Interview: Josh Yawn, Author of “Hosting for DJs” and Host of “Family Knows Best”
Today, we have an interview with jack-of-many-trades Josh Yawn. His name might not be instantly recognizable to some, but the list of credits to his name certainly is. Among his many achievements includes his role as producer of SlimeCon, the anniversary reunion of the cast and crew of CTV/Nickelodeon’s You Can’t Do That on Television, working for years as a DJ, casting on numerous reality programming ventures, working with the teams of contestants on the 2008 Nick revival My Family’s Got Guts and hosting a day of GSN Live. Now, he has managed to find time to write a book about how to be a great MC entitled Hosting for DJs: Real, Practical Information for Mastering Any Ceremony, and is now even working on producing his own game show in his home of Southeast Texas, Family Knows Best. I had the opportunity to conduct an in-depth interview him about the many interesting things he has worked on so far, how he got to those points and what exciting things are happening now.
Chad Mosher: At this point in your life, you have an impressive resume. Take me back to your early roots. What got you interested in this sort of field and how did you get started?
Josh Yawn: I was always interested in television. I grew up doing pretend shows in the backyard with my best friends. I watched TONS of game shows with my mom. I used to fake sick from school so I could stay home and watch John Davidson on Hollywood Squares with her. Fast forward a few years later. My first time ever in a television studio was shadowing the executive producer on Double Dare 2000 when I was 15 thanks to my friend Marc Summers, who wrote the foreword for this book.
My first gig, I guess, was the reunion of the old Nickelodeon show You Can’t Do That on Television. There was a reunion and convention called SlimeCon that a guy I knew named Byron Smith was organizing. He allowed me to come to Canada and work on a huge project that I had no business working on at that point. But, I’m thankful for it and it still is one of the best memories I’ll ever have. Two years after that, I returned to Canada to do one more SlimeCon for the 25th anniversary. This time, I was in charge and we shot a brand new reunion episode of the show with the original cast that I produced. Unbelievably surreal.
CM: As an early Nickelodeon landmark program, that was something that left a large mark on many young, now older fans. What kind of responsibilities did producing that kind of event entail?
JY: Oh man. Securing the original studios the show was shot in, CJOH in Ottawa — they’ve unfortunately since been torn down — finding the cast and crew members who had long gone their separate ways, hiring writers, a director and a crew of people to work on the reunion episode while still planning and organizing the live reunion/convention event and figuring out how to make it mean something to the cast and draw emotion from the fans who love this show. Those were the big ones. Then, there were lots of little things like rummaging through old prop closets at the studio at midnight looking for stuff that was used on the show. We made some pretty cool discoveries.
CM: So at a fairly young age, this is a pretty cool way to start your résumé. Where do we go from here?
JY: From there I continued college. I kept working when I could on commercials and small projects. I started doing voice-over work in college and did college news and radio. I found that I really liked voice-over and was able to stretch my voice in a lot of directions. I traveled to L.A. on a lot of my breaks in college and networked a lot too. That really put me in a good position for after I got my degree. I also began writing music for TV projects in college, almost by mistake. A friend needed some music for a pitch and that pitch ended up being a huge pilot for Sony and King World. It was my first big contract gig. I continued writing music for several similar pilots through college and that continues to be a source of work for me today. Oh, and while not work-related, I went on Pyramid in 2003. I know this is a game show site but I still have flashbacks about that. I was no Chad Mosher.
CM: Around this time, you also began getting involved in the business of DJing. Many people have the misconception that it’s just the guy who gets paid to hit “play” at a party. How involved is this task, actually, and what had you learned at this point from your prior experiences that helped you do this successfully?
JY: I actually did my first DJ gig when I was 11, then started a business when I was 16. I’ve never even held a time card before, I’ve been self-employed my entire life. I was really interested in radio when I was a kid, but I was torn on hosting TV in front of a live audience like a Dick Clark or Bob Barker type, or being on the radio like the local guys I listened to and playing music. Live DJing happened to be the perfect marriage between the two. I could host and entertain a live crowd while still playing music and having the radio aspect. DJing actually was a springboard to TV and strangely enough it’s come full circle with my DVDs and now my book.
The biggest misconception about DJing is that anyone can do it. Technology has gotten to a point where anyone that has a computer can go out and call themselves a DJ. It’s really watered down the markets and hurt the business economically. It also has created a stigma that live DJs are frumpy middle aged guys with comb-overs that are the ultimate cheese ball. Those are usually the guys that don’t have a clue what they’re doing. To do it correctly is an art. The thing I learned in branding myself is a host is to set myself apart from all of that, and that’s what I teach the DJs I train in seminars and through this book.
