SEATTLE — When Seattle-based comedian Joe Dombrowski makes fun of being a teacher, he speaks from years of experience.
"I loved it. It's definitely the most underrated profession I could think of. Without teachers, there's no other profession,” Dombrowski said. "Teachers are just so down, out, overworked and sad. And being in that sort of trauma makes for great comedy."
But his breakthrough performance was in an elementary school classroom.
"I remember boring days at school and not wanting to be there, and I never wanted my students to experience that,” Dombrowski said.
One day, he recorded himself pranking his fourth grade class with a fake spelling test, including words like "tangetine” and “speekuzslmn" (those are silent letters at the end.)
“I post it, and I wake up with 20 million views,” Dombrowski said. “The local news at my school trying to get interviews with me, my principal in a full frenzy not knowing what to do. I remember the secretary being like, 'Uh Joe, Good Morning America's on the phone for you.' I'm like, 'We're in social studies right now!'"
Within days, he appeared on “Ellen” as a guest and his comedy career took off.
But don't call Dombrowski an overnight success.
"The first time I ever did standup, I was 8-years-old in my third grade talent show. I stole all my jokes from a magician,” Dombrowski said.
Dombrowski always loved working a crowd and started performing in high school. He did small paid gigs in college but realized he would need a day job.
Turns out, teaching is a lot like doing stand-up.
"Being one will make you a better the other. When you're a comic, you have to control this room. And if something happens, you have to address it and get them back in a second. That's all teaching is, too,” Dombrowski said. “If you're a comedian, you're dealing with drunk adults and if you're a teacher, you're dealing with kids who are acting like drunk adults... You can't heckle me. You know why? Because I've had a five-year-old look at me and say, 'Where's your hair going?' You can't hurt me. This skin's thick, baby."
Dombrowski taught for years, including time at schools in Bellevue and Madrona. But during the pandemic, he decided to take a leap of faith and leave the classroom for the stage full-time.
"My mom always raised me by saying, 'Without risk, there's no reward, and the bigger the risk, the bigger there could be a reward,’” Dombrowski said. "I think the week that I left teaching is when I got signed by CAA."
But Dombrowski's time as a teacher isn't just material. It's also motivation for his shows.
"The goal is, teachers will leave saying, 'That's true.' But non-teachers will leave saying, 'That's true? We need to do something about that.' Because it's the non-teachers who are making change,” he said. "Support your teachers, back them up, let them know you care, and that'll eventually change the world."
Dombrowski said he misses working with kids, but he occasionally sees some of his former students – in the audience.
"My oldest youngest students are probably 23 now,” Dombrowski said. "I have students from my first years teaching who are in college and they'll reach out and say, 'You were telling us to always reach our goals, work hard for it, you can accomplish your dreams. And you're doing it!'”
Dombrowski just wrapped up performances at Just For Laughs MONTRÉAL (the biggest comedy festival in the world) and is dropping a comedy special this fall.
He’s also kicking off a nationwide tour that ends in Seattle with a performance at the Moore Theatre in February 2024.