Ron Tite: One Laugh Away From Self Discovery
By Bryan Wish
Ron Tite is a best-selling author, speaker, producer, and entrepreneur, who has always blurred the lines between art and commerce. He has been an award-winning advertising writer and creative director for some of the world’s most respected brands including Air France, Evian, Fidelity, Hershey, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft, Intel, Microsoft, Volvo and many others. He is founder of Church+State, an agency that helps brands navigate the unified worlds of advertising and content by creating stuff that people want to see, not stuff they have to see.
Ron is also the host and executive producer of the hit podcast, “The Coup”, and has written, produced, and performed a hit play. He has written for television, as well as been the executive producer & host of the award-winning comedy show, Monkey Toast. Other accolades include penning a children’s book, creating a branded art gallery, and publishing This is That Travel Guide to Canada – a best-selling and award-winning satirical book.
In demand as a speaker all over the world, Ron speaks to leading organizations about leadership, disruption, branding, and creativity. Ron’s first book, Everyone’s An Artist – Or At Least They Should Be (Co-written by Scott Kavanagh and Christopher Novais), was published by HarperCollins in 2016. His most recent book, Think Do Say: How to Seize Attention and Build Trust in a Busy Busy World, hit store shelves in October 2019.
Bryan Wish: Ron! Welcome to the One Away show.
Ron Tite: Thank you, Bryan. It’s like … you know, when you celebrities go, they all know about mics and stuff, but anytime they go on an award show, they have to lean into the mic like they don’t know the basic?
Bryan Wish: Yeah!
Ron Tite: You know, principles of projection?
Bryan Wish: Right. So now that you just did that, what are we giving you an award for today?
Ron Tite: You’re giving me an award for the nicest Canadian, which is, I mean, that’s … you don’t understand how difficult it is to win that award. There are so many nice Canadians.
Bryan Wish: You know, that’s a high honor. I know a few Canadians and they’re all extremely genuine, so you have some mountains to climb for sure.
Ron Tite: Yeah.
Bryan Wish: At least in my world, but you know, maybe by the end of the show, you’ll convince me otherwise.
Ron Tite: Meanwhile, there’s a Canadian in the background going, “That guy’s a prick!”
Bryan Wish: Oh man, you and your hockey teams, you know? Okay. Well, Ron, so great to have you here. What is the One Away moment that you want to share with us today?
Ron Tite: You know, there’s been probably a hundred key moments, but I think the one that, yeah, I think the one that was kind of earlier and I think really did change the trajectory was, are you ready for the date, Bryan? This isn’t going to date myself here. It was 1987. I was 17 years old. And I had always, or not always, as a teenager, I remember seeing a movie by Bill Murray called Meatballs. Did you ever see that movie?
Bryan Wish: I have not.
Ron Tite: Okay. So that’s not the moment, but so I saw this movie, starring Bill Murray, called Meatballs, and it was about a summer camp. And you know, and I saw this movie and I thought, “What is this? People go away to a camp and they play soccer and they swim in a lake and they go canoeing? I said, “What are you talking about?”
And mom was like, “Yeah, they’re summer camps.” And I said, “Well, I want to go to one.” And she’s like, “Oh, we can’t afford to, those are very expensive. We can’t afford to send you. That’s why you go to day camp.” And day camp, which is the lamest version of camp. And so I started investigating and there’s something here called the Ontario Camping Association where all summer camps are a part of and I realized, by the time I hit 17, that I could actually apply to be a camp counselor.
And so, think about it, so here’s a 17 year old kid and I really do treat that 17 year old kid as this separate person. I look at him now and I’m in awe of what a 17 year old kid did, because here’s a 17 year old kid whose family could not afford to do that. Who had no background whatsoever and leaving the home to go on adventures, was never empowered to do that. And I just decided, “I want to experience this thing and I’m going to find out how to do it. I’m going to leave home for a summer. I’m going to make $350 as a junior counselor, and I’m just going to go.” And the only reason is to simply experience something that I’d never experienced before.
Bryan Wish: Wow.
Ron Tite: And that … I just look at that and go, “What was he thinking? Who does that? Who at 17 walks away from their high school friends for a summer? Who walks away from earning money at a summer job? Who leaves their family for the first time to go and play at summer camp?” And I know some of … those of you who’ve been to summer camp and were raised at summer camp, you might think like, “Well, that’s ridiculously easy.” Washed up tooting your own horn. But I think that must have been really difficult.
And when you go to experience something you’ve never experienced before, it’s really uncomfortable because you don’t know the rules that apply. So for those who’ve been to summer camp, know that you go and you have these big duffle bags filled with clothes. I didn’t know. I brought suitcases. If you want to look like a lame-o, go to summer camp with hard suitcases that close, would have buckles on them and stuff.
