Long before he played Darryl Philbin, the quick-witted Dunder-Mifflin employee on “The Office,” Craig Robinson was known as a K-8 music teacher.
His mother, also a music teacher, inspired him to teach.
“My mother was the greatest example of an incredible teacher,” says Robinson, 47, who saw the impact his mother and other teachers have on students. “I remember one student told me, ‘I wish your mom was my mom.’ People love her.”
The “Hot Tub Time Machine” actor taught in the Chicago Public School System right after college. He earned his undergraduate degree from Illinois State University and his Masters of Education from St. Xavier University.
“I started out thinking I’ll be a teacher, and then comedy kind of took over,” says Robinson, who later joined the Second City theater.
His love of comedy drew him to pursue a new career path.
“I felt like my calling was to do comedy,” he says, explaining it was difficult to leave the security of teaching and the bond with students behind.
Still, Robinson’s passion for music continues. In fact, whenever you see him playing piano in commercials and episodes of “The Office,” that’s really him.
Now the stand-up comedian, who lives in Los Angeles, travels the country headlining venues and festivals where he combines his comedy and piano skills in both solo acts and with his band, The Nasty Delicious. He and his band are working on an upcoming album.
He credits his teaching career with preparing him for comedy and acting.
“Stand in front of a bunch of kids,” he says. “Kids demand the truth, they demand discipline, and those are two things that carried me through and transferred from the classroom to standup. You have to be genuine and disciplined in your art.”
His former students often connect with him on social media.
“It’s shocking to have that impact as well,” he says. “People reach out and say that you inspired them. They remembered the class.”
Looking back on his time as a teacher and his early TV career, he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I’m one of those people who believes that everything has happened to lead me to this moment,” he says. “For instance, there were some shows I auditioned for that I didn’t get. But if I did get that show, I wouldn’t have been able to be on ‘The Office.’”
An advocate for educators, Robinson wants teachers to be appreciated and well-compensated. He knows they often have to buy their own supplies and even buy lunch for their students.
“Teachers should be paid like professional athletes,” says the actor, who recently did a fundraiser for music in Chicago Public Schools. “They really have the most important, sacred job: to shape the minds of the youth.”
He has this message for teachers: “Absolutely thank you. Thank you for your patience and your passion to bring kids up right.”
Kristen Castillo, [email protected]