Arts & CultureCultural Affairs

Think twice before investing in a back-up plan

When he finished high school, Christopher Borg figured that teaching Physical Education would be a fun and simple way to make money.

Borg had done improv throughout high school and managed to translate it into a gig with Rapid Fire Theatre, a well-known improvisational comedy group based in Edmonton, after he graduated. From there, he began doing the occasional standup comedy show, and he even landed a few paying jobs acting in commercials around the province and as the Game Day Host for the Edmonton Oil Kings.

But it wasn’t enough to make a living, unless he wanted to live with his parents forever. So before he had fully jumped into the pursuit of a career in comedy, he began to map out his fallback net.

Teaching gym would be perfect, he thought. Jumping on a bus and going rock climbing or sitting down on a bench and watching kids play ball hockey for a few hours would be a chill way to spend time, and collecting a paycheque at the end of it would be golden. That’s the idea he got from his Phys. Ed 30 teacher, who appeared to be living the dream. He would have a low-stress job that paid pretty well and offered him the flexibility to do the stuff on the side that he genuinely cared about.

Then he actually got in front of a class and taught.

“I would come in really early in the morning and then teach a class of 30 ninth grade kids and 30 seventh grade kids at the same time in a smallish gym by myself,” he says. “I would be trying to show all of them how to do, like, a layup or something, and while that was happening, an older kid would pull down a younger kid’s shorts and everyone would just start screaming.”

Supplied — Andy Devlin

It turns out there’s more to this teaching thing than just screwing around and playing games with kids for a few hours. He has to be responsible for all of them, and it was terrifying, he said. Whenever one of them did something, like turn around and punt a football at another kid’s head as hard as they could, he felt an overwhelming sense of guilt for letting it happen.

“It was just chaos,” Borg says. “I was constantly giving instructions, speed-walking back and forth between showing kids how to do stuff and then disciplining them for being dicks to each other.”

“Then one class would be over, I would do it again four or five times before going home and stressing about having to do it all over again the next day.”

This wasn’t just a chill and flexible job. Being a teacher takes a tremendous amount of energy and commitment, and to think otherwise was hilariously naive, Borg notes.

When he was doing his student teaching practicum in the Fall Semester earlier this year, Borg says he would go home every day and feel miserable. There wasn’t time to for improv or standup comedy. All he did was go home, worry about being terrible at teaching, get drunk, and watch season five of Survivor on DVD.

“I would leave, and since it was November, December, it would just be so cold, snowy, dark, and depressing” he says. “I had a friend who was unemployed at the time, and he was also super bummed out, so he would come over and we would just watch Survivor nonstop for hours.”

“I think it just made me happy to watch people on an island without food being stressed out, so I could be like ‘thank god there are people who are suffering more than me.’”

Now Borg is a few weeks away from completing his Secondary Education Degree with a focus in Phys. Ed, but he can’t really see himself and being fulfilled as a person while teaching five days a week.

“I went into university and got an education degree as a backup in case pursuits in show-business and comedy didn’t work out,” he says. “But it made realize how awful a backup can be. When I was teaching, I never had the energy to get out an do comedy more than once or twice a month.”

In contrast to teaching, Borg had the Oil Kings host job which was infinitely more rewarding. It was stressful at first being in front of a huge audience, but now it feels natural, he said. One time, he gave away a van to a middle-aged woman. Sometimes he gets to yell “woo!” loudly into a a microphone and give coupons for pierogis away to excited kids. But not matter what, it’s fun work. There isn’t the same rigidity of being responsible for a large group of kids who view him as Mr. Borg rather than Chris.

It was the time he spent worrying teaching that made him realize that this career was nothing more than a fallback net. There are people who are damn good at teaching, and he isn’t one of them. But he is good at getting on stage and making people laugh, and if he wants that to be a career, he’s going to have to put in the work to make it happen.

“In the New Year I pulled up my socks and made it happen,” he says. “Before that, the Oil Kings job was the only work I did that I enjoyed.”

“Now rather than doing a comedy show every once in a while, I’ve started to do them four or five times a week. It’s my fear of settling into a fallback net that keeps pushing me to do it.”

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