Brian Copeland is a comic, actor, playwright, author, entrepreneur and tv and radio talk show host with KGO810 in San Francisco. He is the president of Carolena Productions, which produces socially relevant entertainment for tv, radio, stage and print.
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(click the time stamp to jump directly to that point in the episode.)
[01:21] – Brian has been in the entertainment industry his whole life
[01:41] – He’s a father of 3 and his children all work in the same industry: entertainment
[01:57] – JLD has been Brian’s guest on KGO 810 a couple of times already :)
[02:38] – Brian’s area of expertise is in creating content that makes people feel something
[04:40] – Share something we don’t know about your area of expertise that as Entrepreneurs, we probably should: Being real and transparent is the key to making your audience feel what you want them to
[05:56] – “You have to find the piece of ground that you alone stand on and write from there”
[07:03] – Brian decided to write a play on what it’s like to be different
[07:24] – The show exploded and went on to become the longest running one-man play in the history of the Bay Area Theater!
[07:37] – People connected with Brian and his work
[08:20] – Being real is what opens up a connection
[09:22] – Learn from other people’s mistakes and successes
[09:48] – Worst Entrepreneurial Moment: Brian has been a comic book collector his entire life. In his teenage years, he’s become friends with Adam West. He was involved in Comic Con then and was doing an event. He tried asking Adam if he could be a guest at his event — and Adam confirmed. Brian sold over 5,000 tickets for his event. Unfortunately, on the day of the event, Adam called and said he had a conflict with his schedule and he couldn’t come
[12:58] – This issue damaged Brian’s reputation
[13:53] – Deal with business by treating it like business
[15:26] – The Lightning Round
- What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur? – “It was fear”
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? – “Always tell the truth”
- What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success? – “It’s work ethic”
- Share an internet resource, like Evernote, with Fire Nation – Final Draft
- If you could recommend one book to our listeners, what would it be and why? – 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself “that is a book that changed my life”
[20:00] – Brian is most fired up about his book, written from his 2nd play — The Waiting Period
[22:15] – JLD gave Brian a copy of The Freedom Journal, which he used to start writing his book
[24:05] – Go to Brian’s website and get a FREE copy of his book!
Brian: Oh, yeah, I’m totally on fire this morning JLD.
John: Yes, Brian’s a comic actor, playwright, author, entrepreneur, and TV and radio talk show host with KGO 810 in San Francisco. He’s also the President of Carolina Productions with produces socially, relevant entertainment for TV, radio, stage, and prints. So, basically Fire Nation I’ am talking to somebody who is no stranger to the microphone. Brian, take a minute, fill in some gaps from that intro and give us just a little glimpse of your personal life.
Brian: Oh, well, first of all, it is a pleasure to be on this end of the interview. You’ve been kind enough to do my program on KGO a bunch of times and I’m nervous, I feel like I owe you, I gotta do this right. I have been working in the field of entertainment pretty much my entire life. I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 16 years old and I used to promote comic book conventions in the Bay Area, back in the day. At 16 I used to rent out a hall to sell comics and charge people $7.00 a head to come in and buy them. So, that’s how far back I go at being an entrepreneur.
I am a father of three children, they are all working in entertainment and in radio and television and I live in San Leandro, California about 20 minutes from San Francisco with my beautiful fiancée, Teresa.
John: Well, you are right BC, this is a reversal of the mike, I mean, you have been generous enough to have me on your show multiple times. We’ve talked about the freedom journal the mastery journal, setting goals, just being an entrepreneur, tips for business, tools, marketing. We did a couple of segments on Puerto Rico and the current crisis that we’re under right now, so, I thank you so much for bringing attention to that over to the west coast of the country. So, much, much appreciated and I’m excited to have you on because again, you have been doing this for a long time.
You are great at what you do, you have honed your craft, you are a professional. So, my friend what would you say today your area of expertise is, what is that?
