Actor Josh Peck joins Zibby to talk about his memoir, Happy People Are Annoying. The two connect over growing up with Jewish mothers and how that impacted their relationships with food. Josh also shares why he wanted to write a memoir at this time in his life, what made him decide to be so frank with the behind-the-scenes facts he shared, and whether or not there was anything he regretted putting in. Watch Josh in 13: The Musical, out today on Netflix!


Zibby Owens: Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books,” Josh, author of Happy People Are Annoying. I can’t wait to discuss this book and your career and all the good stuff with you.

Josh Peck: Excellent. I can’t wait.

Zibby: Also, she would kill me if I did not say this right away, but my daughter, who is just about fifteen, is a huge fan and has watched all your shows and could not believe I was talking to you today. You can do with that what you will.

Josh: I appreciate it. Thank you.

Zibby: Happy People Are Annoying, gosh, I hope I’m not too happy today. I’ll try to tone it down. I’ll try to be as depressed as I can get to make things better. Why write the book? Why did you do it? How did you decide to make it so conversational? Which I loved. It was like you talking to a friend or just sometimes more stream of consciousness and super personal and friend-to-friend-ish.

Josh: Thank you. I made the book deal at the start of the pandemic, so it seemed like a good way to use my time. Also, it just seemed like a perfect time. Being thirty-five and at this inflection point in my life, I didn’t want to write a memoir or something from the finish line. I didn’t want to write some self-help book from someone who was all better. I wanted to write from someone who was a work-in-progress, views from the halfway point, something accessible for people so that they didn’t have to feel like the person talking to them couldn’t truly relate. I wanted it to feel like an older sibling or someone who was just a couple steps ahead giving good recon from the front lines.

Zibby: Interesting. I love it. One thing I related to very much was your love of food. You said early on when you were talking about your weight and your mom — if I can read this little paragraph, is that okay with you?

Josh: Sure.

Zibby: You said, “Dr. Blumenfeld, great guy, shout out Dr. Blumenfeld. Actually, shout out every pediatrician I had who had tried to put a twelve-year-old on cholesterol medication before their bar mitzvah. And why did no one have these conversations without me present? I guess the truth is, for every conversation I did hear, there were probably two more I didn’t. I’m sure there were plenty of opinions being tossed in my mom’s direction of how she could best intervene in my Pop-Tart habit. ‘Send him to fat camp.’ I heard that a lot. ‘I sent Jeremy there last summer, and when he got home, I barely recognized him.’ Jewish mothers –” I, by the way, am a Jewish mother and have a Jewish mother. FYI. “Jewish mothers love to send their kids off to camp to heal them from the food issues they implanted themselves when they wouldn’t excuse us before we finished our plates, and while I like tick bites and canoeing as much as the next kid, I’m not sure expensive sleepaway camp was going to get in the way of me and my pesky habit. Actually, it wasn’t a habit. It was love, my first love.” Brilliant.

Josh: Thank you.

Zibby: Talk to me about that. Why was food your first love? Tell me about how you used it and how it has served you over time and how you feel about it now. I know you write about this a lot. Where is your relationship with food these days?

Josh: I don’t know why it was my first love. I think it was the first thing that I had access to that gave me a little bit of head change. Whatever you find, whatever your thing is, be it food or alcohol or spending or smoking or relationships, it can take so many forms, all those things are the medicine that helps life go down, or the sugar that helps life go down, I should say. It’s our first foray. It’s not specific to Jewish kids. I’ve related with a lot of other kids who grew up in a Jewish household and what a focus food was. We all are rewarded as soon as we can remember with cake and sugar and sweets. I think it’s the first easiest indulgence. It’s funny, I am slightly triggered even though I know it’s my own stuff, and so I never, obviously, voice it. I have a three-year-old now. I’ll go to a one-year-old’s birthday. There’s this thing now of the smash cake where you have your one-year-old get their own cake for them that’s not for the party, and they just have at it, go nuts, eat it, grab it. It’s extremely cute and adorable. Also, the smallest part of my brain goes, uh, oh, because I know what it did to me. I think it was my first foray into overdoing things, but I just did it differently than my fellows. Today, I have a much different relationship with food, thankfully.

Zibby: You wrote about the period of time in which you lost weight, but you also talk about your dependence on other things and how you had to navigate your way through that. You had this one scene where you’re almost pulled over somewhere in LA. I can’t remember exactly where. You narrowly escaped. You have many of these hitting-bottom moments where you decide to regroup and go off in a different direction. I feel like that sort of need for dependence on something that’s — do you feel like you’ve solved that fundamental thing? It doesn’t, almost, matter what the thing is, if it’s food, as you were saying before. Is there a thing you turn to now that maybe is a healthier outlet, or not?

