“Tom Shadyac” is a name that, on campus, has quickly become associated with “free bikes,” but the director and writer with 31 years of Hollywood experience teaches lessons that are a lot more meaningful at the University of Memphis. In fact, the “Liar Liar,” “Patch Adams,” and “Bruce Almighty” Ace-Ventura: Pet Detective,” and “Nutty Professor” director has earned a himself the new title of “Filmmaker in residence in the Department of Communication” at U of M as of April 21.
“Where many universities have made promises to want to work with me and the class I offer, the U of M followed through with a very enthusiastic yes,” Shadyac said. “The faculty, Leroy Dorsey, the president they have welcomed me and made me feel a sense of belonging that is rare. Academia can be a very closed system and they have opened their arms to what we’re doing. It’s tangible and it’s made a big difference to me. ”
Tom Shadyac, not to be confused with his older brother Richard Shadyac Jr., the CEO of ALSAC St. Jude, has taught his course “Storytelling and Life” at the University one night a week since 2013 refusing to take a salary. The class is a continuation of sorts of what he taught for several years at Pepperdine University near Los Angeles. The producer for such films as “Accepted” flies from Malibu during the semester each week to teach the class at the University that he feels most accepted at.
“I have found a depth, an authenticity, and a light in the students that I have not seen in my many years of teaching,” Shadyac said. “They are a unique student body that is committed to serving with whatever talents they have, and I never leave my class with anything but a high of inspiration.”
Leroy Dorsey is the Department Chair of the Communication Department. He described Shadyac’s new appointment “Filmmaker in Residence” with high regard.
“It is a prestigious title that myself, the dean, the provost and the president all agreed he should have,” Dorsey said, “He’s making a difference in the lives of not just students here but in the community. That’s important.”
The difference that Shadyac makes becomes more evident through conversations with his students. Those “free bikes” that are occasionally and symbolically awarded at the end of the semester actually find their way to a much different classroom than the one Shadyac teaches in.
“We went to Treadwell Elementary, an underprivileged school, and we give bikes to the fifth grade class,” 21-year-old Music Performance Major Stephen Brodkin said. “A lot of those kids have never gotten to ride a bike, and I think that bikes are such an important part of childhood. As privileged people; we don’t understand how much a privilege a bike is. These kids go home and they may not get dinner, they may only get lunch at school. Their lives are so dramatically different. We bring bikes to them to give them a little bit more happiness.”
“Happiness,” is a theme that seems to encircle Shadyac’s “Storytelling and Life” course. Student Brodkin further illustrated the symbolic nature of Shadyac’s bicycles.
“He gives us bikes to remind us of the feeling we had when we were first learning to ride a bike; how carefree we were and a little bit scared.” Borodkin said. “Right when you take off you don’t have any training wheels. Your mom and your dad aren’t with you anymore and it’s the first time you actually go off and do things on your own. It’s a lot similar to how college is, a lot similar to how life is. When we graduate college or drop out of college a lot of us are too focused on making money or being successful. He actually gives us bikes to remind us how that initial ‘happiness’ feels.”
Shadyac’s course has grown from a set up of 25 students to a 95-seat classroom based on it’s increasing popularity. “Storytelling and Life” fills up minutes after registration opens.
“They never cease to amaze me with their stories and their courage with what they’ve met challenges in their life,” Shadyac said. “I just feel very honored to be a voice on their journey.”
Tom Shadyac spoke highly of his students and the Chair of his Department spoke highly of Shadyac and his teaching mentality.
“One of the things that a university should be doing is engaging with the community to try and help it address and solve some of the issues that it’s facing,” Dorsey said. “We all live here so we need to do our part to try and help the city become that much better.”
Tom Shadyac, a Hollywood veteran, has worked with the likes of Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, and Eddie Murphy, but he’s found a home away from home that is less lights, camera, action and more blues, Rock n’ Roll.
“There is something happening in Memphis,” Shadyac said. “You can feel it. It’s a spirit and an energy of coming together and I feel blessed to be a small part of whatever that is. I think while other cities are having challenges and falling apart I feel, somehow, that Memphis has the opportunity to come together. I want to do my part to serve whatever that is.”