207 Overcame Learning Disabilities to Build a Fun and Profitable Biz – John Di Domenico

What You Will Hear:

  • Hear the hilarious voice from John impersonating “Austin Powers” “Dr. Evil” “Donald Trump”
  • Growing up with Speech Impediment, Stuttering Like Mel Tillis – A Speaker's Story
  • Cashing in His Gifts – a Triumph Story
  • Overcoming Learning Disability – a Famous Speaker Story
  • Dyslexia, ADHD, Speech Impediment… a Famous Speaker Story
  • Know How You Wired, What Bring Out Your Best and Succeed
  • Finding a Fun and Profitable Business
  • Focus on the One Thing That Brings Everything Together for You 

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More about our featured guest

He had speech impediment, ADHD, dyslexia…

John Di Domenico, a professional actor, corporate entertainer, and celebrity impersonator, shares how he succeeded despite learning disabilities.

For the last 25 years he has been recognized as one of the busiest and versatile corporate entertainers in the industry. He has worked all over the world for some of the largest production companies and their end clients by creating a unique form of infotainment.

Full Transcript

00:03 Joel: Welcome to ReLaunch, your daily dose of inspiring stories, fresh ideas, practical steps and solutions. And you can think of this show as being your prescription for personal growth and business success. And if you are a daily listener, welcome back to the show and thank you for tuning in to the before and the after show conversations on Facebook and Twitter, and if you're new to the Relaunch nation, thank you. Know that you are among friends.

00:36 Joel: And joining us on today's show, wow, I am excited to hear from this guy, professional actor, writer, performer, host, celebrity impersonator, this will be fun, John Di Domenico. And for the last 25 years, this guy has been recognized as one of the busiest, busiest, busiest and most versatile corporate entertainers in the industry, and he has worked for some of the largest production companies and clients you can shake a stick at, and what really makes him whole…


01:16 Joel: Let me try to get through this, John, and what makes him a category of one, trainer, an MC, a keynoter and an entertainer is his ability to integrate his cast of celebrity and original characters into a content-driven comedy. Wow, say that fast five times, that delivers and amplifies the key messages of the meeting. And John, welcome to Relaunch!

01:44 John Di Domenico: Oh, thank you. It's great to be on the show.

01:46 Joel: It's good to have you here, and this show is all about the relaunch, and I generally ask people to talk about the one relaunch that has had the most significance or that has been the most transformational for them.

01:59 JD: Right.

02:00 Joel: In their life, and we'll get to that here in just a few minutes if that's okay.

02:02 JD: Yeah, sure.

02:04 Joel: But before we do, rumor has it that you do one of the best Donald Trumps ever, and you even impersonated the Don on Fox and Friends. I wanna hear about that.

02:17 JD: Yes, that was great.

02:18 Joel: And also I've heard that your Austin Powers sketch has been made recognized by People Magazine as being one of the best in the world or at least in your hometown, so either one.


02:32 JD: In my zip code.

02:33 Joel: Exactly. Anyway, so here's a challenge. Can you do Austin Powers and the Don either doing a duet, a fight scene, or a bonding moment, or can you kinda just mix all three of them together.

02:46 JD: Oh, but you want a… Let's see a famous scene from Austin Powers, “You know, Donald, it's all over for you man, your world domination is not gonna happen baby, yeah.” “You know what, Austin, it's over for you, you might be groovy and sexy and have your mojo, but I've got billions, and billions of dollars, and on top of that, I can fire you. You're fired. See if Dr. Evil can do that.”


03:14 Joel: Nicely done.

03:18 JD: I should actually throw in Dr. Evil just a little bit, you know what I mean, just a little of Dr. Evil, okay sure, okay bye. Okay, sorry go ahead with the show, alright, quick, quick.

03:28 Joel: Dr. Evil. Love Dr. Evil.

03:32 JD: Isn't he great? He's such a great character.

03:32 Joel: Oh my gosh.

03:34 JD: All those Mike Myers characters are amazing, he's a genius.

03:36 Joel: Indeed.

03:37 Pei: He's so evil, but you cannot help but watching it.

03:42 JD: Right, right. The buffoonish evil doctor, so.

03:49 Joel: Indeed. Oh my goodness. Okay, so John, how do we… Okay, let's get serious, but our… How do we get our serious ReLaunch hats on and focused, talking about John's relaunch. Where do we start after this?

04:02 JD: You know, for me it's… People always say when they find out that I had a severe speech impediment and I was in speech therapy for eight years, two times a week, from first grade to eighth grade, they always think it's, wow, you're out there everyday performing or doing voices, and it's kind of ironic that you had a speech impediment, and it actually works in my favor now, later on.

04:32 Joel: Okay.

04:33 JD: Because I had to learn how to speak properly and I used to literally have one of the speech therapists hold my mouth to pronounce words properly in the jowl, and all those things. And later on in life when I started, and I was doing impressions early on. I was doing impressions when I was five years old because when I did the impressions, I didn't have the speech impediment.

04:56 Pei: Wow.

04:57 Joel: Now that I didn't know, that reminds me of…

05:00 Pei: “King's Speech”.

05:01 Joel: “The King's Speech”.

05:03 Pei: Oh my gosh.

05:05 JD: And a lot of people always say oh, I stutter like Mel Tillis and what happens is and you probably… The way the brain works is really fascinating when… Involuntary speech when we're speaking right now, you really can't hear yourself because if you did, you'd drive yourself crazy, but voluntary speech would be when I would do a voice like Ed Sullivan, which is one of the first voices I ever learned, “Now right here on our show, the fabulous [05:30] ____ Karbacho brothers and after that, the Beatles.” I wouldn't have any of the impediments because I was accessing a different part of my brain to manufacture the voice.

