In the short time since Christian Ruiz (MFA, 2021) graduated from the Texas Tech University School of Theatre & Dance, he has accomplished more than he could ever have anticipated. Though plenty of our graduates have gone on to develop fruitful artistic careers, it is rare that they do so in such an explosive manner. That Ruiz was virtually shot out of a cannon professionally cannot be attributed entirely to fortune – although he will admit luck played its role. The reality is that Ruiz has been plugging away nonstop at creating a name for himself in the entertainment industry.
During the COVID years, which shaped the later portion of his time at Texas Tech, Ruiz refused to sit idly by and wait for things to re-open. Instead, he satisfied his drive to create by developing a series of Tik Tok videos under the nom de plume, Coluhrs, wherein he cleverly dissects and breaks down the lyrics of popular hip-hop artists. Some of these videos went viral (to the tune of over 11 million views in one instance!), attracting the attention of Rolling Stone Magazine, and launching Ruiz onto a tidal wave of professional momentum that he is riding today.
Although it was only a little over year ago that Ruiz was walking the halls of the School of Theatre & Dance, he is decidedly more than ready for the spotlight. Fortunately for us, he remains generous with his time and was willing to pause for a moment to share the story of the remarkable journey from his childhood in Brooklyn, New York, to his meteoric rise to internet celebrity and busy, working professional.
I caught up with Ruiz on a Thursday afternoon Zoom call from his home studio in Boston, Massachusetts.
What part of Brooklyn are you from?
Flatbush. That's my old stomping ground. I lived there until I was 13 years old. I was born on a train headed to a hospital in Coney Island during a snowstorm. My parents couldn't get any ambulances to come out because of the storm, so they hopped on the Q train.
Yeah, my mom gave birth on the train. Crazy, right?
Um … yes. It is. I can't even … Okay. Where did you live after Brooklyn?
I moved to Boston, Massachusetts. I went to high school in Boston, and I did my undergraduate work at UMass Boston. I started as a biochemistry major and as a theater minor. But I hated biochemistry. Hated it. And then I got my first professional paid acting gig in 2016, and I was like, “Oh, wait, I can make money doing this?” So, I switched to become a theater major.
Can you tell me about that first gig?
Oh, it was so corny. It was in Salem, Massachusetts, known for witches and all that stuff, right? So, this was at a haunted museum theater. I had to lead groups of people through the museum as a frightened tour guide. It was funny because the guy who was running the thing would never tell people that it's a haunted attraction. He would just say, “Come down and see our museum theater. It's fun!” We attracted groups of like elderly women and children who had no idea what they're getting into.
After UMass Boston, you landed at Texas Tech. How did that happen?
In 2018, my scene partner and I won the Irene Ryan award for Region One of the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival and was invited to perform at the national competition in Washington, DC. The person who directed my scene, Carrie Ann Quinn, had a connection with Dr. Mark Charney (Director, TTU School of Theatre & Dance) from his time at Clemson University. So, it was at nationals where Dr. Charney walked up to me and said, “Hey, man, you going to grad school?” And I was like, “Is it free?”
Ha, ha! And, yeah, that's how I got to Tech. It was all Dr. Charney.
You had several opportunities to perform at Texas Tech. What was your most memorable production?
The biggest one for me was my thesis show, Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe.
I was there! At The Wallace Theater. Amazing show!
Thank you. As you recall, I performed that show during the pandemic, and finding a way to do that was a miracle. There was a moment in time where it was going to be on Zoom and, well, that just couldn't have worked. And there was so much to do with the performance space because it was an old semi-restored movie theater. Trying to wrangle all of that was quite an undertaking.
What else can you tell us about your time at Texas Tech?
There are two things that I really got out of grad school. One of them was a lesson from Dr. Bill Gelber (Associate Director of Curriculum, Professor of Acting/Directing). It's called the Hunter Seven, which provides a structure for pedagogy. I'm teaching a class next week, and I'm going to use the Hunter Seven. It's a philosophy that I can't say enough about. My brain is so scattered all the time, it's nice to have this roadmap.
Also, Dean Nolen's (Associate Professor of Acting) Acting for the Camera course. Invaluable! The things that I learned in that class I bring with me to every set. I have a book of notes. We were talking about the Gister Method and all that stuff. I bring all of that with me.