So I showed up and I had no idea. Not only did I have no idea what was happening at camp, I didn’t know that the camp I signed up to go for, the one that I applied and got hired to, was a predominantly Jewish camp. I’m not Jewish. And so I had no exposure, really, outside of maybe my dentist to the Jewish community, where I grew up. There was no Jewish community where I grew up.
And so I land in this camp, which is predominantly Jewish, but not officially Jewish. And I’m now interacting with an entirely different culture of people, who come from a completely different socioeconomic background, in a completely different part of the world. And it just opened my eyes to a million different things, a million different things.
And I got to meet a mentor, the camp director, who was just an incredible human being, who taught me so many different things. But it was more, it was less about skills and tactics and learning how to pitch a tent and stuff like that. It was more about kind of life philosophy. And here he was like, “You’re going to teach tennis.” And I was like, “I don’t play tennis.” He’s like, “Eh, it’s not that difficult. You’re now the camp … you’re the tennis instructor.” Okay.
I became assistant head of drama. I really had no drama experience whatsoever. And I got exposed to the arts in a way that I’d never considered myself a creative person before and now I’m an executive creative director. I’m a chief creative officer. My life is filled with creativity.
So there were just so many different things. The final piece, I think, that was really incredible about it was, I remember that there was somebody who had a Ferrari. And in my poor world, the only people with Ferraris were celebrities. Random people don’t buy Ferraris. And so I said, “Who’s Ferrari is that?” They’re like, “Oh, it’s this guy’s dad.” And I’m like, “Who is he?” And they’re like, “He’s in the schmatta business,” which is like the clothing business.
And they’re like, “He made those choose life t-shirts,” or something and I was like, “Hold on a second. You can just come up with an idea to make a stupid t-shirt and you get a Ferrari?” Life is going to be good. And I just suddenly saw … and it wasn’t about the financial opportunity, but it was about the opportunity to do a million different, wonderful things.
Bryan Wish: Hmm.
Ron Tite: With some stability upside.
Bryan Wish: Wow.
Ron Tite: If that makes sense?
Bryan Wish: Chills.
Ron Tite: Changed my life.
Bryan Wish: Incredible, I think, one, for the fact that an opportunity that wasn’t provided for you at home, you went out and sought out yourself, and that that was an opportunity that exposed you to a completely new world of opportunity and possibility. Also, I’m not Jewish either, but the Jewish culture, I have lot of networking and I’m blown away by the education around it. And it’s seems like you walked into this world of education and viewpoints and you were just intellectualized, maybe in a sense. So I want to go back in time before, maybe?
Ron Tite: Sure.
Bryan Wish: Talk more about this camp experience. Describe for us, Ron, just growing up, whatever you’re willing to share. What it was like at home? Maybe why, beyond money as a financial constraint, were ideas supported and expressed? Most kids wouldn’t just be like, “Oh, I’m just going to go to camp for the first-.” I’m just curious what your upbringing was a like, from your perspective, to say, “I want to go do something wildly different than anything I’ve ever experienced.”
Ron Tite: Yeah. So my parents were divorced when I was one. I have three siblings who are all older. So here’s my mom, somebody who was physically disabled, had spina bifida. Wasn’t supposed to live past the age of six, had her left leg amputated. She had a right leg that wound up very badly disfigured, like a club foot. And so she could barely walk.
And she was left in 1971 with four children on social assistance by herself. And I was one. And now, so we were … we call those the lean years, you know? And so, I remember that she had $25 a week for groceries for four kids in 1971, which certainly bought more than it does today, but it was rough. It was rough. In some ways, it was rough. Now we had an incredible family network of my cousins and my aunts and my uncles and stuff like that, early on.
And then we moved, my mom met my stepdad and we moved from Montreal to Ontario and he was a raging alcoholic. And so it wasn’t fun. So I had a real father who flew the coup when I was one and never paid a dime of support. And then I had a stepdad, who was a raging alcoholic, who made life at home not great at all.
I had a mother who was an incredible human being, who faced so much adversity, but who really just had a sheltered existence and the shelter, just didn’t have much exposure to life and to travel and … I mean, she was about survival. You know, it wasn’t about thriving. It was about surviving. And I had siblings who were all older, the closest is five years older than me.
So I was kind of left on my own to a little bit. And maybe that’s where that creative spirit came in? But I was just … I was a pretty social kid. I loved school because it was the safe place. It got me away from the yelling and the drinking and stuff. Not my … I wasn’t drinking as a student. But it was a poor kind of area of town. And so, it’s not like there were people with wildly different experiences. That’s for sure.
Bryan Wish: Hmm.
Ron Tite: And I just, I don’t know. I don’t know what it was. I don’t know what it was that rejected that life and changed the path. Because the path, when you’re on that path, it’s kind of you graduate from high school and you get a job. You focus on getting a job and then hopefully you do well at that job. And maybe you get a promotion, you get a raise.
Bryan Wish: Right.
