The most employable man alive
Growing up, kids usually start off with that typical all-American dream of being astronauts or cops or teachers or something. As the years pass they generally get turned on to reality and find out that life isn’t limited to such traditional careers. You can be anything! You can be an ostrich babysitter, a fortune cookie writer, a whiskey ambassador, or a chicken sexer. You can even smush five odd jobs together and form one badass mega career. Greg Bennick did it. He’s a professional juggler/hardcore singer/motivational speaker/documentary producer/writer of letters to world leaders about important stuff. What the fuck, right? I know. That’s the first question we asked.
Vice: What the fuck? You have like five jobs right now. What are they?
Greg Bennick: I am a lion tamer, nutritionist, ice cube manufacturer, and professional tambourine tuner. These jobs barely give me time to pursue my true passions and professions, which are speaking to audiences about important ideas, entertainment, and film production.
Don't you think it's a little selfish to have so many? You're kinda making everyone in the world look pretty bad right now...
Well I used to have ten jobs, so getting rid of five of them was my gift to the unemployed of the world.
But you really are a professional juggler, right? How long have you been doing it?
Truth is often stranger than fiction. I became a professional juggler entirely by accident. I signed up in sixth grade to take an after-school class in coin collecting but the school secretary signed up another kid for "coin collecting" and me for "juggling" by mistake. I went on to be a professional juggler, and the coin collecting kid likely went on to be an investment banker worth millions. But I'm not bitter.
Are there juggling alliances and unions and stuff that you partake of?
There are such alliances, but I avoid them as a general rule.
What's the best juggling trick you can do?
Five ball bounce off the ground in the midst of strobe lights.
Do you think it takes a certain kind of person to juggle?
Jugglers tend to be people who were bullied in elementary school, have a unibrow, breathe only through their mouths, and never had girlfriends. Thankfully, that wasn't me. When I would write notes to girls asking, "Do you like me? Check Y or N" everyone always checked Y. And just for the record, my eyebrows have always been plural.
You were also the lead singer of Trial, a hardcore band that was actually really popular. How long were you together?
We were together for five years, and then, after breaking up in 2000, we've had a surprising post-mortem existence. You could think of us as a zombie band in a way, given that we are still living far after being declared dead. More shows are on the way for 2010. I am also currently singing for another band called Between Earth and Sky. We'll have a record out this winter.
I have plenty of friends, some even round the office, who have totally outlived their hardcore days but still get excited about your band.
It’s an incredible feeling. I am honored beyond words. I get emails all the time that start out with, "You probably hear this all the time but..." and then they go on to say how much the words and music meant to them on a personal level. But the thing is, no matter how many times I hear it, its always deeply meaningful. These people have taken valuable moments out of their lives to listen to my words and my band and then take even more time to actually get in touch with me. I can't thank them enough.
What were your songs about?
Trial's songs were about personal empowerment, with a heavy influence placed on embracing suffering as an essential part of being fully alive. We can't deny our suffering or our pain. We have to embrace it with the same acceptance that we extend to joy and happiness. This doesn't mean that suffering is the goal, but rather that its most definitely part of the journey which cannot be denied or ignored.
Hardcore singer turned motivational speaker doesn't seem that far off then, actually. Positivity seems like it would play a major role in both jobs, right?
At the core, even more than positivity is the need to be sincere and genuine. If the art and artist aren't sincere, and if the words aren't genuine, both in terms of process and execution, well, then the artist will be executed, so to speak, by the audience.
How did you become a professional motivational speaker?
I have to point out, I am not a motivational speaker in the traditional sense of a guy with a moustache and a permanent million dollar smile cheering the audience on to achieve more and be insanely positive. My approach is very different. It’s all about sincerity. As for how I got started, it was an offshoot of performing. Juggling is fun, but it only goes so far in terms of impacting people. Adding ideas to motion created a new level of communication. Ultimately though, it’s actually genetic. My mother is a part-time motivational speaker, so you'll have to find and interview her sometime and ask this same question.
Do you have any wacky intros or dances you do when you first get in front of the crowd? How do you break the ice?
Connection is everything. And for me, connection with an audience is a make or break proposition: if I don't connect, I don't succeed. And if I don't succeed, then I don't get hired. And if I don't get hired, I starve. Funny how that works. For me, I always make sure that the first thing I do is to break down the audience's perception that because I am the one onstage with the microphone that I naturally must be an egotist. I do something to poke fun at myself, or to connect with the audience, so that they know I am not a threat, or self-absorbed. That usually does the trick. Then, of course, once I have won the audience over, if I wanted to, I could spend the next 59 minutes being entirely self-absorbed.
Do you ever combine all three jobs at once, like juggle while screaming super posi lyrics in front of a group of business folks off on a weekend team-building retreat?
I absolutely speak and juggle at the same time, and often to business folks, and occasionally on weekend team-building retreats, but I save the screaming for the bands. As a general rule, professional speakers who scream at their audiences are dangerous and need to be heavily medicated.
And Mr. Overachiever, you've produced/co-written some documentaries too. What are they?
The first, Flight From Death: The Quest for Immortality, is about human fear of death on a subconscious level and how the anxiety that results from that fear influences us and affects our propensity towards aggression and violence. My friend Patrick, who directed the project, and I won seven Best Documentary awards at film festivals for it and it's been seen on five continents. The second, just being released now, is called The Philosopher Kings. For this film, we sought out wisdom from prestigious colleges and universities, but we only spoke to the custodians.
I heard you’ve also written random world leaders and just go meet them and hang out. What’s up with that?
The World Leaders Project stemmed from an idea I had about seven years ago. I had spent years talking to people involved on grassroots levels with activism. As I got into the idea of death anxiety and how that causes aggression and violence, I started wondering if I might try to take a "top down" rather than grassroots approach to sharing these ideas. I decided with my friend Sheldon Solomon to write letters to every leader of every country on the planet and invite ourselves to speak with them to discuss human aggression. Our thought is that through talking with leaders that we might have some influence on them? Dramatic, optimistic, yes. But why not try? We met with President Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana, wrote back and forth with a number of countries, and have another round of letters going out in the fall of 2009 in order to arrange more meetings.
Did you go to college for any of this or did these jobs just kind of pop up along the way?
My college degree is in theater, so there is a connection between speaking, performing, communicating, and what I was trained to do. Go figure. A college graduate who actually uses their degree? What a concept.
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