It’s 3 AM in San Diego, CA.
My beautiful wife is sound asleep in our Marriott room as I realize I’m not going to fall sleep, even though I’ve been up for nearly 24 hours and just had the most incredible day of my professional career.
When Ricky Martin performed at the Grammys in 1999, as a virtual unknown to the American audience (although hugely popular worldwide) it was the showstopper of all-time. His career was “launched” in one moment, the likes of Madonna saying she was his new biggest fan, and record executives clamoring for the next Latin performers on the market, Ricky became a household name overnight.
After about 25 years of performing…
With Internationally Successful boy band Menudo –
On Broadway in Les Mis as Marius –
Voicing Disney’s “Hercules” in the movie –
Starring in an American TV Show, General Hospital –
Performing the official theme song for the World Cup –
But it was his Grammy performance at the age of 28 that broke down all the doors and, with his peer’s recognition and approval, made him the star he became.
Obviously, I’m no Ricky Martin, although I once impersonated him in a Las Vegas touring show and wondered if I had accidentally become him on some stages nightly in my skin tight pleather pants, but for me this day was momentous. Maybe not a career showstopper and launch, but certainly the most significant among my performances for my peers to see me do what I do and have done for over a decade.
I joined the National Speakers Association in 2003.
After searching high and low for the right association for me, including chambers, rotary, performers and trade associations, college circuits, event planning and so forth, I found a group of people weird enough to embrace my weirdness when I found the NSA.
It was introduced to me by Kirk Weisler, Dan Clark, Steve Rizzo, some of the great speakers of all-time.
I attended a few local Utah meetings, met some new friends, and felt I found my place and my people. I made a significant investment in 2003 to go to New Orleans for the National Convention which forever changed my life. To see Aaron Neville at the Foundation Dinner Concert was a really cool thing, but that the opening act blew him out of the water, and was a speaker/performer named Mike Rayburn, was what really got my wheels turning.
How could someone do both entertainment and speaking with a message so effectively? Mike had it pretty much nailed and was “discovered” that night, by me and many others, and I sent him a few gigs as a result even with my limited connections back then.
And thus I set on my path to be the NEXT in line.
And I waited.
And I waited.
And I waited.
And I sat in the back, wondering when my turn would come, year after year.
Just like so many that could be on that MAIN STAGE I was ready for my moment.
And it never came.
In 2009 I had a wonderful opportunity when Bruce Turkel, a speaker from Miami, FL, heard me warming up with my Michael Jackson impression during a sound check in Midway, UT. After thinking it was MJ, and then realizing the words were different, he approached me and said, “You’re a freak show, how can you sing like Michael Jackson?” I just shrugged and said, “You have talents I don’t have, and I have talents you don’t want”.
We became fast friends and Bruce recommended me for the NSA National Convention in New York City. Eric Chester, the event planner, accepting Bruce’s suggestion, gave me 10 minutes on stage with my biggest costumes, rock n’ roll energy, craziness and over-the-top impressions, prior to Tim Ferris, author of “The 4-Hour Work Week” and Keynote Speaker, Stephen Forbes filling the bill and taking the stage. Unfortunately, smashed between these more important people, as well as my name wasn’t announced, no one knew I was a member of NSA, and the performance was lost in the archives of “who the heck was that singer they found on Broadway doing all of those voices? He was awesome! Oh hey, that’s Tim Ferris on stage….”
And after that I pretty much figured I was never going to get on the MAIN STAGE at NSA. My chance was blown, even though I did my best, that was it.
Seriously, I was bummed.
I’m embarrassed to admit I even hired people to be ready to man the phones for all of the calls we were expecting….
ZERO came in.
So I quit NSA.
A few years later my friends in the local NSA Chapter asked me to join again, so I reluctantly did to be nice as they served on the board. Doug Nielsen, Brad Barton, Chad Hymas, real heroes of mine.
And then I was invited to serve on the Board with incoming NSAMW (Mountain West) Chapter President, Ty Bennett. He put me in charge of the Speaker Academy. I had no idea what I was doing, but we made it happen, and raised a good amount of money for our chapter, and more importantly helped many talented people begin their path to speaking and making a living.
At the same time I was giving up performing altogether.
Instead I was speaking at schools now, for nearly no fee, cutting up credit cards at home, figuring out how to live at 95% of our income, and playing Don Quixote around America as an Elementary School Speaker doing assemblies.