Ron Tite: That was the life. And to go to camp at 17 really opened me up to this whole other world and realizing, “Oh, I need to go to university. I need to do that.” And so being the first in my family to go to university and then kind of taking phys ed, because that’s what I thought I wanted to be, a Phys Ed teacher. But then again, going, signing up for a new experience and then seeing the whole world open before you.
You just keep … you’re like, “I’m just going to go through this door.” And you’re like, “Oh my God, this opens up a whole bunch of other things!” To that camp experience, I didn’t go to camp because I thought, “I want to meet new people. I want to redefine success. I want to experience another culture.” I didn’t do … all those were just things that came after I left myself, or opened myself up to opportunity and possibility.
Bryan Wish: Wow. We are two, some more. Thank you for the vulnerability and sharing beyond. Very incredible context. And just being born into a family, right, where just by the nature of your situation, it’s a lot of like pain to grow up with.
Ron Tite: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Bryan Wish: A lot to experience and you struggled through from a young age, maybe without even realizing what else was out there. So thank you for sharing. A question I had for you. You called it the sheltered experience, as you looked back on it. Do you … when you were growing up, did you realize to the degree or awareness, even in the smallest sense, that you were sheltered and that maybe urge or pull to go beyond your comfort?
Was that more of like an internal feeling? You kind of knew something more was out there for you and you just had to follow it? Camp just had happened to be that experiment to go see what was out there? I’m just curious how this all played out.
Ron Tite: Yeah. You raise a good point, because I think you only know what you know, and even very affluent, kids raised in very affluent environments? They only know what they know. They just think the rest of the world is like that. But we grew up in an apartment building and it was a kind of a rough apartment building. And maybe I didn’t realize like, “Oh, maybe this isn’t the nicest place.” But you only need to see urine in a hallway once, not 50 times, to think like, “Maybe this isn’t how people should live.”
Bryan Wish: Mm.
Ron Tite: You know, maybe this isn’t … because, man, people on TV, they don’t show this on TV. This isn’t the Dynasty, you know? And again, not that I was gunning for anything that was richly extravagant, but just like, “Maybe I don’t want urine in my hallways?”
Bryan Wish: Hmm.
Ron Tite: “Let’s start there.” And so what’s beyond this and do other people have and how do they live their lives and then experiences. And I think the only people who provided that, really, were my teachers, because you think like … “What do you mean you went to school? And what do you mean you did a degree and your life seems different?”
So for me, that very first step was like, we need to see people that look like us and sound like us to show us what success can look like for us. Which is why I think it’s so critical when we’ve got these big social issues of kind of racial injustices that have kind of been ever present, but more uncovered over COVID.
I was lucky that I had that, that I had … I certainly didn’t come from a family of privilege, but I had privilege and that I had other white, straight white males who were like, “Hey, I’m over here. I look like you and sound like you and I did this so you can do it.” And so my first vision was like, “I’ll just be a teacher,” because that’s the only thing I knew. It’s the only experience that I could go, “Well, this is a step up, I think. I think being a teacher is a step up, so why don’t I just do that?”
And because I had no other exposure, I didn’t know there was people that worked in advertising. I didn’t know that you could write books. I didn’t … all that kind of stuff. And so that was the first thing. So I went, “Well I guess I’ll just be like my wrestling coach. I’ll just do a Phys Ed degree. I guess that’s what people do when they want to teach. I’ll just do a Phys Ed degree.” And I did that. And then again, by leaving myself open to that and then opened up a whole other thing of other people doing interesting things from different backgrounds. And I was like, “I don’t have to do that either.” You know?
And there was this moment where I’d finished a phys ed degree and I was working in the business school of Queens because I had no other options. I was just … I didn’t think I wanted to teach at that point, but I didn’t know what it was going to be. And I read a book called The Imaginary Girlfriend by John Irving. And John Irving who wrote World According to Garp and Ciderhouse Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany.
He was a favorite author of mine. And he wrote The Imaginary Girlfriend, where he talked about that he was a wrestler in college and John Irving was a really good wrestler. And when he hit college he continued wrestling, but discovered his love of writing, that he didn’t know that he had this passion to write.
And so he was telling his coach, like “I can’t come to practice because I have to go see my girlfriend. I have to go visit my girlfriend.” But his girlfriend was his writing. And so he’s cheating on his sports. And when I read that, I thought, “All right, I can have an imaginary girlfriend too. I don’t have to do a phys ed thing. I can do whatever I want.”
And I tell you, one of the greatest moments of my life was sitting beside John Irving in a restaurant and getting to say to him, “Hey, just so you know, I was a wrestler like you. I went to college, to a university, to do a phys ed program. I was going to do wrestling. And I read The Imaginary Girlfriend and sitting with me here is the publisher of my second book.”
