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Story By Ian Kirby
There aren't many folks who had their face seen by more people this summer than Nick Cannon, host of this summer's smash hit on NBC, "America's Got Talent."
Nick is a Da Vinci of the entertainment industry, this guy literally does it all. Singing, dancing, acting and of course, his true love, stand-up comedy.
Even more impressive than Nick's many talents (and the fact that he's Mariah Carey's spouse) is the way raw grit, determination and talent got him to the top of his game.
He now not only writes, produces, sings, acts and tells jokes, but he is a legitimate executive and holds the illustrious title of Chairman of Teen Nick at Nickelodeon Networks. One would be hardpressed to find an entertainer with a finger more on the pulse of the trends in America's youth than this man.
The best part of all is that Nick Cannon is a real, down-to-earth guy. He's the type that you can approach on the street and he'll say hi and sign an autograph. His genuine personality is quiet and unassuming despite his electrical stage presence and he is truly modest and humble. Born and raised for the first part of his life in small-town Chester, SC, Nick carries the matching small-town sensibility and humility. And, despite having his first television appearance at just 11 years old, he hasn't let any of his many talents or wide acclaim go to his head.
That's right, 11 years old. Sure, it was a public access show, but the resulting story of how he made his way from smalltime southern public access to strolling right onto the stage at Nickelodeon and his first success with "All That!" is nothing short of inspiring. Like the cliché story of the mail clerk working his way up to CEO, Nick made his way from warming up the crowds in Nickelodeon's TV studios to shining on the shows himself. Here is his story, as he sits down for this exclusive interview with Campus Activities Magazine.
For the college market, Nick is focusing on his standup which makes perfect sense, because it is his bread and butter. "Yeah man, I am coming full circle. I started doing standup in North Carolina when I was 11 or 12, then began professionally around age 15."
Nick moved from the Southeast where he was living with his father to the Los Angeles area with his grandmother. "That is when I was discovered by the people at Nickelodeon and all that." When Nick says "all that" he literally means "All That," Nickelodeon's popular sketch comedy show for kids.
Despite his incredible success on various television shows (and a pretty incredible underdog story in his rise to the top), Nick's one real goal came back to his true passion. "My dream has always been to do my own standup concert special and I am preparing for that now, so I am hitting every corner of the country to get ready."
Nick began his career warming up audiences for "All That." Despite being very young, he had garnered some impressive buzz around the LA Improv. This got his foot in the door for one of the toughest jobs in show-business and where he took it from there was a result of pure charisma. "I started warming up the audiences after one of the producers saw me doing standup at the Improv Comedy Club in Hollywood. They were interested in me because it was uncommon to see a teenager in the clubs. They offered me the emcee job which I immediately jumped into, then as I began to see all the behind-the-scenes workings of a television show, I thought, 'Yo, I can do some of this stuff!'"
That he could, and he did. It wasn't long before Nick rewrote the script...by writing himself it. "I became the youngest staff writer in television history. I fell into the writing of 'All That' and 'Keenan and Kel.' From there, I just started writing myself into stuff (laughs)..." He makes it sound so simple, but there's a sly humor behind Nick's words, as it's obvious he's proud of his tact, yet modest about the accomplishment. "That's a pretty sound strategy," I laugh. Chuckling, "Yeah..." he wryly says.
Probably the single most impressive thing about Nick is the incredible amount of experience he carries into every gig. At just 30, he's already a bona fide veteran. "As much time as one can put in is as close as one can become to perfecting their craft. When someone starts very young, you can also tell more easily if they have a natural talent. Combine that with the amount of time they have to put in, and the craft becomes sharper. The fact that I was able to tap into live performance as a young kid meant it was in me naturally; and, I have been developing it for quite some time."
It is a uniquely supportive family structure that would support the idea of a career in performing, especially here in the South where aspirations tend to be a bit more down to earth. "Ironically, my father had a public access televangelism show in Charlotte and was doing a lot of ministries. I literally started out opening up for my father's show. I would get out there wherever he was speaking. He thought I was funny and he told me I should get out there and do my impressions and tell my jokes."
