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Largo teacher takes comedy routine to ABC's 'The View'

Published Feb. 27, 2013

SEMINOLE — Mike Rivera's day job is teaching civics to seventh-graders. On the side, he's a comedian.

So, when silence greets his question about who uses the Constitution for its rulings, he can't help but give the following hint.

"Taco?" he says. As in Taco Supreme, that is.

And the answer, ladies and gentlemen, is the Supreme Court.

Rivera is about to deliver his lines to a larger, and perhaps more critical, audience.

The Osceola Middle School teacher is scheduled to appear on national television Friday, a guest of ABC's The View, the show whose hosts include Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar. It airs locally on WFTS-Ch. 28 at 11 a.m.

The teacher's appearance is part of a weeklong contest to select the most hilarious teacher. He is competing against hopefuls from Toronto, Staten Island, N.Y., Canton, Ohio, and Hamtramck, Mich. The winner will be announced on Monday and appear on "Joy's Comedy Corner," a segment on The View.

It's "pretty cool," Rivera told a seventh-grade class Monday.

"Sometimes you see things and you say, 'They'll never pick me,' " he said in his classroom, decorated with all variations of SpongeBob, including one that speaks German and another Greek.

Thursday, though, he got an email saying he was being considered for the show.

"They told me, 'Don't get your hopes up,' " the transplanted New Yorker said.

When the phone call came saying he had been selected, "I was like in shock … I freaked out," said Rivera, 51, of Largo.

It shows you're never too old for your dreams to come true, he told his students.

The View is flying him to New York today, putting him up in a hotel, getting him to the studio for a taping on Thursday and flying him back home that night.

The mad dash of the past few days has included a shopping excursion for new shoes — ditch the black sneakers, friends said — a shirt, tie, belt and pants. There was also the plan for a fellow teacher to color the gray out of his hair.

As he broke in the new pair of black shoes Monday, he gave a practice test on the Bill of Rights, interspersing the lesson with bits of his trademark humor.

"Sometimes you have to know when to be funny and also when to be serious," he said later. "You have to engage on their level. You can make them laugh and learn at the same time."

A rabbit puppet in a black top hat gave out the grades for the practice test.

"You're getting an A," the rabbit announced to one student. "A bow to you."

A plastic dinosaur usually delivers bad news, screaming when the grade is an F. Darth Vader theme music from Star Wars demands quiet.

"He's really funny," said Gloria Nguyen, 12. "He tries to come up with funny things to help us memorize tests or words or vocabulary."

"He does voices," said another student, Austin Sanford, 13. "He has a skeleton face with a mustache."

Rivera has been teaching for almost 13 years. He would love to show other teachers how to use humor for classroom management, he said.

"Sometimes you have to show the kid in you … but also set boundaries," he said.

About 20 years ago, he was doing comedy full time. These days, it's limited to local clubs on weekends.

"It's the coolest second job you can ever have," he said.

But, added Rivera, who is divorced and shares custody of his son, Brendon, 12, and daughter, Caitlin, 10, with his ex-wife, he first is a father, then a teacher and last a comic.

His children have been helping him to refine his two-minute act for The View.

"It's a little nerve-wracking, but I always tell my kids to go for it. It's all about practicing what you preach," he said.

Now he is getting his chance at the big time.

"Donald Trump is going to be there," he told his class. "We're in the same salary range."

They didn't seem to get it.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.

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