I turned down more money from corporate America in order to speak to youth than anyone would believe. But I felt it a noble path. Many thought I’d lost my mind, but in reality I was just tired of my act! I couldn’t add new material, it had just gotten to a place of…meh.
All the time!
It was more fun to see young kids laughing, the light in their eyes going on as I told them of my idiocy as a young boy realizing I was different and THAT’S OK to be WEIRD, making my faces, doing some voices, singing a song or two, and getting colored pencil drawings as a Thank you with an apple and a carton of milk.
I would call this my “Come to Jesus” year. With my career, with my life, with my reason for doing any of it at all.
When you have kids the age you’re speaking to, all you want to do is make a difference for kids that age. And that’s what I set about doing.
I was officially only a SPEAKER, not a performer, not the Entertainer, I was Jason, the Speaker.
Many people tried to reel me back in. I wouldn’t let them deter my path of nobleness.
Until I attended NSA 2013 in Philadelphia with my friend, Ty Bennett, and we saw the Speakers and Performers all around us. He kept looking at me and saying, “You’re as good as that guy”, and I’d say, “No, you are, man, you should be up there!” And we got fired up.
And then we met Al McCree and his wife, Peg. They sat at a table together, an older, sweet, humble couple. Ty and I figured we should give them some company for breakfast. Turns out Providence has a hand in all things.
Al wasn’t just some back country bumpkin. He was a producer, manager, social media, and music media guru, the force behind major career boosts for famous speakers such as Jeanne Robertson and, of course, Mike Rayburn, the guy I had patterned so much after for so long and just realized it was never going to happen for me to be both the Speaker AND the Entertainer.
Al asked what I speak on.
“I do assemblies for elementary kids and tell them to be WEIRD”, I stated, in my best impression of a confident and pathetic person not knowing what I was saying.
Al said, “And how do you suppose to make a living doing that?”
“I charge a small fee so the schools don’t cancel, but it’s going pretty well…” I offered.
As I found out Al lived in Nashville I accidentally lobbed him an easy one.
“Oh, I love Nashville, I’ve performed there many times at the Gaylord Opryland, I’ve gigged with Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, even way back in the day Mickey Gilley and Rita Coolidge!”
Al looked at me and said, “Son, what do you mean you gigged with them?”
I realized I had made a mistake in revealing my true identity and my past life as an Entertainer. That’s when Ty stepped in.
“Al, my friend Jason here is having what I call a midlife crisis. He thinks he wants to speak to kids and throw away his million dollar career in a valiant effort to inspire youth with his, actually really good message for kids, however he is the greatest performer in America in my opinion and you ought to check out his web site.”
Al eyed us suspiciously. Who were these two crazy boys, and why was one talking one moment about speaking at schools and the next saying he’d worked with legends of music?
Fortunately for me, he believed Ty. He excused himself and went to his room. 8 hours later he returned to the ballroom. I have rarely seen a man’s head spin, but I could tell he was confused by my latest career choice and bound and determined to set me right.
So we discussed it, at length.
He introduced me to the most important people in NSA, including a personal visit with legendary speaker and humorist, one of my true idols, Jeanne Robertson. What an amazing thing to talk to someone you have adored for so long.
And over the course of the convention, at the encouragement of Ty, Al, and others, I began to reconsider my path.
I could still speak at schools, charge nothing, and just begin performing again for corporate…
If I do 5-6 corporate dates per month and double my fee, I’ll be busy enough, but not too busy to miss my young children’s lives. I could then do 5 freebies at schools per month. Seemed like a plan!
And then the real kicker happened: The NSA Foundation Dinner in PA 2013 was considered a monumental disaster. Some were offended, apologies were offered, it became the most talked about mess of the convention.
And in the wake of that mess, Al McCree noticed in my show description that I am the “G-Rated Entertainer”. So he passed my name along to the powers that be. And by the end of the convention, where I showed up as The Speaker, just retired from my title as The Entertainer, now I was pegged to be next year’s Foundation Dinner Entertainment.
They say good things come to those who wait.
I really believe I was ready for this gig as early as 2004, the same year I was offered the casino gigs in Las Vegas but chose to pursue other paths.
But the timing couldn’t have been better.
After hiring coaches such as Dave Crenshaw and Johnny Covey to get me through my business challenges and emotional blockages, after having so many believe in me, help me realize I could do BOTH a SHOW AND A MESSAGE of hope, inspiration, joy that could bind families together through humor, after all of this – there was tonight.