Josh: I think we certainly develop healthier tools throughout our lives, ideally. The easy things are exercise. Then it becomes relationships and doing good things for other people. Estimable acts build self-esteem. I’m certainly more equipped today. I think the most significant part of it is that I know that it’s a practice. Last night’s meal won’t keep you fed. I just know I’ll never be all better. My level of peace is predicated on my spiritual maintenance. It’s, what am I doing to stay in good spiritual shape?

Zibby: I love that. Back to the Jewish thing for just a second. Again, not to say this is only a Jewish household. My husband is Italian. I feel like they have some similarities in terms of food worship and all of that and how central it is to everything. I feel like the Jewish shaming has a particular recognizable tone. You’re supposed to eat your grandmother’s amazing chocolate roll, but god forbid you put weight on because of it. I feel like, at least for me, anytime I would see a grandparent or anybody, it would always be about my weight. How is your weight? Okay, your weight looks — there’s so much focus on it. I think part of it maybe was generationally. As a Jewish mom — I have four kids who young myself. How do we make sure not to do this to our kids and have them still enjoy all these amazing foods that are part of the culture and the family and all of that? How have you solved that aside from smashing ?

Josh: I love to think about the cause and effect of the deep-seated beginnings of why things are the way they are. I wonder if it’s just that we are a people who are hard on themselves because we’ve always had to self-govern and persevere, and so it’s sort of manifested itself into these less-than-healthy views on body image. Look, again, I don’t mean to make us a monolith or overly generalize, but we’re a people known for our minds and our contributions to science and the arts. We’re not necessarily known for our physical prowess, so maybe that’s also . I’m not sure. I think you’re right. When it comes to my son — I’m thankful that I have a wife who had a different experience. What I’ve learned from my wife, who’s Irish Catholic and a volleyball player and seems to always have had a perfect body, is that she’s still super cognizant of what she’s eating and mindful of it. Even people who, in theory from far away, you could say, what do they have to worry about? they were certainly thinking about food and sometimes in an obsessive way.

Zibby: I think I might hate your wife. No, I’m kidding. I’m kidding.

Josh: I know what you mean. My wife, she has two sisters who look just like her. They are not free of it. That’s what I’ve come to know. We can chalk it up to metabolisms and all these things, but it’s not actually the case. Maybe for a very small percentage. I think even people who are in great shape their whole life are giving a lot of thought to what they’re putting in their body. Certain things that I’ve learned with my son of — finishing your plate is a bad habit. We could all stand to not finish our plate. Why do we want our kids to finish their plate? So that they can be rewarded with more food, with more dessert. No dessert until you finish your plate. I think it’s being mindful of these things that were probably born out of need and necessity and because food is scarce but now have a negative connotation because it would implant in my son, this idea that, I need to overeat to satisfy my dad.

Zibby: I should say, also, that obviously, this whole issue is an issue of privilege and that so many people struggle to even get food on the table, especially during COVID and everything. These woe-is-me problems, I don’t mean to harp too much on. There is this sense of relatability where I was like, oh, I totally know what this guy’s talking about. Just wanted to flag that. I found it so interesting, for the first time ever, you really broke down the misperception of how rolling in dough you are as a sitcom star. You took the actual amount that you were earning, and you broke it down by episode, by year, and everything else to make it seem more like another job. Tell me a little bit about the fact that people believe one thing about you and that yet reality, perhaps, is another and how being a working actor does not necessarily mean you can never worry about money the rest of your life.

Josh: When I was writing that part of the book, I hadn’t intended to talk about money in a specific way. I wanted to, obviously, beam what I was trying to say across, but I didn’t necessarily want to talk specifics because talking about money usually is gross. Luckily, I had this brilliant book advisor, a buddy of mine named Ryan Holiday, who said, “Oh, you must say exactly how much you make.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because until I really knew you, I’m one of those people who believed that. Not everyone knows you the way I do, so it’s important.” When I talked about this in interviews, of course, the clickbait or the title of the articles were “Josh Peck feels like he’s part of a generation of kid actors who got screwed.” That’s not the headline. I certainly feel like we could’ve been more compensated. What it was more about was, to your point, correcting the misperception because that’s what I found annoying, which was that when you finished a show like that, people assumed that if they saw you do anything other than a blockbuster movie or the biggest A-list thing that you had blown your money, that you were irresponsible, that you were slumming it, when in reality, we were just doing things to be able to pay our rent and to have a middle-class lifestyle. That show, we made, for five years, what was a middle-class income. Like most people, if you turn off that spout of income, you only have, if you’ve been smart with your money, a year, maybe eighteen months of runway. Then you need to make a living. I felt the need to at least make people understand that there was a side of it, perhaps, they hadn’t fully understood.