So Jessie Finkelstein from Page Two Publishing was with me at that dinner. And I just said to him, “You don’t know what that book meant to me. And I know everybody comes to you and says, you know, oh, Garp was amazing. And Ciderhouse Rules was amazing.” I was like, “No, for me it was The Imaginary Girlfriend. It was that little autobiography you wrote and that just showed me that there are other opportunities. There are other possibilities out there and you just need to see other people doing them for you to be inspired and inform to do it yourself.”
Bryan Wish: So much serendipity in that moment where the book for you showed you finding love in different ways and how you could … it could create that for yourself. I just think it’s fascinating the author was right there.
Ron Tite: It was incredible!
Bryan Wish: By the way, Jessie’s a wonderful human.
Ron Tite: She’s incredible.
Bryan Wish: Yeah. She’s a good person.
Ron Tite: Okay. But I’m going to share, she’s going to be embarrassed by this, okay, but I have to share this. This is my favorite Jessie story. So Jessie and I and another mutual friend, Tracy Finklestein, not related, is with us at dinner. And I text Jessie and I go, “Is that John Irving? That’s John. That’s John Irving.” And I’m like, “Look at your phone, look at your phone.”
She’s in publishing. And she’s like, “Oh yeah, maybe?” So we go through the whole dinner. Right? And I’m freaking out, it’s my favorite author. I’m with the person who published my second book. They get up to leave. And he’s with two women, who I assume are his wife and his daughter. Don’t know. But so I turn to the younger of the two and I go, “Is that John Irving?” And she’s like, “Yeah, yeah, it’s him.”
And I realized then that John Irving lives in Toronto. I know that John Irving lives in Toronto, but I’d never seen him before and he lived across the street from the restaurant. And so I said all that stuff to him, you know, “Thank you, just means so much to me,” whatever. And he was very touching and warm and he turns to leave. But as he turns to leave, he comes face to face with Jessie who was just kind of sitting there. And Jessie just looks up at him, sticks out her hand, shakes his hand and says, ‘Congratulations.” And he’s like, “Thanks?” And then walks out.
And there’s this beat of silence. And I just look at Jessie and I go, “Did you just say congratulations?” And she’s like, “I froze! I didn’t know what to say.” I’m like, “What were you congratulating him on?” She’s like, “I don’t know! It was just this congratulations.” But you can tell that in the moment she’s shaking his hand saying, “Congratulations,” she could not believe that she was actually saying the word congratulations to John Irving.
Bryan Wish: Oh my God.
Ron Tite: So awesome.
Bryan Wish: What an incredible story. That’s funny. Jessie. What a neat … I mean, what a neat experience for you both to share, right? She’s helping you publish your next book and you’re across from an author who completely showed you something in the world and gave you maybe hope, in a way.
Ron Tite: Yeah.
Bryan Wish: And you know, I mean, how? Just … the world works in specific ways. I firmly believe that.
Ron Tite: Yeah! A hundred percent.
Bryan Wish: Wow. So there’s this theme throughout the worlds that you constantly seeking new dimensions or new worlds and the experiences, because of the sheltered life. I just want to touch on one more thing with the camp. And then I want to, we can play this out into how it maybe led you into the work you’re in today.
My assumption would be, you probably felt, just answer this yes or no. And I’m going to ask the question, when you were at that camp, did you feel extremely out of place?
Ron Tite: Yeah.
Bryan Wish: So you were in this world where, for the first time that you didn’t feel like you belonged to, whatsoever. How did you learn to navigate in a new environment with new people, new ideas for the first time in your life?
Ron Tite: I think it’s being comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s knowing … it’s not a big deal and being completely open about it all. I still remember the moment when I was like, “Nobody else has suitcases. Everybody’s got these big duffle bags, man. I look like an idiot here.” And then I think, I remember saying to other people, like, “I’m the suitcase guy, right? You just call it out.”
And you’re like, “Oh, yeah I’ve never seen that before. What the heck is that?” And so it’s just being open to that it’s experience and open to learning new things. And also I think, when you can share something, maybe, that you’ve got, that you can contribute, with it. If you have a unique perspective, which makes you feel out of place, there’s something really rewarding about sharing that unique perspective. The thing that makes you feel out of place? Now you’re contributing your own experience to this thing, which has its own set of rules.
Bryan Wish: Hmm.
Ron Tite: You’re trying to help shape it. And so I think I brought a really kind of unique perspective by just being completely comfortable with who I was. So, one of those stories of sharing with that group was, I was a big Beastie Boys fan. I was a huge Beastie Boys fan, which musically was a new experience for me. I was never really a hiphop guy and I just really loved what they did.
And so I said, “What about? You guys don’t know the Beastie Boys?” And my co-counselor, Jay Blumenstein, was a massive Led Zeppelin fan. And he’s like, “Who are these Beastie Boys? What are you talking about?” Kind of thing. And I was like, “Oh, I’m going to share. I’m going to proudly share this great music with Jay.” And so I go, “Okay, this is their album License To Ill. And the first song leads off with, which is a Led Zeppelin lick, or hook or whatever you musicians call that.
