JOHN Caplis once a had a former teacher come up to him. “A nun, and she said to me, ‘I was so surprised when I saw your poster,’ and I said, ‘Oh, right, you didn’t know I did comedy?’ and she said, ‘Oh no, I was shocked that you did teaching; didn’t you stay back?’”
School days have always provided a rich vein of comedy for stand-up comedians to tap into, but the joke is usually at the expense of the teacher. In his show, the Tipperary stand-up turns the tables to give the teacher’s perspective on his 12-year stint as substitute history and CSPE (Civic, Social and Political Education) teacher, and finds the joke is still usually on him.
From his first ever teaching post in in Finglas with class 1BJ, or “one bejaysus,” as the teaching staff called them, through stints in the UK where his Irish spin on Cromwellian history caused a stir, his career has provided Caplis with material aplenty. So it’s little wonder he’s created an entire show to his tales of teaching.
“A lot of my stories would have been little anecdotes from my day job,” Caplis says. “A friend of mine said, ‘why don’t you knit all of those stories into a sequence and do a show about teaching?’ I put together a rough show in the summer time and I ended up with an hour of material.”
Caplis has also worked as a comedy promoter in Limerick, having started doing stand-up in his student days in the University of Limerick.
Teaching by day and comedy shows at night can make for uneasy bedfellows, Caplis says. “I’ve always had a pretty good rapport with my sixth year history classes and once when I was teaching in Clondalkin, they came to one of my gigs after their graduation and they were all hammered. It’s a tricky one; you’ve a tightrope to walk when you’re in a profession like teaching and then you’re out on the weekends.”
There’s a universal appeal in jokes about school; everyone’s been there, and Caplis does more than just brush the chalk dust off a few tales. He brings the classroom into his act too. “I do role-play with the audience based on real exercises from some old SPHE (Social, Personal and Health Education) classes,” he says.
“It’s a drugs and alcohol awareness class from an old Mid-Western Health Board video and worksheets. I get an audience member up to play the role of this guy from Dublin who comes down to visit his culchie cousins and brings a bag of drugs to try and give them to local people.”
But a lot of Caplis’s material does focus on the trials and tribulations of his day job, from one boy’s careful illustration of Caplis performing fellatio on himself to the girl who wrote in an exam that Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous work was The Da Vinci Code, to the inadvertent use of a swearword in class that earned him the nickname “Mr F**kin’ Caplis” in one school.
But he describes his tribulations at the hands of his rowdier students as karma because, like so many comedians, he was a bit of a joker in his own school days. “We used to drive my Irish teacher absolutely around the bend by humming quietly at her. Fifteen years later and I’m standing in front of a class that’s doing the same thing,” he says.
Caplis hasn’t yet landed what he describes as the “Holy Grail” of a CID — a contract of indefinite duration. Would he like to focus full-time on comedy? “Oh, absolutely,” he says.
For now, however, he’s happy to keep one foot in the camp that’s given him so much inspiration.
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