Josh Peck talks YouTube, Nickelodeon and Oprah during CMU visit


Photo via @sassysopp | Twitter

Josh Peck came to Carnegie Mellon University on Wednesday evening and was interviewed by Catherine Moore, one of CMU’s drama professors.

By Sarah Connor, Culture Editor

“Drake and Josh” was an essential part of any millenial’s childhood. From the iconic episode when Josh Nichols runs over Oprah to the TV movie “Drake and Josh Go Hollywood,” most young adults associate the Nickelodeon show with their time growing up.

The show stars Josh Peck as the goofy Josh Nichols and Drake Bell as the suave stepbrother Drake Parker. Since “Drake and Josh” wrapped up in 2007, Peck has gained a massive social media following on his YouTube vlog page, where he frequently collaborates with YouTube stars like David Dobrik and Gabbie Hanna. He also produces his own podcast called “Curious with Josh Peck.”

Peck, now 32, who is obviously quite popular with the college student age demographic, brought his story to the stage of the McConomy Auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University on Wednesday evening.

Peck has been doing university visits, or “college talks” as he calls them, for almost two years now. In addition to CMU, he has spoken at Bucknell University, The College of New Jersey, Sacred Heart University, University of Rochester and Northwestern University.

Although classes at both Pitt and CMU were cancelled due to cold temperatures, Peck’s appearance was not, and it was sold out. Nearly 500 students made it out to the auditorium in the subzero weather to see the former TV star.

“It’s so cold,” Peck said, when he first came on stage. “When I got here, my mom called me and she was just like, ‘Are you alive?’”

This opening comment roused the first of many roars of laughter from the audience, as well as from Catherine Moore, a professor within CMU’s School of Drama, who moderated the event. It was set up much like an episode of a talk show, with Peck and Moore sitting on stage in two comfy chairs, conversing. Moore picked Peck’s brain about his time growing up in the spotlight, his newborn son, and his switch to a social media-based entertainment career.

“I was blown away by the immediacy of [social media] and its ability to go straight to an audience and affect them,” Peck said. “I remember that my agent and manager gave me a call and was like, ‘Yo, what is this, we’re here trying to sell you as not just a goofy guy, that you can do other stuff and you’re being an idiot in your car,’” he added, speaking of his start on the now-defunct social media platform Vine.

Peck continued telling the story of his career, sharing with Moore and the students that he fell in love with the environment of social media comedy.

“I was like, you know what, I don’t know what this is, but I know that being able to go directly to an audience and affecting them on a day-to-day basis is powerful,” he said. “And seeing their interaction and finding out what they liked or didn’t like, it was such a game-changer so I kept doing it.”

Moore echoed this comment by asking Peck if freely creating the content he wants for social media feels secure to him.

“Having that sense of ownership over what you’re doing, does that feel more empowering? Does that make you feel like you actually have control over your career instead of waiting for the people behind the table to decide what you’re doing?” Moore said.

Peck responded to this by describing how in many businesses, especially the creative industry in Hollywood, it can be difficult to gain attention unless there is a promise of bringing in a lot of money. However, social media can create a way around the business end of being a creative person in many ways. Whether you’re interested in art, drama, comedy or music, Peck believes that utilizing social media will only be beneficial to your career.

“I don’t know if there’s anyone here who is a drama major or wants to get into making their own stuff, it’s such an exciting time because you don’t have to be in LA or New York anymore,” Peck said. “You don’t have to have representation. Just make dope sh-t and post it and just make it so that it makes you feel something. Make something that you like, not something that you think other people will like.”

This comment gained a round of applause, and Moore asked Peck about his heroes — to which he said Oprah Winfrey was one of them. This was a tribute to his “Drake and Josh” character’s obsession with the talk show host.

One CMU student, Michael Kronovet, a sophomore statistics and machine learning major, enjoyed this Oprah mention, but admires Peck for more than just his work on Nickelodeon.

“I listen to his podcast and he’s extremely well-spoken, he’s a very intelligent, interesting guy,” Kronovet said. “I’ve seen his vlogs with David Dobrik and those are really cool, too.”

Kronovet and his group of friends sat patiently waiting before the performance started, while other groups of students filed into the theater. Though this event was sponsored by the CMU Activities Board and was free to CMU students, there were a limited number of non-student tickets available for purchase, resulting in plenty of Pitt students visiting the event as well.

Michaela Dunleavy, a first-year chemical engineering student, was one of these Pitt students attending. She and her friends peeled off their winter coats and scarves as they shared their anticipation to see Peck.

“I saw it on Facebook and I was like, ‘I have to go,’” Dunleavy said. “I didn’t even know what’s going on. I didn’t know if it was a comedy thing or if it was going to be an interview but I didn’t care, I thought, ‘I’m going anyway.’”

Bringing Peck to campus was a dream for the CMU Activities Board. According to Manu Gopakumar, a junior electrical engineering major and the CMU Activities Board co-chair of lectures, the board has been saving up to bring him to campus for the past year.

“In his podcast, he mentioned visiting colleges and doing talks, I thought that he’s really popular with our generation,” Gopakumar said. “So because of that, we were thinking about getting him on campus last year but we didn’t have enough budget at the time. Over the summer, I decided I really wanted to make it happen this year.”

A highlight of the day for Gopakumar was getting to meet Peck, after a year of planning this event for his peers. When asked what Peck is like in person, he had a simple answer.

“Amazing. He’s just a nice guy,” he said. “People say it so often that it just seems like a cliche, but it’s very true.”