Nick's teenage training ground continued from there as he developed his skills at church socials and talent shows. "Then it turned into 'Hey, let's book some real gigs and try this.' Once I moved to California with my mom, everything was wide open from there. I was in the honey pot."
While Charlotte has developed as more of an entertainment hub in recent years, it is still more uncommon to see entertainers make it to a national level from there than someone working their way up in New York or L.A. "I always refer to Charlotte as the new Atlanta. They have a lot of budding talent coming from there, but it is one of those areas that is on the move. Eventually, it will be what Atlanta is today, I believe."
So, how does one write material at 11? "I just talked about stuff I knew," Nick quips, "bad breath and roaches (laughs)." "Come on," I say, "It was nothing more than pure charisma, you just get up there and 'sparkle' right?" "Yeah exactly," he laughs again, "something like that."
That charisma has carried Nick through an amazing career to date. "I am 29 and I am the youngest television chairperson in history. To be able to go from a 16 year old warm-up to running the network is crazy."
If there's any doubt that he has his finger on the button of the youth market, consider that his job as chairman of Teen Nick is to do just that. "When dealing in entertainment, it is an aspirational business and when you are dealing with your demographics, you always tend to aim a bit higher. While Teen Nick serves the teenage demographic, we aim our programming a little bit higher because people want to feel like they are watching mature content for their age, not being spoon fed content they feel is under them. Most of our creative energy (at least the projects I am most passionate about) is aimed at the college demographic. If I can get college students to like the programming on Teen Nick, I know a high school kid will love it."
So rest assured, if there is any entertainer out there of this stature who knows who your audiences are and what they like, its Nick Cannon. "Absolutely, I have been in the business of entertaining that audience for all of my career really. Whether it was creating 'Wild N' Out' on MTV or my association with Nickelodeon, I am very much talking about the issues young adults deal with."
Like many comics of all kinds who wanted a set with attitude, Nick looked up to Eddie Murphy as a young man. "It was always Eddie Murphy. Seeing 'Raw' and 'Delirious' at a young age, I went to school trying to mimic everything he was doing. After that came my continuing comedy education with Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby to expand my standup tastes, but Eddie was the person I saw and said, 'Yo, I want to do that!'"
Done that he has. As a consistently successful entertainer, Nick has done it all on stage and will do the same for your students. Maybe a little singing, a little dancing but surely there will be many jokes. Having keen experience in the right places makes him perfectly acceptable for a wide range of audiences. "I am just a real dude. I am not squeaky clean like Bill Cosby was, but I am also not true blue like Richard Pryor either. I am somewhere in the middle. It's funny, because people often comment 'Oh, you're such a role model!' I don't think so; I think I am more of a 'real' model. I just keep it real. A role is something you play; when I do my show I am talking about my life. I am every young guy in his 20s, I am not going to be intentionally offensive, but at the same time I am going to talk about what guys in their 20s talk about."
Nick has had a lot going on in his life over the past few years and obviously being married to the lovely and talented Mariah Carey hasn't helped out a ton for his privacy or normalcy. Tabloids being what they are, Nick has had some adversity to deal with and while he doesn't let it get him down, he does want to set the record straight. "People haven't really gotten to hear my true side of the story. Now, with my standup back online, I get to talk about my marriage, the beef with Eminem to all my different jobs and my crazy family. All of that is sort of harnessed inside a series of interesting stories and impressions. I do have some political commentary as well, but mostly it is simply life from my perspective." As the very best comedy usually is.
What Nick truly wants to convey above all else is that he isn't the same guy as one might think he is, seeing his face plastered all over the grocery store fan rags; he is not the prototypical "superstar," he is not a prima donna and he certainly isn't high maintenance. "I'm just a regular dude. People may not realize it, but I am just like anybody else. If you see me in the street, I am that guy you can just walk up to and talk to any time and hang out with. I don't consider myself a celebrity or a star. My wife is a star. She is famous. I am just some dude embracing and enjoying life."
Enjoy a little bit of life with Nick Cannon as you and your audience catch him on his nationwide campus tour.
BOOK IT! For more information on bringing Nick Cannon to your campus, contact Heidi Helding at United Talent Agency at (310) 246-6009. For virtual links, log on to our website at www.campusactivitiesmagazine. com