April 29, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield

Positive and Wakko

The Character Behind the Character


A few weeks ago I was listening to a national radio host who had recently attended a pop-culture event. He talked about visiting the celebrity autograph area and how one particular celebrity had almost no one in line to meet him. The radio host told his friend, who regularly attends this particular event, that he was surprised that no one wanted to meet this famous person. His friend told him that the particular celebrity attends the events so often that people aren’t interested anymore.

I heard this and thought of all the pop-culture events I have attended. My son and I go to comicon-type conventions several times a year; and my son loves spending time in the celebrity area. We have stood in lines as long as two hours waiting to meet a celebrity and have also spent a few thousand dollars over the years for photos and signatures.

There are certain events that we attend each year. There is one in particular in Salt Lake City that we have attended five years in a row. And interestingly the celebrities who attend vary from year to year.

Except for one.

There is one celebrity who has attended the Salt Lake City event almost every time we have been there. His name is Jess Harnell. It is likely that you have never heard his name before, but when he is at an event, there is always a line to meet him. On two different occasions my son and I have walked through the celebrity area on closing night after all the celebrities have gone, and the cleaning crew is starting to tear down, and there is still a line waiting to meet Jess.

When you consider his celebrity credentials you would never expect this. His major claim to fame is acting as the voice of “Wakko” in the 90s cartoon series “The Animaniacs.” Of course he has done hundreds, perhaps thousands of other voices since then, but nothing huge. Nothing like Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh or Homer Simpson. Yet people stand in line to visit with him, year after year.

And when you meet him, you know why.

The day after the last event in Salt Lake City, by chance my son and I ran into the man who organizes it. His name is Dan Farr. Dan has turned this event in Salt Lake City into one of the most successful conventions of this style in the country. I spent a few moments talking to him that morning and I mentioned Jess Harnell. And Dan told me that, although they go out of their way to bring different celebrities in each year, they always like to bring Jess because people love him so much.

People love him because Jess, more than almost anyone I have ever met, has mastered the foundational skills to success in life and business.

When you meet Jess he smiles at you and looks you in the eye. He asks your name and repeats it back to you. His voice sounds as though he has been waiting all day to meet you and he acts as though he has all the time in the world for you. He is dripping with positivity, and his enthusiasm is infectious.

Somehow, even after talking to fans for hours, he seems completely genuine. My son and I have stood in line to visit with him at almost every event, and whenever Jess sees my son, his face lights up and he says, “I know you!”  And on more than one occasion, Jess has even walked around the table to give my son a hug.

And not only do we visit him, we keep buying things! We have paid for an autograph, a CD of his music, and we’ve even paid to have him record a custom outgoing message in the voice of Crash Bandicoot for Andrew’s voice mail.

Jess is a study in the power of happiness. When you walk away from Jess you feel good. He knows how to add a little sunshine to your life; he spreads that sunshine everywhere he goes. And everyone feels it.

While some celebrities become old news at these events and can’t attract a crowd, Jess always has a line of people who want to visit with him. As a result, an event like the one in Salt Lake City is always willing to invite him back. And you can be certain that people in the industry love to work with him. So even though he doesn’t voice any of the really big characters, he works all the time.

There is a lesson here for all of us. Be happy and be positive, even when you don’t want to be.  When you make those traits part of your outward personality, your brain will eventually follow. Over time it will become more and more genuine.

But why bother? Here's why, because the world will respond.

Think of the people you truly like to be around. I bet they smile a lot, especially when they see you. I bet they are rarely moody. I bet they look at you and listen carefully when you talk. I bet they have a positive outlook about almost everything. I bet they rarely complain.

We all love being around people who spread joy. We seek out people who make us smile. We crave being around people who make us feel good about ourselves and our lives. None of these ideas is a secret. Consider the people you love and respect. Consider the people you like to be around. Sure, a negative or pessimistic person might be funny or entertaining in short spurts, but they wear on us, so we all avoid those people in the long term.

If you want to find success in almost any area of life, find a way to be happy and positive all the time. It’s a choice. And if you aren’t doing that right now, making that change will alter your entire life. 

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