In front of nearly 800 members of the UF community, Josh Peck’s message was clear: Be kind to yourself.
The 36-year-old actor and comedian, most notably known for his role in the Nickelodeon sitcom “Drake and Josh,” spoke to a crowd of hundreds Wednesday night at the University Auditorium. Peck’s conversation highlighted his career and experiences with antisemitism, body image issues and mental health.
The event was organized by UF Student Government’s Accent Speakers Bureau. Last Fall, the SG agency paid $115,000 to have Shark Tank star Barbara Corcoran speak and faced controversy over contracts with TikTok influencer Josh Richards.
Peck’s UF appearance aligned with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which takes place Friday. UF Hillel chief advancement officer Jamie Zinn said the event was another great opportunity to raise awareness during the week.
“We were really excited to hear that Josh Peck was someone they were interested in,” Zinn said. “Peck has been increasingly vocal about his Jewish identity and using his social media influence to also educate and talk about them.”
Accent’s senior accounting chair Tyler Kahan said Peck’s appearance was meant to show students there are people and resources available to support them.
Peck started doing stand-up comedy at 8 years old. He struggled with bullying, and comedy allowed him to be “in control of the conversation,” he said.
Growing up in a single-parent household, Peck said, he watched sitcoms like “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “All That” and dreamed about being a part of those families.
Peck met his future co-star Drake Bell while they both were cast members on “The Amanda Show,” he said, and their connection sparked the idea for “Drake and Josh.” During the show’s run, Peck went through massive physical and mental changes, including losing over 100 pounds, he said.
After “Drake and Josh” ended, Peck said, he entered a low point of his life. Despite weight loss, he said, he struggled reconciling with how he used to look and wanted to “erase this part of his life.”
Around this time, Peck began to embrace his Jewish faith, he said. During the event, he reflected on one of his first experiences with antisemitism: an instance where he and his mother found their tires slashed and their car vandalized with hate speech.
Peck had similar experiences later in life, he said. After posting photos of him and his son celebrating Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, on Instagram, Peck said, some responded with antisemitic comments.
Peck also said he had a hard time identifying any Jewish “heroes” in media as a kid. It wasn't until he reached his mid-20s that he began to notice there was a large Jewish community within the entertainment industry, he said.
The best way Peck can address hate speech and hate crimes in the U.S. is by sharing his art and being open about his personal experiences, he said.
Joseph Prince Pato, a 20-year-old UF theater junior, said he came to see Peck speak for a multitude of reasons. Besides loving “Drake and Josh” while growing up, he also recently saw Peck in the Netflix musical “13.”
Pato was able to relate to many of Peck’s experiences, he said.
“I really connected with him about his eating disorders and how he grew up a chubby child,” he said. “I grew up chubby, also.”
Pato was also inspired by Peck’s career and how he uses his platform to speak about important issues.
“He's trying to stop antisemitism, and I want to be able to do that in my future through my art,” Pato said.
Contact Morgan Liotta at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @liottamorgan.