'Happy People Are Annoying' candidly chronicles Josh Peck's rise to childhood stardom, weight and addiction struggles, and how he became an influencer.
Josh Peck is not impressed with himself.
The actor, producer, director, influencer, and now author began performing in comedy clubs as a kid, was headlining his own show as a teenager, and has two decades of film and television credits on his résumé. He also successfully expanded his career in the area of content creation and public speaking engagements and has his first book, a memoir titled
But the way Peck sees it, that's all just a part of making a living in the public eye.
"I've been just humming along in my mid-level way, sticking around," he tells Metacritic. "I never get too impressed with myself. That might just be a byproduct of being overweight as a kid. People will talk to me like, 'What was it like being the king of the world when you were 16?' I want to say, 'I don't know what version of my life you're talking about!'"
At 16, Peck was starring on Nickelodeon's The Amanda Show, which turned into an opportunity to headline his own sitcom opposite Drake Bell (Drake & Josh) for four seasons. Peck doesn't consider the show very popular when it was originally airing (between 2004 and 2007), but he acknowledges it has become more popular in more recent years, as the younger generations have found it in reruns and streaming. To those who were not around him when he was making the show, he says, it might have looked like he was "living the spoils of the king." But really, "I was just hanging out in my two-bedroom apartment."
He was also deeply uncomfortable and insecure about his weight, which climbed as he found himself unable to stop eating, even paying childhood friends $20 for a single snack, as he writes in his memoir.
Peck did end up losing weight, but his life was not immediately transformed after he did. The insecurities from childhood, including feeling a responsibility to help his single mother with their household, already had their roots deep in him. Abusing drugs and alcohol followed, even as he was being celebrated for dramatic acting turns, such as in the indie darling The Wackness.
Unlike so many other former child stars before him, Peck's troubles managed to stay off gossip websites, he was able to get sober, and he has transitioned into a working adult actor. Peck mines his humble beginnings, his addiction, and a lot of his experiences working in Hollywood for Happy People Are Annoying, tracing his path into the social media influencer world and back to sitcoms.
Here, he talks with Metacritic about his writing process, how he determined what behind-the-scenes secrets to share, and how he chooses his acting roles today.
What inspired you to write a book at this stage in your career?
Everything in my life over the last few years has been pushing me towards dropping the old story of my life and also coming into being myself and coming to terms with my origin story — that I'll never be able to rewrite it. No matter how much weight I lose, how much success I have, how much I try to model myself after the people that I looked up to as a kid, my story is unique to me. And the silver lining of my experience can be, hopefully, if I'm honest about it, [to] give a bit of a perspective and reprieve to other people who have struggled.
You are very candid about that origin story, talking about how you never knew your father and why, all the way through discussing struggles with your weight and addiction, and you are also hard on yourself when critiquing some of your own work. But your fans know you as being a comedy guy, so how did you determine the right balance and tone in the book?
I was lucky to have a really great book advisor, my friend Ryan Holiday, who super accomplished author. I would write and I knew where the treasure was, but I didn't exactly bring an excavator. I brought a couple of small beach shovels, to just dig a little here and there and then make a bunch of jokes and move on. And then Ryan would set me straight and say, "You could write the funniest book ever written — don't worry, you won't — but you could and people don't really get a sense of what you were feeling at the times you're talking about, no one's gonna care. No one's gonna stick with you no matter how funny it is." So he said to me at one point, "Write this to yourself at 16 so we make you cry." Those were my marching orders, and I think it really helped me get honest.
Along those lines, how did you juggle how honest you could get about parts of your life that included others? It's one thing to out yourself as being a reckless driver while high, but you also talk about your mother's affair with your father, and both of your experiences in AA.
She was really the only person that I showed the book to and said, "Let me know now because we have time if you want me to omit some things." She gave me the green light. But I wanted to respect her privacy. And then I then there's a chapter I talk about my acting teacher, and I showed her that chapter because I wanted her to give me her blessing, and then I had a few of my friends in recovery reading the chapter about recovery just because of the anonymous nature. I wanted to honor that while also being able to tell my story. That was the personal side. And the professional side, to be honest, I was even more limiting in my initial sort of pass on it.
Even in its final form, the book really explores how you felt working on select projects, rather than rehashing a long list of events or experiences with co-stars.
Ryan said, "People are fascinated by your relationship with Drake; you guys are synonymous with each other forever. It would behoove you to be a little bit more clear about your guys' relationship." So, I do talk about our connection and working together — what that was like. Surely there were opportunities with other people I've worked with where I could have had a little bit more hot goss in the book, but it was never about that. But overall, I wanted these moments to paint what I was feeling at that time and be less about the details of what it's like on a TV set.
Yet, you couldn't ignore being on some of those sets because of how important they were to your life story. Did you have any specific things you were looking for when choosing what work to write about? You didn't seem to have a revisionist approach where you only highlighted what you thought was your best.
I guess the ones that were most impactful either way. Obviously Drake & Josh is something I'm synonymous with for the rest of my life. It also changed my life. So, of course, that required a good amount of coverage. A movie like The Wackness, where I met Sir Ben Kingsley, was the peak of my life and career at the time, and it's also the kind of work that I love doing most. So, I think that was important, especially in talking about the fact that even though I was operating on that level for a time where I felt like I was at the table and amongst the kind of people that I wanted to be respected by, it still wasn't enough. And then things like Red Dawn, where I totally face planted and had to do it in front of millions of people and walk through that level of frustration and a little bit of humiliation.
You've been really steadily working as an influencer for years, too, and it's rare to see an actor acknowledge how a social following can influence casting. How does that other side of your business affect how you select roles today?
When I started being able to do social media, it was like sales: The more effort, more time I put into it, the more incoming calls I was getting to make a video. So, I'm in a position now where I don't have to do something that I hate, for lack of a better word. I still have to audition, and I love working, but I also love my family. It's pilot season, and there was a one-hour show that shoots in Vancouver that, in success, could be 20 episodes a year. But then I would be in Vancouver 10 months a year, and in success it could be for a few years, and I think it'd be too disruptive to my family. But I'm no Daniel Day-Lewis; I can't transform like that. I'm Josh. I'm limited with what I can do, but what I can do, some people like, so of course there's the dream of someone writing something that really captures your sparkle.
Is that what playing a rabbit in 13: The Musical was for you?
It's not a huge part. 13: The Musical was originally on Broadway and now it's been adapted into a movie for Netflix. They reimagined it in a way that said, "How do we make this so it's even more accessible to a large audience and redefining tropes in a certain way?" So a lot of the work was done for me by the sheer fact that I am 35 and not the typical look of a rabbi. I'm certainly not 13, but I'm closer than the guy who's 70. One of my best friends, his father's a rabbi, and so, we talked for an hour before I did the movie. He was like, "The kids that I help for their bar or bat mitzvah, I tell them flat out, 'You're not going to be a man at the end of this or a woman. We're disrupting what should be, up until that point, a pretty nice adolescence with this really annoying task of memorizing all this Hebrew and writing a speech and speaking in front of your family and friends. But we do it because being a Jew is hard, and life is hard. And we try to introduce a tough task early on in kids' lives and teach them to walk through it with grace so that in their future endeavors they can bring that experience into everything they do." And I was like, "That makes sense."
Get to Know Josh Peck:
Other notable titles in which Peck has appeared include Mean Creek (Metascore: 74), Grandfathered (62), Turner & Hooch (49), and How I Met Your Father (48).