Zibby: This was probably the first time I’ve actually spoken about money on the podcast in any direct way either. I’m like, you just don’t talk about that. I agree with you. I would have assumed something far different, even being aware of what goes on in the world and whatever. This whole culture of celebrity, people really don’t think celebrities are regular people. That’s why these Us Weekly, pumping gas, people are shocked. It’s sort of funny. I think it’s nice to just be like, you know what, not only is this a look inside my entire life and my head, but also my bank account just to say, I’m not that different. The things I go through — maybe not being on screen for many, many years — are not so dissimilar to whatever you are struggling with.

Josh: I think so. Throughout the last millennia or two, we looked up to the aristocracy because it was this idea of a way out of our circumstance. I think celebrity, whatever the version, athlete, actor, or even a reality star, they afford this sort of escapism, this idea of, oh, if I had their house and those cars and that opportunity, I’d be all better, when in reality, they’re probably having a very similar experience to you as far as spiritually and mentally and emotionally, just with their particular set of circumstance. I will say that getting better is certainly easier when you don’t have to worry about money. It affords you the opportunity to seek more help than when you’re having to grind it out on a day-to-day basis just to make ends meet.

Zibby: Right, of course. Interesting. Now that the book is in the world and everything and you’re talking about it, have there been things that have come up that you were not anticipating or passages that you were like, you know what, I kind of wish I had not put that in?

Josh: No. I think that it’s a great question. I was recently on my friend Sean Avery’s podcast. For anyone who doesn’t know, Sean Avery was an all-star player in the National Hockey League. Played for twelve years, had a really successful career. Then once he finished in his mid-thirties, he pivoted now. He’s a pretty successful actor. He talked about writing his book, which he had written right as he retired from the NHL. He said, “You know, it was the final chapter of who that Sean was. I was putting that guy to bed.” I said, “That’s exactly how I feel with this book.” For so long, I wanted to erase my origin story. I never wanted it to be in the annals of history that I was a hundred pounds overweight or that I had done performances I wasn’t necessarily proud of or any kind of thing that now I look back on and I might get the normal cringe we all would get looking at a video of ourselves a decade or two ago. I think what the great byproduct of it is, is that by putting it all out in the book, by telling my side of it, my experience, I don’t have to make a case for myself anymore. It’s sort of like, that was it. I encapsulated it in the way that I wanted to. Now going from thirty-five forward, I wonder what the next twenty years will be like.

Zibby: I’m glad it gave you this sense of closure on the chapter of your life and everything. That’s great. What is next for you? What’s on the docket in terms of all areas, aside from your child?

Josh: Professionally, I’m on this show, How I Met Your Father, on Hulu. I have a small part in the new Chris Nolan movie coming out next year. I have this movie where I play a rabbi, funny enough, in this movie called 13: The Musical. That’ll come out August 12th on Netflix. That’s really fun. I couldn’t be more pleased to be a part of that. Then just being a good dad. We’re moving into our first house this year, which is a wild prospect because I’m not great with spiders or anything remotely manly. The idea that it’s going to fall on me to fix things, that’ll be an interesting new experience. I’m very proud of everything that’s gone on thus far. I’m excited to see what’s next.

Zibby: It’s amazing. Wait, tell me more about 13.

Josh: 13, it’s based on the musical, 13, which was a kid going through his bar mitzvah. It was on Broadway in the early 2010s. Now they updated it for Netflix. The cast is incredibly talented, young singers and dancers. Then there’s people like Debra Messing and Rhea Perlman in it, and me. It’s the grown-ups supporting these incredible kids.

Zibby: Amazing. That’s awesome. My husband is a producer. His company is Morning Moon. He’s been trying to get this film made called The Mensch about a guy who never had his bat mitzvah but owes a bunch of money when he’s older and decides to go back and have it so that he can earn the money.

Josh: That’s a great idea. Oh, my god, I love that.

Zibby: I know. I feel like you should do it with him.

Josh: I know. That’s pretty brilliant. That’s a really funny idea.

Zibby: It’s good. Anyway, thank you so much. Happy People Are Annoying, I disagree. I’m kidding. I thought it was great. decided to let people know about you. You did a really great job of that and allowed people to connect with you and learn more about you. It’s just great. It’s the gift of intimacy when one person shares with another. It’s really nice. Mazel tov.

Josh: I appreciate it. So nice to meet you. I’m so happy to be on your pod. To your point, my life has been so benefited by people being willing to be transparent with their struggles, their life experience. Any way I can be helpful to others with mine — I mean, I can’t get away with it. My awkward teenage years are in reruns, so I might as well editorialize it a bit.

Zibby: Might as well. Why not?

Josh: Exactly. Thank you, Zibby.

Zibby: Really nice to meet you. Take care.

Josh: Buh-bye. You too.

Zibby: Buh-bye.



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