Nobody becomes successful on their own. Nobody.
Some people like to say that they’re “self-made.” It’s a point of pride for them. But I gotta be honest—I don’t think anyone is a self-made success. There are a million self-made failures out there, but self-made success is pretty much impossible. Why? Because success requires the cooperation of other people—employers, customers, family members, spouses, children, friends, and on and on. You need to other people to help you achieve your goals.
I’ve had a lot of help in my career. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have others’ support. So many people stood by me to make my dreams possible—but perhaps no one made quite as big of an impact on my career as Jackie Gleason.
Before there was Jimmy Fallon, David Letterman, or even Johnny Carson—there was Jackie Gleason. He was the funniest and most famous man on television. People knew him simply as, “The Great One.” At the height of his career, he told CBS that he wanted to do The Jackie Gleason Show from Miami, rather than New York City so that he could spend more time golfing. And, when you’re Jackie Gleason, people do what you want.
To bring publicity to the move, CBS invited media to travel with Jackie by train from NYC to Miami. I was working my way up on the Miami radio circuit at the time, and was assigned to be one of the press personnel to cover the move. Jackie and I became fast friends on that trip and we stayed in touch. He even became a regular listener to my radio talk show and would call in as guest from time to time. As the years went by, he became a mentor and he helped me get several big breaks in my career (for example, one time he got me a three-hour radio interview with Frank Sinatra—an impossible task for anyone on radio, much less a young host like me).
I consider meeting Jackie to be one of the most pivotal moments in my career. He taught me so much. He taught me about confidence. I’ll never forget what Jackie taught me about believing in yourself. He said, “You know, there can be fifty people in this room funnier than me. But they can’t get up in front of a camera. Because that takes something else—confidence.”
In Jackie’s opinion, it wasn’t really his talent that made him a success as much as it was his willingness to put himself out there, confidently. Jackie later told me this nugget, “If you think you have clout, you have it. If you don’t think you have clout—even if you really DO have clout—you don’t have clout.” That was his genius. He just showed up and acted like he belonged. Like he mattered.
Jackie’s lessons about confidence paid off big time for me when I became a television host. A lot of radio people struggled when they went on TV. They’d think “Television! How do I act now that I’m on TELEVISION!?” They’d build it up so much in their heads that they’d go out there and choke. I followed Jackie’s lead of just going out there and being myself, confidently. Casually. It’s not brain surgery. The truth is, if you act like you belong, you belong. Doesn’t matter if you’re interviewing a movie star, the US President, or the Dalai Lama—the secret is to act like you belong. Jackie taught me that.
Over the years, I’ve had the chance to pay Jackie’s kindness forward. A lot of people ask me for career and life advice. I try to give them the best guidance that I can. In many ways, it’s more fun to help others to have success than it is to succeed yourself. That’s a big reason why I started doing these blogs. It’s a way to pass along some of the things that I’ve learned along the way. I hope they’re helpful for you. And, if they are, you can pay me back by paying it forward to someone else. There are always people out there who need guidance. None of us can make it on our own.