Russell Peters on the Misconceptions of Being an Overnight Success

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The following is from guest writer, Ed Russo.

Russell Peters has been popping up on several of the podcasts I enjoy telling how he unknowingly became a YouTube sensation. In 2005, his first comedy special was uploaded by an anonymous fan. The content received millions of hits from all over the globe. When he toured the States the following year he went from being an unknown artist to selling out multiple shows in each city. Fast forward ten years to today where his international appeal has earned four sold out arena tours, hundreds of millions of dollars, and the respect and admiration of his peers.

With all of his success, the one thing Russell has not been able to do is get interviewed on a late night talk show or be cast to star in a mainstream movie or television series in the United States. Russell Peters is possibly the most famous comedian in the world and I have not heard him tell one joke. I know his name in the same way I know Tyler Perry without ever watching a Madea movie. In a recent interview with Bert Kreischer, Russell described his struggle with the established Hollywood decision makers.

My following isn’t mainstream. Mainstream never gave a s–t about me. Mainstream still doesn’t give a s–t about me. They’re kinda like f–k him. He did it on his own. He doesn’t need us. We’re not going to help him any further. I literally get shut out. I really feel like the industry has literally just shut me right out. ‘Okay Russell, you’re in the entertainment business… just not our entertainment business.’

Did Russell get to the top the “wrong way”? In some entertainment circles, using the internet to become popular as Russell did (and Dane Cook before him) is considered cheating. It is not given the same weight as those who come up the traditional ranks and “paid their dues.” This is a common perception in the workplace, as well.

In many cases, external candidates are hired into leadership positions, while internal candidates are not considered for the promotion. Did the external candidate do it the “wrong way”? According to Dr. Amie Lawrence, an expert in the development and validation of psychological assessment tools,

Regardless of where the leader comes from, what is most important is identifying the individual with the right skills. Make sure that you have analyzed the open leadership position and identified the competencies that are necessary for success… Once the underlying competencies have been identified, create a selection or promotion system that evaluates each candidate on these factors… Make an informed decision based on the skills needed for the job. If that means you promote from within or hire from the outside, at least you know that you have the person with the right leader profile.

When we are hired into a new company, the existing staff are often resentful that one of them wasn’t promoted. We become an overnight success regardless of our past experiences. Russell rebukes the overnight success moniker attributed to him.

I feel like people don’t realize I’ve been doing this for 26 years. I think people think I just started doing stand up and got on the internet…and never had to do the hard road. I did the biker bars. I did the one-nighters. I’ve been booed off stage. I grew up in this. I started when I was 19. I’m 45 this year. This is a lifetime of work now.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone once said, “Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying, will eventually make you look like an overnight success.” When accepting a new role, be cognizant of those who may see you as an interloper or a threat. Some are jealous that they did not get the job, while others are generally distrustful of strangers. Give them a chance to get to know you and understand why you deserve the opportunity.

And while you’re proving yourself to your new team I will be hitting YouTube to give Russell Peters a chance. Sorry Tyler Perry, I’m still not ready to watch Madea.


Ed Russo is the Program Manager for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Mr. Russo works with educators, law enforcement, community leaders, and government officials to implement child safety resources into schools and communities across the country. Through presentations and trainings, Mr. Russo provides participants with information about how safety resources can help prevent the victimization of children. Prior to joining the Center he was a Human Resources Manager in a Florida County Clerk’s Office and has over 18 years of teaching experience. Mr. Russo is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island with a BS degree in Education.

Mr. Russo can be contacted through Twitter and LinkedIn.

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