senior Tim Reed, who is working on a senior thesis “earning/performing/becoming a stand-up comedian,” heard about McFarlane through his Freestyle teachers and decided to contact him to get an idea of his “venture into stand-up comedy.”

“[McFarlane] really helped me more in the sense of what I would expect when I get up on stage [to do] the form,” Tim said. “He gave me lots of basic but essential information about taking up this entertainment form. He also told me about the San Francisco Comedy College, which is where I am currently attending stand-up classes.”

Talking with Tim helped McFarlane to truly reflect on why he enjoyed comedy in the first place.

“He got me to tap into why I really did it,” McFarlane said. “I have this feeling that I’m supposed to be speaking on stage, but yet I’m scared and lazy. To try and step into that skill and get better at it has really been a challenge for me, but it’s something I feel that I’m supposed to do.”

McFarlane enjoyed performing comedy because he could “kind of live life on the edge,” but he hasn’t been on stage in nine months. When he performed, McFarlane was away from his family for several hours at night, which was a “really big sacrifice.”

As a teacher, McFarlane tries “to find the humor in the day” and “to make [his] class laugh as much as possible within the realms of still teaching.”

“It’s really important to laugh at life,” McFarlane said. “If you can’t learn to laugh at yourself and laugh at the world around you, then you’re going to be a really sad person and embittered as you grow older. There’s comedy all around us, and I don’t understand why people don’t laugh at it more.”