Brian: Well, the area of expertise that I have is in terms of focus and in terms of creating content that makes people feel something. I think that’s something that entrepreneurs don’t really know and that they should. And that’s the key to everything, is how you make people feel. If you can make them laugh, you can make them cry, if you can make them feel empathy or even feel outrage and relate to the human condition some way then they’re connected to you for life. And for me, that works with what my product is and my content and my customers are my audience. But, I think that works with all kinds of businesses because what it does, when you make somebody feel something is that creates a brand loyalty.
Because when you give of yourself you create a bond with your audience and they trust you and then they’ll follow you and they will support you. The way that I got hooked on EO Fire, was somebody told me about it. I listened to a couple of episodes to start and the way that you make me feel is inspired, you make me feel like I can conquer the world, you make me feel like there’s nothing I can’t do without planning. And so, that is why I have been, what are we episode 1950 something, I’ve been listening to you since episode like 700 or 600. So, I’ve been with you for a while and that’s why, I’m a loyal follower for life now, see because we got a bond because of how you made me feel.
John: Well, Brian, you are in the process of conquering the world my friend, so, thank you for the greatness that you’re putting out there. I love seeing it from my end as well. And we have a lot of people that are listening today, Fire Nation and they are looking to inspire other people, they’re looking to make other people feel good. Whether that be maybe through Instagram, they wanna become instant famous or Facebook or a podcast of video or fill in the blank of any number of ways that my listeners, Fire Nation wants to impact the world in a positive way.
Give them one tip, one tool, one tactic that you’ve found has really worked for you as far as building up that intimate connection, building up that feeling of just goodness. How do you do it?
Brian: You know, it’s being real and it’s transparency, that’s the thing that I’ve found. I started out as a standup comic when I was 18 years old. And I spent 20 years playing comedy clubs around the country; I did every standup comedy show you can think of. I toured with Smoky Robinson and Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick and these kinds of people. And what I would get from audiences was, oh, boy, the comedian was funny. Or if it was in a comedy club and I’m headlining, you’d get that last guy was funny.
Never anything about me, never anything really about Brian, it was about what it was I said that was funny. Because the jokes that I would do in my standup sets were jokes about things out of the paper and current events and these kinds of things but nothing about me. Then, I had this break through when I decided I wanted to do a one man play, which was just to tell a story that was funny but as well as, one that where I was able to act and do some emotion in to it. So, I wrote this play, I got this advice and it’s the best advice I ever received, some of it, from the great Carl Reiner.
Carl Reiner, the writer, actor, director, legend, and he said you have to find the piece of ground that you alone will stand on and write from there. So, while I’m trying to figure out what my piece of ground is, I get this letter sent to me at KGO radio. And the letter said, it was unsigned and it said as an African-American I’m disgusted every time I hear your voice because you are not a genuine black man. Now, I am African-American but people don’t know I’m African-American who have not seen me, you know, you hear me on the radio, you don’t know.
And so, I’ve gotten this nonsense, this grief for a lot of my life about, you’re not really black, oh, you’re not black enough, oh, you’re black but you’re not really black. So, I went through this whole personal inventory about why it is people say that and it came down to, I grew up in San Leandro, California, which is the city I still live in, it’s right next door to Oakland. At a time in the 1970s and early 80s was my childhood when we were one of the handful of African-American families in the city. It was 99.99 percent white and considered one of America’s most racist suburbs and as a result of that I assimilated.
So, I said, I’m gonna write a play about what it’s like to be different, what it’s like to be the only one. So, I wrote down every story I could think about when growing up, some were hilarious, some were really hurtful and painful. And I put them together in to this one man play and I thought, okay, I’m gonna do this and I’ll do this for about six to eight weeks and I had comedy club dates that were booked. And something magical happened and the show exploded and went on to become the longest running one man play in the history of Bay Area Theater. It went on Broadway, I had to develop a deal for television with HBO, all these amazing things happened.
