A media-minded professor
Outrageous and pompous, Professor Kuling of BITE TV’s satirical show Recessionomics is far from the individual you’d want teaching a class of 200 students.
But for the real Peter Kuling, Laurier professor of English, film studies and communications, that character could not be further from the truth.
“The difference is that Professor Kuling on BITE TV is an arrogant self-involved kind of asshole who is full of himself and thinks he knows everything. I by no means in my personal life or the classroom come across that way,” explained Kuling.
He notes that playing the character on Recessionomics, reminiscent of exceedingly sarcastic funny-man Stephen Colbert, involves acting out an “extreme version” of himself.
The 30-year-old professor – who is currently months away from his doctoral degree in English literature – became involved with Emmy-award winning channel BITE TV when his friend Jason Agnew asked him to be a cameraman for his new show called The Surf.
“I always wanted to be a camera guy. That was my dream since high school.”
Kuling was working with a production company in Mississauga at the time on a variety of projects.
After obtaining his undergraduate degree in film production at York University, Kuling decided to go into teaching due to a slump in the industry. During his first years as a contract academic professor, Kuling got involved with the production company to fill his summers, as part-time faculty do not teach over the spring term.
Kuling notes that his first job with the company was shooting an open heart surgery for the University of Massachusetts in a Toronto operating room.
“The viewfinder was black and white so I didn’t have to see any of the blood or the gore by keeping my face to the viewfinder,” he laughed.
“I don’t know anything about economics … but that’s what makes it funny.”
Soon after joining The Surf’s production team, Kuling was asked to adopt his own persona as one of many correspondents on the show, much like those on The Daily Show.
“[Jason Agnew] realized he had about six or seven really good friends who could all complement his technical work and we’re all funny guys,” said Kuling.
The idea for Recessionomics arose from Rob Scott, The Surf’s graphics person, who had been writing short sardonic sketches based on the idea of informing individuals on how to save money during a recession.
“Being in front of students I had a sense of presence in speaking,” said Kuling. This is when he began to perform the sketch as self-proclaimed expert Professor Kuling.
Recessionomics, which began as a correspondent segment on The Surf just recently became its own show airing once every hour on BITE TV; the show will have filmed approximately 30 episodes by January.
“The students have started to figure it out.”
According to Kuling, many students began to discover his show and have asked him about it.
“I get a little bit excited obviously because it’s minor celebrityism,” he admitted, adding that he enjoys the fact that the show reveals a different aspect of his personality to students.
“I don’t shy away from it. I don’t announce it to everybody, but I let them sort of find it on their own,” he added.
In Recessionomics, Kuling does not censor his character’s use of sexual themes or profanity; while he realizes his students be watching the show, he does not see this as a problem.
“I never worry about it because I think it’s 100 per cent clear that it’s comedy and it’s meant to make you smile and laugh,” said Kuling.
Although Kuling is aware that his technologically savvy students may eventually find BITE’s website and watch his show, he sees a strict division between his professional role at Laurier and his character role on the show.
“I think it would be the same line as if you had a co-worker that you saw out somewhere or shopping somewhere. Is it really your responsibility to go up to them and say ‘Hey, I saw that you buy blue hats’?” Kuling stated.
“It’s crossing a line between personal and professional,” he added.
“I don’t want to age too quickly and become too set in my ways.”
For Kuling, being one of the youngest professors at Laurier can be a difficulty and an advantage.
“I think it helps with connecting to students very well,” he explained.
Despite the heavy standards placed on a university professor – including extensive research and experience – Kuling explains that he feels confident that his unique, friendly approach to teaching by incorporating new media elements makes up for his lack of seniority.
“The standards are there. It’s just that maybe I approach them differently,” said Kuling.
As a young professor, Kuling also faces distinct treatment from his students.
Last year, he was voted best looking professor by the student body in “Laurier Likes,” which appeared in the Feb. 5, 2009 issue of The Cord.
“I take it as a compliment,” he said. Kuling tries to consider the flattery in positive light, stating that “it’s often easy to listen to somebody who has some charisma or a look about them.
“It’s part of the reason Obama beat Clinton and McCain. He had a great look about him and a presence and I try to treat it that way,” he added.
“With age and experience comes the ability to time manage.”
Filming in Mississauga, teaching at Laurier and completing his thesis prove for a hefty schedule of working and commuting for Kuling.
“I just have to really organize and prep stuff,” he explained.
“There’s a lot of film shoots where there’ll be a couple hours of down time. I’m marking students assignments and prepping lecture materials and everyone knows that. They know that I have two jobs.”
When asked which profession is more of a focus for him, Kuling replied that both hold importance.
“I think of it as two professions running in tandem, fully,” he said, adding that very few individuals remain in one profession these days.
Kuling added that once he finishes his PhD he hopes to eventually become a full-time professor, but wants to maintain a focus on his profession in media.
“I want to find something that will still let me do this on the side,” he noted. “A lot of professors publish. I’d like to keep working in media and consider that a version of publishing, in whatever form it needs to be.”
Kuling is nominated in TVO’s best lecturer series; the winner of the competition will be announced in early 2010.
Peter Kuling’s favourite…
“It’s a little bit scary, a little bit violent, a little bit sexy and it’s totally fun.”
Class to teach
“It’s an overview of stuff from the ‘70s until now. We look at … movies through every major genre and tie them all together.”
“My favourite book of all time is the original Frankenstein from 1818.”
“It’s movie soundtracks played in a constant web-stream. I’ll be working on my writing and it’ll be background music.”