On a stage of his own

Have you ever thought about why we do the things we do? Adjunct Professor of humanities Michael Schuster often thinks about these things.

“The first time that somebody used the middle finger to insult somebody, how would they know that it was an insult,” Schuster said. “You show them your middle finger and they’re like, and what am I supposed to do with that? And you’re like, you’re insulted, deal with that.”

Schuster has been teaching humanities at Pierce for three years now. He also writes and performs as a comedian and actor.

While those professions sound very different at first thought, Schuster has noticed an overlap in all of them.

“They’re all performative,” Schuster said. “I think that you need to be engaging. You need to read the room, you need to communicate succinctly and need to be able to talk in front of people and not freak out.”

There are also similar moments in teaching and performing when you do something right and  you realize that it was received well.

“I think there’s ah-ha moments when you teach students, almost like with that for the comedy crowd, when something hits and you can feel it,” Schuster said.

Schuster never wants his classes to become repetitive or boring. He said his fear is becoming boring. He always looks for new ways to present the lecture material to make it relevant and entertaining for the students.

Pierce nursing student Diana Rivera described his class as informative while also saying he does a great job of keeping the class fun.

“His quotes that he says are just hilarious,” Rivera said. “He makes us laugh all the time.”

Performing is never without nerves, though. He always tries to keep his classes and routine fresh but there is always a fear that it falls flat.

“I still get a little bit nervous the first day of teaching,” Schuster said. “The first day of the semester there’s a certain excitement, kind of like an opening night.”

But for him, teaching isn’t as nerve wracking as performing a comedy routine or acting on stage.

“Hopefully no teachers have ever been booed or heckled mid-lecture,” Schuster said. “That would be terrible. That could definitely happen in front of strangers that you don’t have to grade.”

Schuster knew he wanted to be a writer since he was in junior high school. While at San Francisco State University, he got a bachelor’s degree in English.

During his time there, he found his passion for comedy, acting and his interest in American studies, which is a subset of humanities. He then decided to get his master’s degree in humanities.

It wasn’t a smooth path through school for him though. He dropped out of college a few times before realizing he wanted to get a degree.

“That’s a good lesson for the students,” Schuster said. “I’m not the best example because I quit school like two or three times and was like, I don’t need this. Then I eventually realized that jobs out there are not the best without a degree.”

When he was first interviewed for his job at Pierce, Department Chair James McKeever could tell he would be a great fit to teach at Pierce.

“He had this really down to earth kind of feel and approach to him that I thought would resonate really well with students,” McKeever said. “He seems to have really good rapport with them and you know, he’s funny.”

McKeever said Schuster is an excellent teacher who does everything that is asked of him while he always seems to be full of energy.

“He really loves what he’s doing,” McKeever said. “He just really seems to love teaching.”

That passion for teaching translates into motivation to be the best teacher and entertainer he can be.

“I think you want to be as entertaining and as inspiring as your LeBron’s,” Schuster said. “I think we all aspire to be the LeBron of teaching in some way.”

While teaching, comedy, acting, and writing take up most of his time, Schuster enjoys going to see a movie and discovering new music. He also plays on a co-ed softball team in Burbank.

As a writer, he works on producing scripts for television that he hopes will get picked up one day.

“It’d be nice to have something developed, something picked up,” Schuster said. “If you could hook onto a show, if you could make working in Hollywood seem like a nine to five, that kind of steady work would be a nice dream.”

Until that day comes, Schuster will continue to ponder why we do the things we do.

“I’m supposed to be insulted because you just showed me a finger,” Schuster said. “What if I wave 10 fingers at you, what do you think of that? And you’re like, no that doesn’t work. That’s jazz hands, that means nothing. The middle finger is something.”