Political science professor brings comedy to the classroom

Written by Santiago Svidler, Special to The Roundup.


As professor Robb begins her lecture on the fundamental principles of the American government, her class can almost always anticipate something comical to lighten up the stern and serious governmental issues discussed in the class.

Denise Robb is a full-time political science professor at Pierce College. She was born in the Bronx projects in New York City to two musician parents. Her mother was a professional violinist and her father was a pianist and a graduate of Oxford University with two master’s degrees.

As an only child Robb was very close to her mother.

“She was my best friend,” Robb said.

She moved to Anaheim, California at the age of seven with her family. Since acting was not offered at her high school at the time, she enrolled in an additional school that offered special programs where she could take acting classes.

At the age of 18, Robb worked three jobs as she attended University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). But her education came to a halt after dropping out of school twice.

When she left school for the first time she participated in acting, singing, dancing, and improv classes. The second time around she was only there for one semester, as she realized how much she didn’t like college.

“I hated it,” Robb said. “I sat on the floor. I really hated college.”

While at a comedy club she met comedian Bob Zany, who is still a very successful comedian. Zany suggested that she do stand up. After she put together an act she almost immediately got offered paid work.

One night when performing at a coffee house she invited some friends and told them to bring a camera to videotape her stand up comedy. She then sent her work to bookers and started getting more gigs including road shows.

She started to perform her stand up comedy on the road, and got to travel to Canada, Alaska, Minnesota, North Dakota, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles.

When Robb was working in New York City she performed on a television show called Girls Night Out. Being in an acting environment was very exciting for her because she was able to share that moment with her mother.

“There are people who never even got paid work. Then there are people who got paid work, but they never got TV work,” Robb said. “I got paid work and I got TV work. But the ultimate goal if you want to support yourself is to get a sitcom, like Ellen.”

In order to make money while performing stand up comedy, she had to constantly be on the road traveling. According to Robb, life on the road was very lonely and she hated it.

“You can’t make a living unless you get TV, movies, or do your own shows,” Robb said.

Robb would perform a lot of her own shows, but she usually did benefits that supported a cause. All the proceeds that were raised during her benefit shows would go to the organization.

The last show she did was for President Obama before he was elected in 2008. During the benefit Stand Up For Obama, Robb was among many other famous stand up comedians such as Maria Bamford.

One of her favorite jokes as well as the most liked by her fans is “I wish boyfriends would treat us like apartments. They’d have to give us a 30 day notice before they left us, and they’d have to leave us in the same condition they found us in.”

“She’s a very funny lady, very talented and I found her class to be one of the most enjoyable, entertaining and informative classes I’ve taken at Pierce,” said John Lakovits, a 52-year-old Pierce student.

In 2009, Robb met her now husband Mike Vanier through eHarmony. He initially started sending her jokes, and after reading them she found them to be funny. So she borrowed his jokes in her stand up comedy.

Comedy was put on hold and motherhood kicked in when she had her first son two years after her wedding. She moved on to dabble in local politics, working with different politicians and their campaigns.

“I was always political and I was always an activist,” Robb said. “I use to get arrested a lot for protesting.”

Once Robb decided to go back to school, she enrolled in Santa Monica College, earning her associate degree and transferring to California State University Los Angeles (CSULA). She did this while working 40 hours a week and doing stand up comedy on the weekends.

Robb graduated from CSULA with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She later attended University of California, Irvine, earning her doctorate in political science.

“I was slowing down. I don’t know, I have a different life. I wanted to be a professor. I wanted a career, like a regular normal career,” Robb said.

One of Robb’s colleagues, history professor Brian Walsh, moved from New Jersey to California in 2001. That same year he attended a benefit for Robb and the Green Party at the Knitting Factory in Los Angeles.

“She’s funny,” Walsh said. “Her comedy and wisdom comes from an honest place.”

When teaching her class she tends to joke around but usually her jokes are spontaneous, and not planned. They just happen naturally.

“Besides comedy, political science was the only thing I could do and be happy,” Robb said.