Actually, I did a 5 minute teaser in the morning session. Remember, my NSA peers had never seen me before. 2,000 fellow speakers sat unaware as to what lurked backstage as they introduced me: I did a crazy quick set of:
Raptor, dentist, faces, Led Zeppelin.
Standing ovation. For a Teaser! Woah. Nice people!
People are now running to the ticket booth to buy tickets. I’ve never seen anything like it. One of the main reasons I retired from Public Ticketed Events in 2011 is because I can hardly fill a theater unless the people are already stuck there (thus the corporate market is so perfect), but today as I saw those Speakers, my PEERS, running to the exits to get in line to see me later in the evening, paying $75-150 for the show and to help raise money for a great cause, I was floored.
Remember, a year ago I gave all of this up. To speak – to kids – which I still feel was an ok choice.
But today I realized I needed to go to that place of not performing in order to realize how great performing really is. I knew I had a gift. We all know we have gifts. We just choose to do with them what we will when we so desire. I’m embarrassed I ever hid any of my gifts, but I needed to step away from them for a brief painful moment in order to realize the value of them in my life and the lives of others.
And I’m grateful I had friends looking out for me. People talking sense into me. Today wouldn’t have happened without it.
I do say this, ever so humbly: I think I might be one of the best youth speakers in the world. At least I feel called to it, and I will always do it. I’ve seen more change in young people in the last year when I speak to them, receive more powerful tweets, messages, emails, letters…kids who have given up hope, given up dreams, won’t try out for the play but are going to now because they heard me speak. That’s an honor. A privilege. That’s a real calling!
And yet, I can do both. I can perform a family friendly show for corporate audiences, make a living, AND spread a message of joy and hope, and those parents can take me home via the internet, a DVD, a Book, and we can continue the conversation with their children, who’s schools I could never come speak to all at once, because of the miracle of our times – media!
And so, today I did both my SHOW and my MESSAGE.
The NSA Foundation Dinner had more ticket sales than ever before. Ron Culberson emceed in a most masterful way, raising money, doubling as auctioneer on amazing ticket items. Kelly Swanson had her LAUNCH to the NSA audience, and she KILLED it. She is so amazing. I am so proud of her. I love her gift, her energy, her spirit.
And then I had the chance to do my show. I did a combination of “retired” material and new material. It was actually as much fun as I’ve had in a while. To receive standing ovations on pieces I have put to rest is very satisfying, and gets me thinking….I can’t just hang up everything. It’s so fun to perform. The bits and routines I’ve perfected, for the right crowd, can move them to appreciation, motivation, maybe even change in their own lives….?
As the ovations lasted I admit it was a bit awkward, but somehow there was a spirit greater than all of us there, that touched the room, the spirit of NSA, the spirit of the foundation to support those speakers in need, the spirit of Wounded Warriors for whom we also raised funds. It was the most special night of my performing career.
As the hugs and compliments came for hours on end in the Seaport Ballroom of the awesome Manchester Grand Hyatt, from those speakers I had admired from afar for years and years and never thought would see me perform, to those I’ll maybe never get to see take the stage, but could feel their greatness as they spoke to me for a moment, I realized we all have our own crazy path. God may guide us, but we choose the direction: He allows us to figure it out.
To be told this was the greatest performance ever seen on an NSA stage by members spanning 30+ years, with every credential and reputation as honest people, I really am concerned about the short and long-term memories of those giving me the most reaffirming compliments I’ve ever received. It’s neat and it’s kind, but I can’t believe or accept it. Because I saw yesterday, today, and will see tomorrow, more greatness on that stage than I could ever duplicate, than I could ever approach. I’m floored by the generous comments but it wasn’t me they were seeing as great, it was themselves knowing they can do the same and we all did something awesome together. But I appreciate their nice sentiments and will continue working to make myself better on stage in case I ever get the chance to do this for NSA again.
What a great night! It’s now 5 AM. General session starts at 8:30 AM. Guess I’d better go work-out before the crowd hits the weight room! Thank you NSA for your kindness in allowing me to have one such special moment in my career, whether it’s my launching pad, show-stopping, career defining moment or not, it was for me a life-changing experience and I know exactly what I am meant to do from here.
Monday, June 30, 2014-Tuesday, July 1, 2014