Five Questions with Sam Bishop: How Being a Comedian, Puppeteer, and Pilot Helps Him Train Tomorrow’s First Responders

Photo of Sam Bishop

South Piedmont Fire/Rescue/EMS Director Sam Bishop holds up a T-shirt listing the many jobs he’s had in his career.

During his EMS classes at South Piedmont Community College, Fire/Rescue/EMS Director Sam Bishop often makes this joke:

“If you deliver a baby, and you drop it … pick it up.”

It’s a one-liner he wrote while studying comedy, in between becoming a pilot, an ordained minister, a puppeteer, and well, let’s just say he’s had a lot of jobs.

“Life is short. You never know when it’s going to be over. I’ve always been the type who lives life to the fullest and gets the most out of life as I possibly can,” Sam Bishop said.

Sam Bishop uses his many professional experiences, and all he’s learned along the way, in his work at South Piedmont. He joined the College in 2021, bringing with him his master’s degree in organizational management from Pfeiffer University and his many years in the EMS field.

“I’m able to connect with all sorts of people, and with comedy, for instance, I use my experience as a comedian to make classes more interesting and therefore more memorable to students. That’s actually why I went to comedy school, to be a better teacher,” he said.

Here Sam Bishop tells us more about his long and varied resume, and how his many roles helped prepare him for his position at South Piedmont. 

Ok, let’s get right to it. What jobs have you had? And can you tell us how a few of them came about?

I’ve been a licensed pilot, writer, comic, paramedic, instructor, dog handler, puppeteer, scuba diver, chauffeur, chef, and ordained minister, and I’ve also worked event security. Let’s see, I did both the basic and advanced comedy courses at the Comedy Zone in Charlotte to help with my teaching style. My ex-wife used to work at a public library, and when she would have authors come in for events, I would drive them around, so that got me started on chauffeuring. In the late 1990s, when the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament came to Charlotte, I drove the players. I became a pilot because I’d been interested in aviation ever since the first time I saw a patient be airlifted to a hospital. I became an ordained minister kind of as a joke to do someone’s wedding. I filled in as a puppeteer at my church one day and ended up doing that for about eight years.

You have a shirt listing a dozen different jobs you’ve held in your career, but the constant in your life been education. Why?

I always wanted to be a schoolteacher. I grew up in Gaston County and attended East Gaston High School. I was in the band; I played the tuba. My band director was the best teacher I’d ever had. He was dedicated to making his students the best they could be. I went to Sacred Heart College, but at the time, not many men worked in elementary education, which was what I wanted to do. I ended up with a general studies degree, but I didn’t let “men don’t do this” stop me. I was an EMT teacher at the high school level, and I’ve taught at both South Piedmont and Central Piedmont. 

You say that some of your jobs forced you to face your fears. What do you mean?

Well, I’m afraid of heights, but I became a pilot. And I’m really an introvert. I don’t really like getting up and talking in front of people, but I became a stand-up comedian. I also learned to scuba dive even though I’m afraid to swim. My approach to life really came about because of a near-death experience. When I was in my mid-20s, I was working as an electrician — that job isn’t even on my shirt — and I fell about 30 feet. I thought I was going to die. My whole life flashed before my eyes. After that, I decided to live every day like it could be my last. Two things I never want anything to do with, though: snakes and spiders. 

How’d you get started in EMS?

I started volunteering as a firefighter back in 1976, when I was 15. I just wanted to help people. When I was 18, I wanted to learn more and do more, so I started in EMS. I’ve worked as a paramedic, and I’ve taught EMS for several years. I’m right where I want to be now at South Piedmont. This is my main focus. I want to grow this program and make it better every day.  I want to make South Piedmont the name in EMS. That’s my goal and then we’ll see what happens next.

What life lessons can you pass on?

One thing I’ve learned is that no matter what, I’m in control. Take for instance when I was a pilot, the airplane was never going to just fall out of the air. I was in control of the plane. Same when I was scuba diving. Deep down, I knew I could do it. The only person who can keep you from being your best is yourself. That’s what I’ve learned through all these jobs, and I now I teach that lesson to my students.

Learn more about South Piedmont’s Emergency Services programs here: https://spcc.edu/areas-of-study/public-safety/emergency-services/

What's My Path?