And it happened because people connected to me, then it wasn’t, well, what he said was funny, it’s like I understand, I relate. But, you know, I wrote a book based on the play that became a bestseller and it really connected with the editors at the publishing house because one was the only Jewish person in the community, they grew up with it. Another the only Asian person in the community that they grew up with. And they all relate to this idea, as everyone does of being the only one. Because at some point you will be in the situation where you are the only man, the only woman, the only Christian, the only Jew, the only black, the only white.
How do you deal with it when you’re the one who’s different? So, that is the best thing, the most important thing I think found is, when you are real, when you’re real, when you give of yourself, then it’s a connection. Because they weren’t just laughing at what I had to say, they were feeling and they were connecting to me.
John: Fire Nation you have to find a ground that you alone can stand on. I mean, that quote resonates with me to my core, it gave me some shivers, Brian, thank you for sharing that. And one thing I just wanna add to what you just shared is, Fire Nation we’re all standing up on the shoulders of giants. So, recognize that when Brian and myself say that you have to find your own ground, you have to be yourself. It’s not gonna snap your fingers and happen overnight, it’s a process, it’s a journey, like I studied those who have come before me. Brian has studied those that have come before him.
We’ve copied, we’ve mimicked and we said, you know what, okay, now how can I take what I’m learning from these geniuses, but then make it me, make it my unique personality. Bring it in to my world and make it my own because that’s where the authenticity lies, that’s what being genuine is. So, it’s not gonna happen overnight, don’t not study other people that you admire because you think, well, I don’t wanna just copy them. No, learn from them and make it your own. Make it you, make it unique and Brian, you’ve had a lot of successes over the years. I mean, people you’ve gotten to hang out with, others you’ve been able to inspire.
It’s really great to see but at the same time you’ve had some struggles and that’s kind of what I wanna talk about next is, what you consider your worst entrepreneurial moment to date. So, take us there, Brian, tell us that story.
Brian: Well, you know, it’s funny I’ve had some setbacks before but in order to figure out what my worst entrepreneurial moment was I have to go back to being a teenager. As I said, I was always an entrepreneur and at a time when, I’ve been a comic book collector my entire life –
John: Oh, cool.
Brian: – and I still am. And, oh, I love, love, love comics. Reach out to me at my website if you’ve got comics you wanna sell, especially golden age stuff. Reach out to me briancopeland.com, I’m buying. All right, so whereas now, comic book conventions are huge, and you were in San Diego, so you know –
John: Comic Con.
Brian: Comic Con, I’m sure you, yeah. But Comic Con was in its infancy when I was starting to do stuff up here in the Bay Area. So, I had become friendly with, because I wrote for a little weekly paper and I would interview people, I had become friendly with Adam West. Do you know the name Adam West?
John: I do.
Brian: The great Adam West, that man on television, who just passed away. So, I would have this convention coming up, I’m 17 and I ask Adam West if he would be a guest at this convention, it was for a weekend. And he said, absolutely, he’d do it, it’s on his calendar, sure he would be happy to come and be the guest and do a talk with me and sign autographs for people. So, I took out ads, I had the hall and everything rented, big undertaking and I’m a minor so I can’t sign contracts, I have to have parents sign contracts and everything else.
I’m able to get on television, we had a TV show here at the Bay Area called Creature Features at the time, that was on Saturday nights and Friday nights, that was old movies and in between the host would interview people who were doing things like I was doing. So, I got to go on television in order to promote, hey, Adam West is gonna be there, and you see where this is going. And so, I end up selling some ridiculous number, like 1,000 tickets at $5.00 or $6.00 a head, and again, I’m 17 this is all the money in the world, plus I’m able to sell every table that I’m renting out. I would charge dealers, comic book dealers money for tables in order to be able to sell books.
And I charge an admission to come in and I bought ads in the newspaper and it’s a huge undertaking, it’s a three-day convention, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Adam West is supposed to be there on Sunday. It’s packed, on Sunday morning I get a call from Adam West going, oh, my gosh I gotta conflict I can’t make it. I have a conflict, I have something, I completely forgot I have a celebrity tennis tournament because I – what it was is I was flying him up, I was paying for, he was doing it for free and I was paying for his airline ticket to come from Los Angeles to the Bay Area. So, it was this short hour-long flight.