CM: In 2012, where there are tons of outlets for people to get their word out to the masses, what motivated you to set out in book form?
JY: I’ve always wanted to write a book, ever since I was a kid. I’ve been back in the DJ world for the past nearly three years as a seminar speaker and to a degree, trainer. I’ve traveled the country speaking to DJs and teaching them various things and the niche that people seem to ask me about the most is hosting. They’re interested in how I turned a DJ career into a TV career and how I used a TV career to rebrand my DJ career. I’ve got two DVDs out called DJ Crash Course that are training tools for DJs to learn from and that was the first merge of my TV and DJ work. I’m on-camera hosting while teaching a great curriculum to DJs. It was a lot of fun and they’ve done quite well. I did a tour in 2011 promoting those and speaking to DJs in a different state every night and it was then I decided to hammer down and write the book. So, I holed up in a 100-year-old log cabin in East Texas at a wonderful bed and breakfast and wrote the thing in less than a week. It was a wonderful experience. A month later, I was at the Mobile Beat Conference for DJs and live entertainers where folks from around the world come to network and learn and we launched the book. Hosting for DJs was the number one seller of the conference. No one has asked for their money back yet or slugged me in the jaw so I guess we did something right.
CM: The title of Hosting for DJs alludes to helping with the art of the two similar tasks, event/television hosting and DJing. Even if someone isn’t interesting in spinning records, why should someone who wants to host get it? What can a budding presenter take away from the book?
JY: While the title is Hosting for DJs, the book applies to the up and coming host in a lot of ways. Everything I’ve done is a result of being a fan of game shows when I was a kid. I was a student of the old school game and wrote the book with that mentality. A lot of game show fans today run their own trivia nights, which is fantastic. Finally, there’s an outlet that’s perfect for game show fans to have legitimate work performing and getting paid for it. No one knows the mechanics of a game better than a fan, too. So, from a business perspective, this book is perfect for learning the proper ways to address a crowd, how to build rapport, how to work the crowd, branding, interviewing, the whole nine yards. The principles in Hosting for DJs can be applied to any type of host or public speaker. There’s only one correct way to address a crowd. It doesn’t change depending on what job title you put with it. And of course, game show fans will especially appreciate the foreword by Marc Summers.
CM: Having Marc Summers do your foreword is a pretty big deal, with you being a big Double Dare fan. How did you two develop a relationship and what have you learned from him that can be applied to Hosting for DJs?
JY: I’m so honored and privileged to have Marc write the foreword to my book. It’s seriously a dream come true. He and I have been good friends since I was 15 years old and he’s been a real rock in my life. I grew up looking up to Marc on Double Dare and he was my childhood hero, bar none. So, to not only have the friendship with this person for over a decade that you admire but to have him write the foreword to your book, it’s staggering, unbelievable. I’ve thanked him every time I’ve talked to him for the past 6 months. I think he’s probably sick of it at this point. But, it really means a lot to have his name on there if for no other reason than it lets me know the information and advice I wrote is sound. He read the whole book before he wrote the foreword and then sprinkled his magic in the first few pages. He tells the story of how we met in the book, about how one day he just decided to freak me out knowing I was a fan of his by calling me randomly. I guess at the age of 15, I said something that made an impression because we’ve been friends ever since. He drove me to my first audition I ever had in L.A. and I’ve visited him when I was in Philly. Not many people get to say their childhood hero is a friend of theirs. I’m really fortunate to be able to.
CM: Going back to game shows, later you returned to the Nickelodeon scene working on the unfortunately short-lived My Family’s Got GUTS. What were you duties there and what was it like to again, work with something you watched as you were younger?
JY: My Family’s Got GUTS was an amazing experience and a tightly run show that’ll never get the attention it deserves. As I mentioned before, my first experience was shadowing the producer on Double Dare 2000. I met and spent time around everyone on that crew. Almost 10 years later, all of the heavy hitters from then were back working on this show. So, it was a really happy reunion for me. I felt like I had a history with these people and they welcomed me officially into the Nickelodeon family. I originally auditioned for audience warm-up in June of 2008. I live in Texas, so I flew out for the audition and flew back home. It was hard for me to be accessible and there was another guy who came in and blew it out of the park. From what I hear it was down to him and me, but ultimately he got the job. I’m glad too, because he turned out to be one of my best friends from the show. So, I was offered a job as an on-camera judge that I had to decline due to my own schedule not allowing me to return back to Orlando when I needed to. Ultimately, I ended up working over the teams.
