Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Creativity At Work”
Josh Peck has established himself as one of Hollywood’s rising talents, making the transition from child actor to leading man, and social media influencer. Best known for his role on the Nickelodeon phenomenon Drake & Josh (2004-2007), for which he received a Kids’ Choice Nomination, Peck has starred in feature films such as Mean Creek alongside Rory Culkin (2004), The Wackness beside Ben Kingsley (2008), Red Dawn alongside Chris Hemsworth (2012), Danny Collins with Al Pacino, Annette Benning and Jennifer Garner (2016), Take The 10 with Andy Samberg and Fred Armisen (2017) and Netflix’s The Musical, co-starring Debra Messing, out later this year. In 2023, Josh will co-star in Christopher Nolan’s new movie, Oppenheimer.
Currently, Peck is featured in Disney Plus’ Turner and Hooch series, a continuation of the 1989 Tom Hanks film of the same name, and stars in the highly anticipated Hulu series, How I Met Your Father, and in the iCarly Reboot on Paramount+.
With 32.8 million fans across numerous social media platforms, Peck successfully leveraged his talents from acting, to podcasting and more, and is the author of the new memoir Happy People Are Annoying, out in bookstores March 15. His book is a candid memoir sharing Peck’s reflections on the many stumbles and silver linings of his life and traces a zigzagging path to redemption.
I caught up with Peck this month in an eye-opening and thought-provoking discussion.
Kathy Caprino: Josh, why did you write Happy People Are Annoying now?
Josh Peck: I felt like my life was at this inflection point. I had spent over twenty years working at this profession that I thought defined me. I started when I was 10, so I literally thought it was my identity. I had never been anything other than a working actor. But over those twenty years, I also lost 100 pounds, got sober from drugs and alcohol, started a whole new career in social media when showbiz had stalled out on me. I got married, had a child and faced the way I viewed happiness.
Caprino: I’m interested in why you choose that book title? Do you find that happy people are in fact annoying, or are you sharing that pursuing happiness may not be the best focus in life?
Peck: I find people who have a default level happiness, still, slightly annoying. But—truthfully—I think happiness is overrated. What I’ve been lucky enough to find is contentment. That as sure as the bad times are coming, the good times are coming too, and they’ll dance back and forth in and out of your life till the end of time. The universe demands balance. Too much sunshine brings about a desert.
Caprino: You share a great deal of personal wisdom and revelations in your book. What would you say is your best professional advice?
Peck: I wrote this book at age 35 instead of 65, because I wanted people around my age and younger to hear it from someone who had just walked through it. Be wary of people who freely give advice about things they don’t know anything about. I know that sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to take relationship advice from someone who is perpetually single.
Mimic the people whose life you want. If you respect someone’s family, their career, their emotional maturity, seek their counsel. I like to get advice from people a little bit further up the rock wall, not at the top. They have good intel like “Use that hold, it’s secure. I just used it an hour ago, and it felt good.”
Caprino: If you could go back to the kid recording Drake & Josh, what nuggets of wisdom would you give him?
Peck: Maybe lay off the seconds? I don’t know if I’d give him any advice because the truth is, I don’t know if I’d be capable of hearing it. I was in survival mode, doing my best to wrestle with being this public person while so insecure in my own skin. I loved the work I was doing but not much more. They say the teacher reveals themselves when the student is ready. But I wasn’t ready. If I had to say something, I’d tell him he’s awesome and not to be so hard on himself.
Caprino: Why do you like pivoting between actor and social media personality?
Peck: Because there’s no longer any separation between traditional actors and social media personalities. It’s a given. One begets the other. Social media is just a tool, and at the time I embraced it, few people felt comfortable making the leap from traditional to social. I’m not some prophet; I was aided by the fact that I didn’t have a lot to lose, and professional insecurity is a great motivator.
In addition, I like to create, to make stuff, no matter what the medium. I’ll adapt whether it’s for an iPhone or a quarter million-dollar camera. I just want it to be good.
Caprino: What would you say is the hardest experience you’ve faced in your career in entertainment, and what did that teach you about adaptability?
Peck: I spent almost three years basically out of work. I did some guest spots here and there but for the most part, it felt like all the work I had done—all the good will I had accrued over the years—was no longer there. It was an ego death.
Any illusions I had of who I was or where I thought I was supposed to be at 30 had to be relinquished. But, throughout this time, I was working harder than ever at this other career, building my social media business, podcasting and speaking engagements. I didn’t let lack of success in one area cripple me from being resourceful in other areas.
When I interviewed Robert Greene for my podcast he said, “Everything you’re doing is a by-product of acting. It’s not like you’re now making a living as an accountant. The ability to create content, to be compelling in a podcast or whatever the form, that is all cultivated from years of performing. You’ve just embraced a different way to express your skillset.” Sometimes, we just have to find another way to express our skillset.
Caprino: What are the most effective strategies for relating to audiences across all different social mediums?
Peck: Be honest. Steve Jobs said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Of course, Walmart’s approach has always been. “We let our customers tell us what they want and then we give it to them.”
In social, you sort of have to do both. You have to be aware of the landscape. You have to be aware of trends, what’s hitting. But inevitably, if you try to make something that will please the masses, it will please no one. It has to be funny to you, it has to move you, make you cry, make you think. It has to be something you would want to watch. You are the focus group. You are the test audience.
I’ve fallen victim so many times to making something I hoped would be relevant and as a result felt hollow and sweaty. It’s always the videos that actually make me laugh that really work.
Caprino: In your book, you describe you and your single mother as a “scrappy start up.” How has this perspective jumpstarted your social media business?
Peck: Growing up with a single mother meant nothing was promised. We were constantly adapting, pivoting, restructuring. It took a herculean amount of strength and confidence to not only be a single mom, but also a businesswoman in what was a man’s world at that time, so I watched as my mother fight for every inch.
Similarly, in entrepreneurship, I never felt like anything was promised. Discomfort was home for me. I’d watch as peers would act out when things wouldn’t work, cursing the gods instead of putting their heads down and using the opportunity to bring them one step closer.
Caprino: How has diversifying your revenue streams opened you up to more financial success and freedom?
Peck: For so much of my life I was beholden to one way of making money. A chain of casting directors, producers, studio executives and directors, all had to agree for me to finally make a check. When I started to make money from social media, I used it as a tool to free me as an artist. I never stopped acting, never stopped auditioning. In fact, at the height of my success, I went back to acting class and doubled down on the thing I loved most.
But now, when I walk into auditions, I have an ace in my pocket. The awareness that I would be fine whether or not I booked it. This was powerful, something that had eluded me my entire life, and I think it’s attractive to the people who make the decisions.
Caprino: Any last words about how to stay motivated working in volatile industries?
Peck: The work is the gift. The miracle is the attempt. As long as you’re reminded of that—and I have to remind myself of that a lot—the rest tends to fall away. It’s not about the outcome. There is no outcome, not really.
When I interviewed Neal Brennan for my podcast, he said, “You’ll probably get everything you ever wanted just not in the way you were expecting.” He then thought for a moment and said, “Actually, you’ll probably get everything you ever wanted but, by the time you get it, you won’t want it anymore.”