And I think I was calling him to make sure he was ready and able to get on the plane and all this and he can’t do it. So, I have to go and make an announcement to all these people and there were little kids in batman costumes that have shown up, little kids, four-year olds, whose parents are bringing them to meet batman. And I’ve gotta stand up in front of all these people and say he’s not coming. And it was not pretty, among other things it damaged my reputation some because there were those who thought that I never had him to begin with. Because I had no proof that he’d agree to do this.
I had no proof whatsoever other than the fact that I said that he’s gonna be there and I’m on television saying he’s gonna be there. There are newspaper articles saying he’s gonna be there, but I have no proof that he ever said he was gonna be there. So, there’s some who thought that it was a PT Barnum scam, something that I’d said in order to get people to come out, to buy tickets. So, I ended up having to give refunds and we lost money and it was embarrassing. But the worst part of it even more so than that, was the disappointment on the faces of the people.
Brian: I don’t like disappoint. So, what I learned from that is very simple. And that is, and I’ve learned this throughout the course of my career as an entrepreneur and my career as an entertainer and that is, that when you’re dealing with business treat it like business. It’s not, hey, will you do me a favor because people can say yes, and not do a favor. What I learned subsequently when I did things like that later or shows that I produce now, is even if you all come and do that for you and I won’t charge you anything. Okay, well, let’s sign a little something anyway, so we know that we’re on the same page.
And I’ll just even give you a per diem or a stipend if you’re willing to come and do it as a favor but let’s sign something, just so that we’re all set and we know what’s what.
John: Fire Nation, when you are dealing in business, you need to treat it like a business. This is the reality and I love that Warren Buffet quote that it takes 20 years to build a reputation, but it can five minutes to destroy it. Your reputation is everything and so you need to protect that and if people, like Adam West is this example are gonna say, yeah. Then take the one more step and say, hey, you know, I’m committing a lot, let me just share with you what’s gonna happen.
There’s gonna be 1,000 people there’s gonna be a lot of tables, there’s gonna be sponsors, I’m gonna be on TV. Can you just sign this, just so I can make everybody feel confident that this is actually gonna happen and you know, you have to take that next step otherwise you’re just setting yourself up for a potentially massive fall. So, Brian, I never doubted you were gonna be telling a bone chilling worse moment story. I felt like I was there with you, seeing those little four-year-old boys crying in their batman costumes because batman’s not showing up, absolutely devastating.
And Fire Nation, this is just an example of the value that BC brings and if you think that he’s gonna stop dropping value bombs in the lightning round, you are completely wrong. So, when we get back from thanking our sponsors he will do just that. So, Brian we’re back and are you ready to rock the lightning rounds?
Brian: I’m ready to rock the lightning round.
John: What was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Brian: Well, an entrepreneur in the field in which I’m in now, it was fear. It was fear, I do solo plays now and I produce solo plays and produce other things but I was afraid and it was solo plays, one man shows that changed my life, change my career as a performer and as an entrepreneur. And the fear was this, I told you I did 20 years of stand-up comedy in clubs and touring and casinos and these kinds of things. And somebody mentioned to me years ago, you should try to do a one man play. And it’s like, well, a one-man play is where it’s one performer who’s really playing all the parts.
And I was afraid and I would say, well, I can’t do it because I can’t do characters, I can’t do voices. And then, once I wrote the first play, Not a Genuine Black Man, the one that I mentioned earlier, I did voices and I did characters and did all these things. And what I realized was, you shouldn’t say I can’t, you should say I haven’t yet.
John: Fire Nation, never say I can’t, say I haven’t yet. Leave that door open because you might just walk through it one day. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Brian: Always tell the truth that way you don’t have to remember what you said.
