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Spotlight On … John Erler ’89

John Erler ’89, a comedian in Austin, Texas, made news this spring dressed as Moses to protest a state bill to limit transgender access to bathrooms. He held signs saying, “Let my people go … to the bathroom.”

What do you love most about what you do?

I run a movie-riffing show called Master Pancake Theater—like Mystery Science Theater 3000, but live—at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin. I love getting to watch movies for a living. Even the terrible ones. I’ve seen the Twilight movies—no joke—over 100 times.

How has Swarthmore shaped your career—and your life?

From ’86 to ’89 I drew a weekly cartoon for The Phoenix: The Adventures of Binky the Clown, a satirical take on Swat life. The most memorable one was a response to some anti-LGBTQ graffiti that had been drawn in chalk on the path to Sharples. The graffiti shocked the campus. My cartoon that week was about Binky encountering the artist drawing on the sidewalk. Binky did a satisfying verbal takedown of the dude that I won’t recount here. The cartoon really struck a chord with people. My Moses costume 30 years later has a similar vibe. On those rare occasions when you can stand up for the marginalized and also make people laugh, there’s no better feeling.

What advice would you give current Swarthmoreans hoping to follow in your path?

Try a lot of things. I started out in grad school for classics but ended up in comedy. Meet people you want to work with. Hone your work. Don’t give up. Find your niche. Be generous. Unexpected opportunities come from favors you do for someone else.  

Anything else you’d like to say?

If you’re in Austin, come see Master Pancake at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. If you’re not in Austin, you can watch some of my jokes on the new Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Return. It’s on Netflix right now. I co-wrote Episode 9: “Yongary, Monster From the Deep.” There’s even a joke about traffic on the Schuylkill for all you Swatties.