And Jay was like, “That’s Led Zeppelin, that’s not the Beastie Boys.” And they had sampled Led Zeppelin. And so it was his first moment where he was like, “Well, who is this, that they’re sampling my favorite band, and I’ve never heard of this before?” And so it was this really kind of cool moment where these worlds came together, where my Beastie Boys’ weird, hiphop world came together with this classic rock Led Zeppelin crew in one song. Three seconds in.
Bryan Wish: It’s incredible how music, right? It just it’s a universal connector of people and language and ideas.
Ron Tite: Because I didn’t know that was a Led Zeppelin thing because I wasn’t, I didn’t know Led Zeppelin.
Bryan Wish: Right.
Ron Tite: So we each shared with one another, this, in three seconds, he was like, “That’s led Zeppelin.” I’m like, “That’s the Beastie Boys.” And they’re like, “Oh wow, this is a weird sampling.”
Bryan Wish: Totally. I think also what you said though, is really profound, and I think a great point to build off of, too. The fact that while you felt maybe so uncomfortable in a new environment, your advantage or your unique characteristic was the fact you came from a different world and that you could help them experience things in a way that they’ve never seen. Just as you were, I’m sure, extremely interesting in a way to them, because you weren’t the same old summer camp person they’ve been with for the last 10 years or five years. So, which I think is so hard for many to see that, when they go into a new world. How they’re uniquely different and why people value that perspective. So it’s neat, you were able to learn that at such a young age.
Ron Tite: Yeah, totally.
Bryan Wish: So let’s maybe shift to your journey in your maybe professional craft and actually is quite distinguished here. How is this, as we’re building on this theme of experiencing new worlds and trying new things, right, tell us a little bit more about the career that you have ventured down and maybe how on this theme of experiencing and finding these new worlds helped you get there.
Ron Tite: Well, so my very first job was working in the business school at Queens University. And I had been there as a summer student the last two years of my … I went to camp from 17 to 21 or something, 22. And then the last two years of university, I kind of worked in this executive development program, doing phys ed stuff, baseball games and exercises and stuff.
And then they came to me and said, “We want you to work with us full-time as a program administrator for this new executive MBA program.” And I was like, “But I’m a Phys Ed grad. Don’t you want a Bcomm for that?” Because in my mind you needed to be a business person, you needed to be a commerce grad. And my director said, “No.” Look, he’s like, “This is what I love about Phys ed grads. You’re smart. You got into this school.”
It was one of the hardest schools to get into, in the country. So he’s like, “You got into this school, so you’re clearly smart. Secondly, I love that you’re really, really social. Your personality, you’re social, you’re extroverted, that really helps. I love that as a Phys Ed and a sport person, you know what it takes to compete as a team. That you understand team behavior. And then lastly, I love that-,” I’m trying to think of the fourth. There was a fourth point there now I’m blank, but it was like, “Look, you’re social, you’re extroverted, you’re competitive. You know how to work in a team and you’re not a freak. You can get along with most people.” And he said, “All the other stuff, I’ll teach you that in like 10 minutes.”
Bryan Wish: Hmm.
Ron Tite: “Those skills that you have are really critical for business. And they’re really critical for success.” Now we eventually got, there were six program managers. Of the six program managers, four of us were Phys Ed grads, who all came in and took these top jobs in the business school, with these Phys Ed backgrounds. It was the weirdest thing.
And Gordon Cassidy, who was the director, who was a PhD in stats, I just remember him saying, “Look, man, only rocket science is rocket science. This is not. You got this. All those other things that you bring to the table.” So that was one. So that opened me up into the world of business. Then I land in Toronto and someone recruits me to work at a web firm. This is the beginning of the internet.
And again, it’s like, nobody knows these skills. This is not about knowing the skills. This is about having the drive and the personality to be able to succeed and being competitive and passionate. And so I did that. And then I worked into advertising as an account guy.
And then, I start doing standup comedy because I feel like I really want to, again, I’m really curious about this craft of standup. And I’d grown up watching standup and I wanted to know the methods of the madness. And the only way to do it is to go, “I’m going to do it.” And I’m not going to … I’m not just doing a one off, like I’m getting drunk and doing an open mic night. No, I want to do it, do it. I want to write a headliner set. I want to go big.
So my very first night of comedy, ever, I headlined my own show and did a 45 minute set because I saw that the way that you typically get into comedy is that you do an open mic night and you do five minutes. And I went to check one out, just to check it out. And I went to it and I’m like, “This is a shit show. This is the worst experience anybody could ever go through. This is not … that guy’s drunk. That guy lost a bet. This is horrible.”
So I went back to a friend. I said, “I’m not doing that. How else am I get into comedy?” He’s like, “Well, you can convince a producer to put you on a show, even though you’ve never done it before. I don’t know who’s going to do that.” So I just said, “Well, why don’t I just become the producer? Why don’t I just produce my own show? How difficult is? That can’t be that tough? How do I do that?”