John: What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Brian: It’s work ethic. It’s that I work like a dog and it’s something that I have instilled in my children and it’s this. And I think Fire Nation should take this to heart. There will always be someone, I don’t care how good looking you are, there will always be someone who’s better looking than you. I don’t care how smart you are, there will always be someone who is smarter than you. I don’t care how capable you are, there will always be someone more capable than you. What you do is to get ahead is you make sure that no matter what they don’t outwork you.
John: That’s your variable Fire Nation, you can control your output of work. Control that variable. Recommend one internet resource.
Brian: Well, I do a lot of writing, I write a lot of plays and what I have found is that there is a program called Final Draft that’s just absolutely amazing, it’s great for writing scripts, it’s great for writing screenplays. And for entrepreneurs who are not in show business there’s still times when you’re gonna have to give videos and have to give presentations and things. And it’s a perfect formatter for exactly that.
John: Recommend one book and share why.
Brian: The book is 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself by Steve Chandler and that is a book that changed my life. I was in a really low place at one point and I was at a garage sale and I find this book for $1.00. This 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself and so I started to read it, I started to read one of the tips every day and it really and truly helped me on some days when I was really down to get up and to keep moving. And I’ve literally been reading this book for 15 years, I read one a day, when I get to number 100 I go back to the beginning and start back with number 1.
John: And you literally paid, one penny per motivation, that’s phenomenal.
Brian: Penny for each one and Steve, like you, Steve has been a guest on my show. I was able to because the of the show, able to finally meet him. But the thing that I love about the book and the thing that I’ll pass on to folks is, I love the idea, there’s one of the 100 tips in the book is, nobody’s coming. You know, in the old, remember like in the old westerns you’d watch, the wagon train and then Indians come. And then all of a sudden you hear the cavalry, the cavalry comes to rescue them, well, there is no cavalry, you are your own cavalry. Nobody’s coming.
So, if you don’t care of business, if you don’t dig yourself out of the hole, you’re not getting out of the hole, nobody’s coming to throw you a rope.
John: Gotta be honest Fire Nation, that’s worth more than a penny right there. So, definitely take that to the bank and Brian, let’s end today on fire with you giving us a parting piece of guidance. Share the best way that we connect with you and then we’ll say goodbye.
Brian: Okay, well, there’s one thing I did wanna mention and that is thing that I am the most fired up about.
John: Let’s hear it.
Brian: The thing that I’m most fired up about, I wrote a book based on my second play, my second solo play is called The Waiting Period. And I suffer from depression, I’ve had bouts of depression that have been absolutely crippling and if you don’t suffer from it, you know somebody who does. If it’s not you, it’s your brother, it’s your sister, it’s your best friend, your son, your daughter, your wife. So, my worst bout of depression was back in 2008 when my grandmother who raised died suddenly, I had a wife take off without explanation.
I got in to a horrible car accident that left me with a spinal cord injury that I had to have surgery, I was almost quadriplegic, I was laid up for three months. And the depression got so bad that I was suicidal and I went to a gun shop and I purchased a gun. But in the state of California there is a ten-day waiting period from the time you can get a gun to the time – from the time you buy it to the time you take possession. And during that ten days there was a change, there was a metamorphosis that pulled me out. So, I decided to write a play about it after the nephew of a very good friend of mine, 15-year-old kid who suffered from depression, laid down in front of a moving train.
So, I decided, okay, I’m gonna tell the story because maybe if I tell my story, people will go, whoa, if he can talk about it, I can talk about it. So, I told the story and it was very very well received and it helped a lot of people and I stopped and moved on to other things. Then our great friend here in the Bay Area comedy community, Robin Williams, committed suicide and I thought, you know what, we still need to have this conversation and bring this out of the shadows. So, I brought the play back and we present the play on Sundays and I present it for free to the community and the idea being that people can come out and can hear, look, you’re not by yourself.
You’re not the only one who deals with this. Tell somebody if you’re struggling. So, for about the past two and a half years we’ve been doing the play for free on Sundays at a theater called The Marsh in San Francisco and I’d been thinking, well, maybe I should write a book about it. And I kept procrastinating it, about writing the book, then I had you on the program, on my show. And you were kind of enough to send me a copy of the Freedom Journal.
