Nine years ago, Cory Michaelis and a fellow teacher, thinking they were pretty funny in the classroom, decided to give comedy a shot.
The pair did some research and found a comedy workshop at the University of Washington. They signed up and figured, if nothing else, they could say they tried.
Michaelis’ colleague has dabbled in comedy here and there since completing the workshop, but Michaelis was hooked and has been perfecting his act ever since.
He’ll headline Spokane Comedy Club this weekend.
After the workshop, Michaelis began hosting comedy nights at the restaurant inside a West Side casino.
For the most part, those shows went well, but Michaelis remembers one weekend that was particularly rough.
“When you do a joke and then later on in your act you refer to it again in a different context, it’s called a callback,” he said. “And twice that weekend, I called back to jokes that I never made. I forgot to do the joke earlier. The first time, I was like ‘Lesson learned. Never going to do that again.’ Then two shows later I did it again.”
Even still, more hosting gigs followed, and after his divorce a few years ago, Michaelis decided to spend the entire summer on the road performing.
Realizing how much he enjoyed the experience, he decided to take a yearlong leave of absence from teaching, save for substitute teacher gigs here and there, to dedicate even more time to comedy.
“People are always like ‘You quit your job? That’s so brave,’ ” Michaelis said. “The first joke I say is ‘How bad do you think I do at comedy? It’s not that brave.’ ”
After finishing that leave of absence, Michaelis realized teaching, at least full time, wasn’t for him so he dropped the “Mr.” and has been pursuing comedy full time.
Though Michaelis, who taught history and a college prep class called AVID, or Advancement Via Individual Determination, at Everett’s Cascade High School, his alma mater, includes material about his time as a teacher in his act, it’s not all he jokes about.
A recent set, for instance, included a bit about Michaelis going on a date with a woman who wanted to send a picture of his license plate to her friends in case she went missing and another about dating in the age of apps like Snapchat.
Dealing with hecklers is easy for Michaelis after his experience with chatty students, and years of finding clever ways to make his students laugh comes in handy when he’s onstage.
Michaelis also said starting comedy when he was 28, rather than in his early 20s, and time watching shows at the Comedy Cellar in New York City have given him an edge.
“I had a knowledge in my early 20s of people nobody’s heard of…,” he said. “That plus seven years of teaching experience plus some more life experience, I had a head start on a lot of folks.”
In a full-circle move, Michaelis is using that head start to help new comedians through workshops he teaches in Tacoma. He’ll lead a workshop for open mic performers Saturday at the Spokane Comedy Club.
And with an open mind to everything a career in comedy could include, Michaelis is also interested in the idea of working with kids who show an interest in comedy.
“Kids who want to play an instrument, they have a lot of options … A kid that wants to draw or paint or sculpt has all sorts of options. A kid that wants to dance or sing has lots of options,” he said. “If you meet a kid who’s inclined to be funny or thinks they’re funny, I don’t know where I would send that kid. I feel like that’s an untapped thing.”
Whether teaching does one day play a bigger part in his life as a comedian, Michaelis is sure things will work out.
“There will be something,” he said. “That’s what keeps me moving. I’ve always figured it out.”
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