Dual life: Teacher by day, comic on weekends, summer break

By From page B1 | June 13, 2014

Derrick Leonard

Derrick Leonard (Courtesy photo by Paul Bishop)

FAIRFIELD — Interesting is probably one of the last words Derrick Leonard would use to describe himself.

“I’m just a normal person who does comedy occasionally,” said the Vallejo resident. After a pause, Leonard said he thought putting normal and comedy in the same sentence might be an oxymoron.

Humor comes from a point of pain for many comics. Leonard wants to make his audiences forget their pain.

During the day, Leonard teaches English and Spanish to seventh- through 12th-graders. Weekends and summers are often spent on the comedy circuit.

He strives to keep the two separate. However, one of his students did a Google search for Derrick Leonard and came up with the comedy side of his life.

“It spread like wildfire (around the school),” he said. “All the kids went on (the Internet) and saw it. They thought it was pretty interesting.”

The teaching credential came after about seven years in the stand-up comedy ranks. When Leonard didn’t find fame and fortune sharing humor, he contemplated a career in writing.

His mother’s stories of her work as a teacher enticed him into education. Comedy came calling again a few years ago, and Leonard found a way to make both of them work.

Pursuing comedy full-time is consuming, he said. He’s learned to take advantage of summer vacation and books his own shows. It also means he doesn’t have to stay out late and get up early the next morning to teach.

Leonard recently began teaching a comedy class through the Greater Vallejo Recreation District.

“You can teach people comedy,” he said. “You’d be surprised how you can sit down with someone and crank out new material. They have an idea, we run with it and forge into it a bit.”

A commencement address he gave at his former high school didn’t go well, in his mind, and sent him running to Toastmasters, an organization dedicated to improving communication and leadership development. The second commencement address at the same high school, after the benefit of Toastmasters, went much better, he said.

“Stand-up comedy doesn’t necessarily transfer to public speaking skills,” Leonard said. “I wanted to be a better speaker.”

He now serves as president of his Toastmasters club. Being a part of the group also offers him the chance to try out some new jokes at the weekly meetings, and help other members who have trouble adding humor to their speeches, he said.

Leonard grew up watching comics on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” He gets his biggest chuckles listening to Brian Regan and Jerry Seinfeld.

He prefers comedy with a dose of sarcasm – clean sarcasm, he said.

Leonard takes his routine to churches and doesn’t change the content for other venues.

“Most audiences appreciate clean (comedy),” he said.

He draws inspiration from everyday life, particularly situations that don’t go as planned. His theory is that if there’s something amiss in the situation, there’s a way to make light of it.

Locals may recognize him from substitute teaching in local junior high and high schools. He stepped away from full-time teaching a couple of years ago, for one year.

“It convinced me I wanted to stay in teaching,” he said. “I like the interaction with the kids. There’s a level of fulfillment there I don’t get from comedy. I have to know I’m contributing to people’s lives for more than one night of entertainment.”

Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.

Derrick Leonard, Mike Pace, Larry “Bubbles” Brown

  • 8 p.m. June 20
  • Empress Theatre, 330 Virginia St. Vallejo
  • 552-2400, www.empresstheatre.org
Amy Maginnis-Honey

Amy Maginnis-Honey

Amy Maginnis-Honey joined the staff of the Daily Republic in 1980. She’ll tell you she was only 3 at the time. Over the past three decades she’s done a variety of jobs in the newsroom. Today, she covers arts and entertainment and writes for the Living and news pages.

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