So I produced my very first show myself, got other friends to open for me, gave all the money to charity, promoted it to friends and family. I was like, “I’m starting my standup career. Here you go.” And I did it.
Bryan Wish: Tell us what that show was about real quick.
Ron Tite: So the show was called captain crunch flashback. And it was exposing, because all standup is based in pain. And so it was exposing the pain of growing up poor, but using humor to expose that pain. So it was like looking back and like, “Hmm, what’s the humor that now that I’m further away from it, how can I look back on that and laugh?” So it was called captain crunch flashback.
And I just, yeah, then once you do it, once you’re a comedian, then you’re a comedian. Once you’ve done a 45 minute set, they stamp your forehead and go, “Right. You’re a pro. Now you can go do other things.” That’s such a great … the craft of standup, I learned a lot, obviously a lot about creativity and performance and everything else. And I absolutely love it.
But that idea of like, “Why don’t I just produce the show myself? I don’t want to do it the way everybody else does it. I’m not doing five minutes. I’ve got 45 written.” So the way to do that is to own your own show. And so when I was … then I started doing that and then got caught in a hotel fire, performing in Edmonton, Alberta, at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, got plucked from a fifth story window by a cherry picker and taken to the hospital.
I get back to Toronto after that, I walk into my advertising agency where I was working as an account guy. And I said, “My life flashed before my eyes and account services didn’t make the final cut. I want to go into the creative department as a writer. I want my comedy life and my advertising life to be more closely aligned.” And so I did that.
I moved into the creative department as a writer at 27 or something, and then became junior writer, senior writer, assistant associate creative director, creative director, executive creative director. And then again, I got that bug of, “I want to do other things.” And the only way to do it is to produce my own show. So I started my own agency 10 years ago and it’s called Church and State.
Bryan Wish: I’m in awe of your story and maybe just your navigation of, with kind of wayfinding through life and taking all these, maybe things that give you a deeper interest, right, in the world and diving … comedy, why not? Stand up 45 minute talk and then let me go to my company. I’m just going to, I need to merge these worlds. I mean, I think the audacity and balls to do, or just a more polite way of saying that, just the courage and bravery to just take on what you did. Right?
From where you came from, is inspiring in itself. Well, I had … oh, oh, this was the question I had for you. In reverse to maybe the last question I asked you, were there? Seems like you had this adventurous spirit break out of these shelter, do we take on all these different opportunities? I’m sure, personal life, professional life, all one of the same. What were some of, maybe, the worlds that you dove into, or tried to maybe tap into, that you banged on the door, maybe you took a few steps in and you said, “You know what, not for me.”
Well, it’s really interesting in comedy where you … what you should do, in the beginning of your career, is be open to all opportunities, right? Regardless of what you do, you should be like, just open to go, “Yeah, I’ll do that. I’ll try that. I’ll try that. I’ll try that.” And so as a stand up, you do that and you haven’t really found your voice yet because to find your voice, you really need to just, you just need a lot of stage time.
And so I hadn’t found my voice and people were like, “Do you want to do a golf tournament? Do you want to be a comedian at a golf tournament?” I was like, “Yeah, I’ll do that. That sounds like fun. Yeah. Great. What? People are playing golf all day. And then I go in?” Can I swear on this podcast, Bryan?
Bryan Wish: Yeah. By all means, let it go.
Ron Tite: It is a shit show. Being a comic at the end of a golf tournament is a shit show. It is the worst experience of my life. I think I did it three times. And then I said, “New rule. Never doing a golf tournament again. Don’t book me for it. I don’t want it.”
So there were reasons there, right, which was, one, people you need to … great comedy is when you have great insight about something and I hate golf. I’m not passionate enough about golf to find the insight about what’s funny about golf. So I hate golf.
Secondly, because I hated golf, I wouldn’t golf with them. I wouldn’t go out and immerse myself in the activity where I could find things that happened throughout the day to find humor. So I’m starting cold, when I start, I’m addressing a bunch of people who’ve been in the hot sun all day. Most of them overweight, business dudes, who are just there to raise some money for charity.
They eat a steak dinner. The blood goes to their guts. They’re already half in the bag, they’re sun burned. And then I get up with no insight about the thing they just did. And I go, “Hey, coffee’s weird. Huh.” You know? And it’s just … and the only way to win in that, to win over that crowd, is to be a dude’s dude. To go out and to hammer people and spritz with the audience and make fun of people to their face. And that’s how you do really well with that. And that wasn’t me. I just knew that wasn’t me. And so it was you then quickly like, “Mmm, mental note, never doing another one of these. Got it. Okay. I removed that from my list. I’m not a golf course comedian.”
