When Cole Johnston was a freshman, he found his passion for improvised comedy while watching a muted episode of TUTV in the Annenberg Atrium.
“There was this guy, Rob Gentile, who was one of the head writers for Temple Smash at the time,” said Johnston, a senior advertising major. “We were sitting in the Annenberg Atrium, and TUTV was playing with no sound. Rob and I started to say what we thought they should say, joking around as those characters.”
Johnston has been an active performer for Temple Smash, the university’s student-produced comedy show, for four years. He is also a regular performer at Philly Improv Theater, located in the Adrienne Theater at 2030 Sansom St.
Johnston participated as one of nine members of “Hoffman,” a house team that performs on a weekly basis at PHIT, but it was Temple Smash that piqued his interest in improv.
“I’ve always done that kind of stuff where I try to guess what people would say in a situation, but [Gentile] was like, ‘That is improv,’” Johnston said. “Doing that is basically what [improv] is, but you’re just imagining those pictures instead.”
Johnston said prior to attending Temple, he didn’t have “an outlet” to explore his interest in comedy-based performing. Johnston describes his involvement in both Temple and Philadelphia’s comedy communities as “consistently rewarding and always present.”
In addition to his active role in the Philadelphia comedy scene, Johnston is currently a guitarist and vocalist for his band Best Cheapest, one of three bands he has been a part of throughout the past four years.
He performs at least twice a semester in live shows for Temple Smash, and every weekend for PHIT. Johnston said his roles as a student, comedian and musician at Temple have all contributed to shaping him as a person.
“I use each of them to inspire the other ones,” he added.
The drummer of his current band, junior philosophy major Shay Pilot, said Johnston is “very similar to a lot of people in the [comedy] crowd, but at the same time very different.”
“A lot of people make dad jokes, like jokes that dads would find funny, but [Johnston] seems to make dad jokes, like jokes about dads,” Pilot said.
Johnston said “comedy has made it easier to talk to people,” which has helped him excel in his desired field of copy editing. He recently completed an internship at LevLane, a full-service advertising agency located at 100 Penn Square East.
Pilot said Johnston is a “very clear creative mind” and a talented musician.
During his time at Temple, Johnston has never changed his major from advertising, but he just recently discovered his penchant for copy editing.
“My experience in improv has really helped me with copy editing skills,” he said. “It’s always about how other people are feeling and playing characters. That’s my spin on my cover letter. I play all these characters I speak as other people so I use that same approach in advertising. It’s easier to talk to other people when you’re more aware of how they’re perceiving things.”
After graduation this spring, Johnston plans to stay in Philadelphia. The conclusion of his time at Temple has lead to his realization that “there’s no good in worrying” about his transition into the “adult” world.
“I’ll be OK, I was worried about it for a while, but I’m not dying I’m just graduating,” Johnston said. “I don’t have to transform. I don’t have to quickly put on this adult armor and hop into battle. I’m just going to sneak into it and see what happens.”
Erin Blewett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.