“Is that the guy from Drake and Josh?” Students gather to see Josh Peck at annual Significant Speaker event

UCCS hosted former child star turned adult actor Josh Peck Wednesday night as a guest of the annual significant speaker event. Though UCCS has hosted over ten significant speakers, Peck’s appearance marked the second speaker event since 2019.  

One year ago, students poured into Gallogly Event Center en masse to hear civil rights activist Angela Davis speak, the first speaker at UCCS after a major pandemic. Entirely sold out a month prior, the first significant speaker since COVID and Davis’s contested political affiliations made for a reverent atmosphere. 

Last night’s visit with Peck did not hold the same tension, most audience members appearing happy to be there, hoping for some laughs. Director of Student Engagement, Stephen Cucchiara estimated that the ~600 tickets sold on Monday jumped to over 900 by Wednesday evening. 

Known for his role as Josh on the teen sitcom “Drake and Josh,” popularity on the departed “Vine”, and appearance in “Oppenheimer,” Peck has been in the spotlight for more than two decades. His name became popular recently after the March release of “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV.”  

The four-part docuseries revealed the unpleasant reality of what child stars at Nickelodeon experienced, most notably featuring Drake Bell, Peck’s former co-star. Peck did not appear in the series, but did make a statement on his Instagram, Bell later said on social media the two had spoken privately regarding the issue, urging his fans to “take it easy.” 

Easy is exactly how the event went, Peck maintaining a lighthearted approach regarding issues like self-esteem. In typical significant speaker fashion, rather than a speech the event was hosted as a conversation, moderated this year by Assistant Vice Chancellor of Health and Wellness Stephanie Hanenberg.  

Hanenberg steered the conversation toward areas where Peck has experienced growth, asking about how he approaches self-care, how to maintain a healthy work/life balance, and what it’s like to be a father and husband. Regarding his family roles he says: “It doesn’t give me a lot of time to go home and just sit in self-loathing.” later adding “I’ve got these two humans that I’m in charge of, and well, I’m Josh from Drake and Josh.” 

Later, when asked why Hanenberg was chosen to moderate the evening, Cucchiara said the committees for the event felt Hanenberg would be best equipped to have an organic dialogue, and cater the event in a wellness direction – which Cucchiara said seems to be an area students seek the most help in.  

Through the hour spent in conversation, Peck showed affection for uplifting quotes, mentioning his adoration for collecting shelves worth of self-help titles, frequently citing anecdotes and advice from fellow actors or friends. Peck called his own book “Happy People Are Annoying” a “self-help book masquerading as a memoir,” that offers views from the halfway point, rather than at the end of a successful career.  

In a chatty and casual conversation, Peck revealed himself as a person who spends a lot of time worrying about not doing things well, not doing enough or not doing it right. Peck credited scoring his role as Kenneth Bainbridge in “Oppenheimer” to willingness to start from scratch. For Peck, that meant returning to acting classes as a student in 2017, despite his then-seventeen years in the industry.  

“In my preparation I have to be willing to try stuff that makes me feel like the worst actor on Earth, or a total clown. I need to give myself that freedom to turn down the volume on my self judgement.” said Peck. 

Peck’s time got plenty of laughs, even weaving in jokes about tough battles like his hateful inner monologue he calls “Radio KFUCK.”  

Peck moved about the stage, leaning into moments of physical comedy. A more casual vibe than previous guests, Peck leaned into the humor many students enjoyed while watching him on TV as children.  

While describing growing up with a single mother and his admiration for the nuclear families he saw in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and other ‘90s sitcoms, he said exactly why humor is such a deep part of who he is. “Going to become an actor was like going to work for the hospital that cured my disease.” 

One of the most majorly restructured parts of the event was the time for questions at the end. Last year’s event had its own set of problems with difficulty passing microphones around the large crowd.

The solution presented this year was printed QR codes in each seat, prompting attendees to enter their questions in an online format. Eliminating awkward microphone handoffs and giving Hanenberg complete control over what questions were verbalized.

Photo by Lexi Petri.