And then slowly but surely you just continue to do that. And you strike certain things off from your list. And I remember I was performing at, I think this is the secret, that I was performing in Edmonton, where I got caught in that hotel fire. And I was performing a one man play based on the standup. And there’s a moment of kind of silence in the room where I’m like, went out of focus there, and there was somebody in the front row. There’s this kind of poignant moment in the play. It’s really silent.
And the line is, “So, Hey, be careful.” And the be careful part is a callback to something earlier in the play. So I’m there, this sold out room, and I go, “So, Hey,” and in that beat, before I say the line, a woman in the front row goes, “Ah,” and she knew what the line was going to be before I said the line and that’s hands down the most powerful moment I had on stage, because it was one person who just went, “Ah,” and she was … I had her emotionally. I had her in the Palm of my hand. I could take her wherever I wanted her.
She was so dialed in that she knew the next line and was moved by what the next line was going to be before I even said it. And so that feeling, I was like that, “I want to experience that feeling again more. How do I do that?” And so that’s what led me into speaking, which is, doing club comedy is really fun, but you don’t get those moments of brilliance where, to me, the moment of silence that follows the punchline when you make a statement that’s really insightful, is way more powerful than the uproarious laughter which preceded it.
So I think comedy is way more powerful the second after the punchline than the second before. And I just, I thought, “Oh, I can use comedy to set people up and to have fun and make them open to it, but to be there, to deliver a more important message about their life, about their business,” whatever. And so that, I think that was like, how do I? Once you feel something, the pursuit should be about duplicating those feelings, not about duplicating the experience.
Bryan Wish: Hmm. The pause after the punch line.
Ron Tite: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Bryan Wish: One, I think what a powerful story, just, it was so visceral and evocative. Yeah, you had her emotion in the palm of your hands and you could take her where you wanted. And I love what you said about, “it’s not about duplicating the experience,” right, “but creating more of those moments where you can do that.”
And so, Ron, I think you’ve taken a pretty meaningful path, with what you’ve done with Church and State and some of the books that you’ve written. And so, but to that point around driving people in the emotion, having them in the palm of your hands, how have you maybe used that, a more emotional feel, to make an impact on other people, and brought that into your work and then created ideas and hatched ideas out of that within your professional career?
Ron Tite: That’s a great question, Bryan. I think being vulnerable and honest about stuff is … can help other people who may be struggling with that or they … I think people, I remember having an assistant and we were talking about people in the agency and stuff, and like, “Why don’t people do this and why don’t people do that?”
And she said, “Hey, we’re not all you.” And she didn’t mean that as like, “You’re better than anybody.” What she meant was like, “We don’t all have that trait that we want to do the things that you do. Different things kind of move us and inspire us. And we’re not all wannabe entrepreneurs.” And I just remember saying like, “But you know that I’m afraid just as much as you are? I lie awake at night, worrying about my quote unquote job, probably more than you do. I do worry about all those things and I don’t always have the answers and I sometimes I feel stupid,” and yada, yada yada.
And so I think it’s being open with that and kind of sharing with people, “Hey, this is important that I share this honesty with you.” And I think that’s when people buy you. They buy you because of your imperfections, because of your authenticity. They don’t buy the stock photo version of what a CEO, of what an entrepreneur looks and acts and sounds like. The person who uses the same buzz words, who’s just trying to live up to some ideal that somebody else created, I think is bullshit. And so there isn’t one stock photo of what an entrepreneur is supposed to look and act and sound like.
You know, I remember last year, around this time we had a holiday party and after we had been in COVID and everything and gone into virtual teams, and I had a baby two days into COVID, my wife and I had a baby two days into COVID. It was insane. It was a crazy period, emotionally. And we were talking about our favorite meetings of just like, “Hey, what’s your favorite thing that happened in a meeting, a virtual meeting?”
And they’re like, “What about you? What was your favorite meeting?” And I started to cry a little bit because I said, “At the very beginning, had a new baby, I lost every speaking gig for the next year. I had no idea what was going to happen to the agency and to the people we employed at the agency. Had no clue. And it was the worst two weeks of my life.”
And then we won, we pitched a project and it was for $200,000 or something and we won it. And that meeting, I remember thinking, “Hmm, maybe everything’s going to be right? Maybe we’ll be okay? Maybe I’ll be okay. Maybe we won’t lose anybody, we won’t have to fire anybody?” All that kind of stuff.
And just that moment of sharing that with the group, and it was this weird moment of silence where they’re like, “Oh my God, he’s crying.” You know, the team was like, “What’s he doing? He’s crying. Oh no.” And then I apologized for it. And people were like, “Oh no, no, no, no. That was a real moment.” And I think your teams need to see leaders having real moments. And that’s where you get more loyalty. I think that’s where you get better work. And I just … the kind of the honesty that I’ve shared with you here today. There’s nothing that’s not public knowledge that I wouldn’t share with my team.