The faculty at Texas Tech, they're top notch. They're all working professionals and they know what they're doing. Jesse Jou (Associate Director, TTU School of Theatre & Dance, Assistant Professor of Directing) is one of my biggest inspirations. As a director, the things that he has taught me about how to use my body and how to use a space were invaluable. I bring them with me even when I do film. I took four or five different classes with Jesse – so many nuggets of wisdom.
So, then you graduated in the Spring of 2021, and you started making these Tik Tok videos dissecting rap lyrics. Where did that idea come from?
That's a journey. So that started during COVID, but it kind of blew up a little bit closer to spring 2021. I was bored and I was like, “I need to create!” And I did it. I've always had these ideas. It's just the way my brain works. I'm always thinking about different grammatical things like homophones and wordplay and puns and double entendre. I crave it. So, I've always looked for that stuff in rap music. And, you know, I made one video, just one small video of about a Drake lyric that blew and up took over the internet. I mean, right now, across multiple different platforms it's at about 105 million views.
Just that one? Wow. Is that the biggest one?
No. There are others I have done since that have more views.
Incredible. What was it like to suddenly realize that something you made is going viral?
It started with the phone notifications, one night just ping, ping, ping, ping, ping. I was like, “What is happening?” Then, people whom I have not been in contact with for ten plus years started texting me. It was overwhelming at first. But at the same time, being an actor, I've always wondered about being famous. Being a storyteller, or acting for theatre and film, is my primary love. But this idea of being famous is something that's always intrigued me. And I'm not saying that I am, by any means. But just having those videos blow up kind of put me in a different world. There's a lot more eyes on me now than there ever were before. And so now I'm thinking, “How do I move in this space?”
Your voice is reaching a larger audience than ever.
Yeah. It's been absolutely insane. I have received a lot of attention. It's also led to lot of jobs. Being a creative, and especially an actor and a filmmaker, just having all these eyes on my profile brought forth so many incredible opportunities. I was able to sign with my agent because they saw my Tik Tok and they were like, “Oh, are you an actor? I'd love to sign you.”
You're still at it, right? Still making these Tik Tok videos?
Yep. Still creating, I'm trying to do a little bit less now. I used to do one every day, which did well for me. But all this popularity, it's a double-edged sword. I have more work which means less time for Tik Toks.
You got an agent. You've had some auditions. What has come out of that?
I've done a lot of commercial work. Recently, I collaborated as a lead for some really big brands, including Digital Federal Credit Union, Stop and Shop, Dartmouth Health, Plymouth Rock. And there are a couple more than in the works. Also, I've been able to tap into a lot of movie work, which has been nice. I just did a couple of days on Madame Web, the new Spider Woman movie, which is scheduled to be released in February 2024.
You have a Harvard email address. What's up with that?
Ha! Yeah. My nine-to-five is working at Massachusetts General Hospital as their videographer. It's a teaching hospital affiliated with Harvard University. I make all their commercials for them. It's awesome because I get to keep working. If I'm not working in front of the camera, I'm behind it. I get to hire talent and be a part of casting, which is cool.
I understand that you also started a production company.
I started my own film production company in Boston called Soul Prophet Productions. We recently collaborated with Texas Tech Ph.D. candidate Austin Dean Ashford to direct and film a concert documentary experience which is now playing on Amazon Prime Video! We will be applying this film to the 2023 New England Emmy Awards in December. So far, our company has produced two short films and a feature film and has won two international awards including "Best Original Screenplay."
Far out. What's next?
I'm trying to build up more filmmaking credits because my ultimate goal is to work at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta. I've already applied there 100 times, but you know, I really need to make the move to Atlanta
So, your aspirations are on both sides of the camera?
That's fantastic, man. Any more theatre?
I just did a theatre show, my first since Every Brilliant Thing, for Moonbox Productions here in Boston. I have two degrees in theatre. I love theatre. It will always be a part of me. I mean, it's no secret that the money is in the film world, right, especially if you're working as an actor. But there's so much valuable theatre knowledge that I take with me to every project. Collaboration is like the biggest thing in the film world. I learned how to do that through theatre, creating shows. Just having that knowledge and being able to bring that on a set is a real advantage for me.