I managed most of the teams on the show. I did a lot of work with audio too. I eventually did double duty where I’d bring contestants to the set, and then actually mic them and get them hooked up with audio. That’s where my DJ experience really came in handy. I stunt tested too. I was everywhere. I ultimately ended up credited as a Production Assistant because I don’t think they quite knew where to put me, which kind of sucked. You never want to get credited as a PA especially when you’re busting your butt like that. But, they could have credited me as anything and I would have been happy. We did two seasons, but only one aired in the U.S. The Nick family is a real family. It’s a shame the network doesn’t use the people who built it anymore.
I’d also like to mention that I worked with the amazing Jeff Sutphen [host of the revived Figure It Out] on that show. He was one of our producers and we became friends on day one. Such an amazing talent. I’m so happy for all that guy’s successes on his shows. He deserves it.
CM: And the following year, in 2009, you had the opportunity to host for a day of GSN Live in a completely paid-for experience after winning one of the legs of the GSN Live mall tour. Go through that experience, ultimately doing hours of live TV for hundreds of thousands of people.
JY: I did. I’m so glad too. I almost didn’t go to the audition because I’ve never been keen on what I perceived at the time to be kind of a dog and pony show. But, I figured this could be a chance of a lifetime and a great break, so I went. I went in Houston and made it to the final round. It was between me and another guy. I goofed something in my final round and he won. Alfonso Ribeiro pulled me aside and told me that little mistake is what cost it for me, and that I should do whatever I had to do to get to the Sacramento for the last audition of the tour. I worked with Alfonso when he was a judge on Last Comic Standing. He’s a stand-up guy so I gave it some thought and prayer, and decided to do it. It was all such a blur that I have absolutely no memory of the trip other than standing on stage. But, thankfully this time I won. I’m the only person who came in both first and second place on that host search tour. Boy was my original opponent surprised to see me in L.A.
GSN Live was a life-changing experience. I made so many great friends there, and hosting with Fred Roggin was an honor. He’s a class act and he taught me a lot. I ended up landing my first agent thanks to that experience and my career has continued because of that. I also learned from Fred the value of paving your own way and creating your own opportunities. He told me that by creating opportunities that are tailor-made for you, you can’t help but succeed. That’s when I created my series of DVDs for DJs, wrote the book and created the show I’m working on now here in Texas. I’m unbelievably thankful.
CM: And so with fantastic production and hosting experience behind you, we bring this to the present. You have a great opportunity right now as host and producer of your own series of Southeast Texas’s newest family game show Family Knows Best. How did you get the ability to do this, what should be expected from the show and what are you looking for in prospective contestants?
JY: One thing I’ve always managed to do is keep my roots at home, near the Houston area. I’ve put on lots of frequent flyer miles in the past 10 years. More recently though, people have been twisting my arm to “do what I do out there, back here” which translates to doing a game show for this region. This has been going on for probably four years and finally the timing worked out and we’re going to do it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s never been done here before so the buzz in the area is incredible. Because this isn’t a production town, everything is twice as hard to pull off to do correctly. But, we’re getting there and it’s very fulfilling. If it isn’t every bit as good as anything else on TV, I’m not going to air it. I’ve already signed the contract to air it though, which means I kind of have to make it good. We’re casting families of four and just like any other show, we’re looking for big personalities and energy. Things that make them stand out.
CM: As a final note, the age old question. In addition to buying your book, if you were to give any advice to people wanting to enter this wacky and wonderful business of television, what would you suggest?
JY: Network, network, network! I preferably hire people I know because I know how capable they are of doing the job and how easy they are to work with. Most people are the same way. So, write emails to the people who do what you want to do and ask for their advice. People love to talk about themselves. Actually, that’s a tip Marc Summers gave me years ago. His advice was to ask for advice, and that’s sound advice. That advice has become my advice. Also, understand that being a fan is great but that unless you transcend that and go beyond, your chances of getting a gig are rare. Follow the trends in the business and accept change. For example, if you’re trying to pitch a show, understand why current shows are the way they are and don’t try to pitch a show done the way a show thirty years ago because you aren’t happy with the way things are now. Sell what people are already buying. Be really good at what you do. Practice hard, get professional advice, and don’t get your feelings hurt easily. Lastly, don’t do it unless you love it. It’s a tough road to plow full of inconsistency. But if you truly love it, it’ll all work itself out.
Hosting for DJs: Real, Practical Information for Mastering Any Ceremony is available in physical form and eBook at HostingforDJs.com. Family Knows Best is also casting for family contestants this weekend in the Southeast Texas area. For more infomration, visit FamilyKnowsBest.tv.