Bryan Wish: Wow. So impactful. To cry? I had a couple moments when I cried in front of my people on my team this summer and fall and incredible what happened after. I want to play that question, play that back to you. When you were able to be vulnerable, maybe strip down your masculinity in front of people you respect and you’re obviously guiding the ship with, how did they respond to you? What did you see after, maybe, when you kind of let that guard down a bit, to be yourself?
Ron Tite: Well, I think, you know, it was slightly unexpected. I don’t think anybody had seen me cry before, but what I sensed was that people were like, “Oh, God, me too.” You know? Because nobody had ever taken the time to ask, to look back on that and to revisit all those weird experiences and emotions that we all had in March 2020. And so I think that’s really what it was. It was like, “Oh, thank God. Somebody else was kind of thinking the same thing I was thinking.” And so it kind of unified us as a team.
Bryan Wish: Yeah, totally. How special. How special. And Ron, I know we even touched a ton on your day to day in life, but I appreciate the vulnerability, right, that you’ve brought to the show. Something I want to ask you more on the personal side, just as we’ve been going through it. You mentioned to me prior to the show about just becoming a father and taking an unusual path to get there and thanks for sharing a bit. You know, maybe some things on the show that maybe contributed towards that experience.
For you as a dad, this is, you said you done it a little later than most. My dad’s 61 or two and he has a 12 year old half sister. So, you know?
Ron Tite: Yeah.
Bryan Wish: Because there’s some good hope out there.
Ron Tite: Yeah!
Bryan Wish: What has been the most enjoyable or meaningful aspect of fatherhood for you?
Ron Tite: I think it’s just … being the dad for them that I didn’t have, you know? I just want them to … I tell them, I hug them and I kiss them and I tell them, “I love them” like 40 times a day.
Bryan Wish: Wow.
Ron Tite: 40 times, 50 times a day. It’s just nonstop, to the point, they’re like, “Leave me alone.” You know, the four year old is like, “Leave me alone.” And so it’s like we talked about, breaking that cycle. And so I didn’t have good role model as a dad or a stepdad. And I just think like, “All right, well, I’m going to … I’ll try and be that for them.” So that, you know like a … yeah, I think kids should just grow up going, “oh man, my dad really loved me and it was such a great home environment.” That’s all they should really get.
And I didn’t have that, but I mean, my mom taught me a lot about being a great father by being a great parent herself. ut yeah, I think it’s just being … loving them and maybe showing them a different … I don’t feel the pressure because I’m so much older and more confident.
You know that stock photo version of what a dad is? I remember my wife going, “Our dishwasher is broke. There’s a part that’s broke on it.” And I said, “Well, it looks like we’re getting a new dishwasher.” And she said, “No, I ordered the part from Amazon. I watched a YouTube video. I’ll be able to fix it myself.” I’m not that guy. I’m not the handy dad. I’m not mixing stuff. That’s my wife. She’s incredible. An incredible human being. But just being the type of dad that I want to be, that I think to give them a different experience.
Bryan Wish: That’s amazing. Wow. So special that you can be there with your kids in all those moments and show the love to them that maybe you never experienced. And last question, and then we’ll tell people where to find you, your book.
Ron Tite: Can I add something though, just before?
Bryan Wish: Yeah, yeah.
Ron Tite: So, because I think that’s really important that I also didn’t want to be the dad that was like, that gave up my life for my kids. And it’s not a self … maybe it’s a selfish thing, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to continue to travel and work and do stuff that I’m passionate with, because I think that’s more important than me just simply being in the house with them.
Bryan Wish: Yeah.
Ron Tite: That they actually get a role model of somebody who’s like, “Oh no, my dad loved his job. He loved his job. He was really passionate about it. He was really driven. And when he was with us, he was fully with us. But when he wasn’t with us, he was doing stuff that really inspired him.” And again, nothing against somebody. Like my mom was a stay at home mom her entire life and she found great passion in that, but I wanted to be maybe something a little bit different.
Bryan Wish: Incredible. I mean, you’ve broken the mold in, I think broken the cycle or mold in two regards. From a career perspective, from anything remotely close to what you saw growing up, to going your own way. And then from building a family you never had.
Ron Tite: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Bryan Wish: And it’s really just incredible just to listen to right. And here just maybe the journey art and you, it seems like gotten where your soul has called you.
Ron Tite: Yeah.
Bryan Wish: And this has been such a, such a treat talking to you. I really appreciate you showing up, Ron, really special. Where, for the people that don’t know you, where can people find you? Where can they reach out to you, buy your work, to give us all the down-low.
Ron Tite: Yeah. It’s easy. Ron Tite. R-O-N. T-I-T-E. RonTite.com Facebook/RonTite. LinkedIn/RonTite. If you want to check out the agency, it’s Church and State. It is churchstate.com. Yeah. I’m around.
Bryan Wish: Awesome. Well you’re a pretty tight guy, so thank you for making time. Well, excited to get this out there and thanks for everything today.
Ron Tite: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
This post was previously published on BW Missions.
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