He’s a teacher with a passion for parody.
Ryan Josephson, who grew up in Humboldt, has been gaining a following on YouTube by posting videos of the parody songs he writes and performs himself.
Since posting his first parody song, “Moves Like Jesus” in December, thousands of people have watched Josephson perform his parody songs.
But this isn’t his first venture into the performing arts — not by a long shot.
Josephson, whose day job is teaching math at Thom Collegiate in Regina, says he’s always liked being up on stage.
“I’ve always had a love for performing from an early age,” he said.
He’d perform in high school plays and at school variety nights, he noted, and even at the pool when he was a lifeguard. He’d help demonstrate rescue techniques, and entertain the swimmers at mini-variety nights they held.
Josephson was introduced to improv comedy while he was still in high school by two HCI graduates — Lee Bells and Mark Schweighardt, who now form the improv group Don’t Mind Us.
“When I was in high school, they were in Saskatoon with the (Saskatoon) Soaps,” Josephson explained.
The two performed at Josephson’s class graduation ceremony in 1992.
“That was my first exposure (to improv),” Josephson noted.
Attending university in Saskatoon, Josephson took in his first Saskatoon Soaps show.
“I thought, that sounds cool,” he said. “I think I could do that.”
He went to an open audition, and after a couple of years of sporadic appearances with the group, he cracked the main cast. He’s been doing improv ever since.
Though he lives in Regina, he still heads back to Saskatoon regularly to perform with the Soaps.
“A lot of guys in the Soaps went through the theatre program in Saskatoon; they were and are working actors,” he said.
Some do the Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan festival every summer, and perform with Persephone and Globe theatres. Other do shows at the Fringe Festival, are radio or television personalities, or write movies.
But there are also a lot of “normal” people in the Soaps, Josephson said, who have day jobs.
“Actually, some are teachers,” he said.
It was after Josephson moved to Regina to teach and he got to know a casting director that he started to put together some film credits as well.
He was cast in a music video for a band that “ended up not doing so well,” he laughed, but the video was shown on MuchMusic.
That job led to appearances in two Brad Johner videos when the country singer went solo.
At about that time, the Saskatchewan comedy “Corner Gas” was starting to film. Josephson appeared in five different episodes of Corner Gas in five of their six seasons.
“I started auditioning for stuff in Regina,” he said. “It all just came together. The film industry was booming in Regina.”
His Corner Gas gigs led to several commercials, and theatre work in both Regina and Estevan.
“It was all borne out of my time in Humboldt, in Sutherland Theatre, and Humboldt Public School shows,” he said.
Josephson was back in Humboldt, performing one of his parody songs at the Sutherland Theatre for the last time on January 22, as part of the theatre’s farewell concert.
The song, sung to the tune of “Your Body is a Wonderland,” starts out funny, but ends on a sentimental note.
“I wanted it to be funny at first,” he said. But he allowed it to get more serious.
“It was a tribute to a place where I’d spent a lot of time,” he said. “As it turned into a tribute, I went with it.”
It turns out “The Sutherland” is just one of the parody songs he has written over the years.
“The parody songs are borne mostly out of the Soaps,” he said. “I’ve been playing guitar for about 15 years.... and we started to incorporate it into Soaps shows.... It went from having the guitar handy (for scenes), to writing songs to close the show.”
Though he says he’s not proficient at creating his own songs in terms of music, “I found myself being able to rewrite lyrics to existing songs,” he said. “It’s just easy for me.”
The song that stuck for him, and which started him on his path to YouTube, was one he wrote about actress Lindsay Lohan about five years ago for a sketch show the Saskatoon Soaps were putting together.
“I was in Vancouver and everyone else was in Saskatoon (writing sketches),” he said. He wrote a song so he would have some part of the show.
He actually came up with the lyrics while driving from Regina to Saskatoon.
“Lindsey Lohan was on the verge of her ... meltdown,” he said about how he’d arrived on her as the subject of the song. “She was just starting to go crazy a little bit.”
Once he decided to sing the song to the tune of “Lola,” the lyrics fell into place.
“It went over really well at the show,” he said.
It then became a regular part of his repertoire, though he would update the lyrics every time Lohan did something else to garner attention.
Putting that song online was something Josephson actually resisted for a long time.
Though the Soaps encouraged him to do it, “I didn’t think people would be interested,” he said.
His Lohan song wasn’t the first one he loaded up onto YouTube. Instead, it was a Christmas song he had written for a Soaps Christmas show.
Called “Moves Like Jesus,” the song is sung to the tune of Maroon 5’s song, “Moves Like Jagger.”
The idea to use that song for a parody had come to Josephson when he had given up on converting a classic Christmas tune into something funny for the show. Once he had determined that he could play “Moves Like Jagger” — “I’m a decent guitar player, but it has to be within my realm of possibility,” he laughed — he came up with the lyrics.
“Often, I get the real lyrics online, and try to match the cadence and rhyme scheme,” he said of how he comes up with the words. “I try to keep the songs I do very close to the original... I try not to rip off lyrics, but make it really close.” It’s something he prides himself on.
His guru in this, he said, is Weird Al Yankovic, who has made a career out of creating parody songs.
Once he gets going with lyrics, things usually just flow, he noted.
“When it flows, it just pours out of me. Once the ball starts rolling, it goes really quick. Then I go back and tweak.”
After getting a good response to the song at the Christmas show, Josephson finally settled down one night, filmed himself singing the song, and uploaded it to YouTube, right before Christmas. The song has now garnered over 6,200 views, something that overwhelms Josephson, who was amazed when it got over 100 hits.
Since then, he’s uploaded an updated version of “The Lohan Song” and another about Justin Bieber, sung to the tune of “Hey Soul Sister.” The Justin Bieber song had already had over 1,000 views in just two weeks.
With the encouragement he’s received from the YouTube viewers, Josephson will likely continue to write his parodies. He’s also been trying to get the attention of some celebrities like Ellen Degeneres and Jimmy Fallon.
“A lot of comedians have been born out of the Internet,” he said. “You never know.”
If his performing career takes off, would he leave teaching?
Maybe, he admitted, if he could be guaranteed a living wage. But he knows that with acting and performing, there are no guarantees.
“It’s a bit of a gamble,” he said.
He does like teaching, he added, and has been involved in directing plays and musicals at Thom Collegiate.
If the right person sees his videos, and it leads to something else, he might consider giving up his red pen for some bright lights.
“It would be cool,” he said.
Until then, expect to see more of his work on his You Tube channel.