Brian: So, I said, okay, I’m going to use, you tell me all about it and how do this and we do it in 100 days. And I said, okay, I’m gonna use the Freedom Journal and I’m going to write a book based on The Waiting Period. I’m gonna do a [inaudible] [00:21:22] I’m gonna follow it straight through, and I did. I wrote and I published the book, we finished the book in October and I did it. I told you when you were on my show, I’m an over achiever so I did it in 90 days. I didn’t do it in 100 I did it, sorry I did it in 90 days but I used the Freedom Journal all the way through. And so now that book, The Waiting Period I’m making that book available for free –
Brian: – it’s available for free, you just cover the postage and the handling. And I’ll tell you John, this book, the story has literally saved lives, literally. There was a guy who came and saw the play who didn’t wanna come, his girlfriend suffers from depression and he doesn’t. So, he came and was dragged kicking and screaming and he’s watching my performance and he realized, because I take you through the mind of a depressive. I put you in the head of somebody who is struggling so you can understand the thought process. And he thinks, oh, my gosh that sounds like my brother.
So, he checks with family members and finds out that the family members have all been given gifts by his brother, all been given gifts, something that was really personal to him. His baseball card collection, jewelry, things that were personal. And they did an intervention they found out that that young man was going to commit suicide that week. And they were able to get him help and he’s doing fine but had he not heard my story he never would have recognized what was going on with his brother until it was too late. So, if you’re someone who struggles, please go to my website, go to briancopeland.com, get a copy of the book for free.
If you are someone who has a family member or a loved one or a friend who suffers from depression, please get a copy of this book. It’s the last stigmatized disease and we have to talk about it because the only way we’re going to end the suicide and deal with depression is for people to not feel embarrassed or ashamed. You wouldn’t be ashamed if you had cancer, you wouldn’t be embarrassed if you had Luke Garrick’s disease. Why is it with this one disease that’s not your fault, which is depression we feel such a sense of shame about it? So, please get a free copy of The Waiting Period at briancopeland.com.
John: Fire Nation, you hear people like Brian and he seems so upbeat, so positive, like, this guys always happy. And you hear people like myself and I literally, I’m focused right now, I’m happy, I’m doing what I love. And people are like, John you’re always so optimistic. You see people on Facebook and Instagram, you’re like, they’re always on vacations and doing the best things in the world. My friends you’re only seeing a snapshot of all of our lives. There are periods where Brian is not upbeat and happy and myself, I need to go and do a corner after a couple of days of interviews and just like quietly read and have nobody talk to me.
And, Kate knows, hey, John just did a couple of days of interviews, I need to leave him alone for a little while, Like, we go through the ups and the downs, it’s the cycle of life, that’s just the reality and we need to understand that. I’ve gone through PTSD after my time in the service and spending 13 months in Iraq, Brian’s been through depression. Everybody we know and everybody that you know, Fire Nation, has a story. And they maybe completely looking perfect on the surface, but there might be something really bad going on underneath. So, you need to understand this, maybe you yourself need to identify and diagnose somethings that are going on in your mind, in your life right now.
So, visit briancopeland.com snag The Waiting Period for free by the way, just cover shipping and handling Fire Nation, invest in yourself with that at least. And you might be saving your own life or you might be saving the life of a loved one or a friend, that because of the information you read and learn from this you’re able to identify what’s happening and help again, either yourself or somebody else that means a lot to you. So, Brian, Fire Nation knows this, that the average of the five people that they spend the most time with. I feel like my five’s pretty amazing today because you’re one of those.
So, Fire Nation, make sure that you keep up the heat and of course, head over to briancopeland.com, grab The Waiting Period and Brian thank you for sharing your journey and just being honest with Fire Nation today. For that we salute you and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Brian: An honor and a pleasure to be her my friend.
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