05:42 Pei: Interesting, so how did you learn about that?

05:46 Joel: Yeah, good question.

05:50 JD: I learned that much later, much later in life, but it was… Because people always though it was interesting that I didn't have the impediment when I was doing the voices, and I grew up in a rural home, right outside of Philadelphia and we had neighbors out in the summertime. And I was always, I was a ham, to begin with. But my neighbors always said, “Oh do the voices! Do James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart!” And all the voices that I did, they got a kick out of it because I was a precocious kid who could do all of these voices. But then I'd be teased for all the other times because I couldn't speak properly!


06:25 Joel: No, I was gonna, okay, so I wanted to ask you about this, so as a young kid for eight years, what does that do to a kid, having to go see a therapist? I mean I experienced my own therapy from… Gosh, almost K through just about 12th grade…

06:41 Pei: Yeah. Since he…

06:42 Joel: Give or take a few years, but what did that do to you at the time?

06:47 JD: You know, I'm sure everyone can relate to this, but when you're sitting in class with your friends or your fellow students, and they come in and get you, it's always a weird experience, because you're being kind of pulled out, you're being singled out in a period of life when you don't wanna be singled out. And that was always strange. The upside was it was personal attention which I really needed in my life. I had a… My situation at home was difficult. And so to have one on one time with somebody was great. And I always had amazing speech therapists. And I also had learning disabilities. So I was also pulled out of class for those, 'cause I had serious problems with reading and I kinda have a delayed form of dyslexia and also ADHD. So I was just a mess with a lot of different things going on. I had to wear a patch over one eye, it was a lot of things to overcome as a kid. But I was able to get the help that I needed.

07:57 Joel: One of the things that I always remember is every time one of the special ed teachers would come into the classroom, I would always see her come in and I'd always know that “That's for me.”

08:11 Pei: Oh, you know, yeah.

08:12 Joel: And then she'd go… You know the drill, they'd go talk to the teacher and then they'd walk to you as quietly as they can and take you by the hand or whatever. And then you would go for some type of private therapy session or some special learning program or something like that. But years and years. And I liked it like you did, for the personal attention. And that I got to get out of doing what everybody else was doing.

08:39 JD: Right.

08:40 Joel: I always thought that was cool.

08:42 JD: Yeah!

08:42 Joel: However, I was thinking, “Man… This is… ” It got old. Did it get old for you?

08:48 JD: For me it never did because as I got a little older and knew I wanted to be a performer, I kinda just saw this as something that was really useful to me. By the time, 7th and 8th grade, in 7th and 8th grade, when you're 12 or 13 and you wanna be hip and cool and everything, it's hard to be hip and cool when you're being pulled out of class.

09:15 Joel: Right.

09:15 JD: It's just, “There's that weird thing.” And when you come back in, you come back in at a weird point. So you're always in a sense, and I'm sure you can relate to this, you're kind of on stage in a way. You're being pulled out, you're being brought in and you have to have your confidence up, especially when you walk back into class. So by the end I kind of, I liked it and became… I think it helped me to appreciate one on one help, which later on I would need for other things.

09:49 Joel: Gotcha. So I'm curious about this, when did you decide that you needed to be a performer? Not you wanted to be a performer, that's one thing. But you actually needed to be a performer?

10:04 JD: It was probably in college. I mean I knew all along when I was a kid, but when I knew “This is what I… I have to do this. This is just what I… I can't live if I can't do this.”

10:19 Joel: Okay, now this is a great point, because when we talk to people about ReLaunch, and, Pei and I obviously do this a lot. And one of the things that we talk about is that there is a difference between a relaunch of choice and you know how that is, you make a choice, “You know what? I'm gonna start doing things differently tomorrow. I'm gonna study this new thing.” Or, “I'm going to start my exercise program.” Or something like that. “I'm gonna make a choice.” But there also comes a point, for you it sounds like, it was in college, when the relaunch goes from becoming a choice that you make to a necessity that you have to pursue. And sometimes I even go deeper in that and think that… Or talk about it's necessary, or at least it was for me, for me to experience myself and to let the people around me experience me in a different way. As a speaker, as a radio guy, as me being me. So tell me about when it was necessary for you?

11:27 JD: I was, I had a plan after I graduated college. And I was very lucky to do a lot of great theater and learn from wonderful teachers. And then once I graduated, my plan was to work as a copyrighter at a Philadelphia ad agency and then move to a New York agency, and then pursue my acting career in New York. ‘Cause even though Philly was a great market, New York was so close and it just offered so much more. And I had two different advertising, copyrighting jobs, I couldn't stand it, I really could not stand working in an office situation having a job, job, It just didn't suit me and it wasn't…

[background conversation]

12:39 Joel: Okay, John, so you were talking about being a copywriter and I am picturing Mick Jagger in the mail room and I'm thinking, that combination just wouldn't fly, so is that kinda how it was for you, being the Mick Jagger in the mail room?

12:55 JD: Yeah, it was, you have these ideas. One of the things in my life has always been, you kind of romanticize what something is until you learn what it is, and that changes your perspective entirely. And I always thought copywriting would be very much… “I'm gonna be sitting around, we're gonna be spitballing ideas, you know, what do you think of this? Let's run up the flight pole and see who salutes.” And it was actually very… Other than the meetings, it was very kind of solitary, sitting in your office and write, which is kind of what I do now which is ironic, but it's on my own terms now. And it really wasn't what I thought it would be and it also seemed to be really incredibly inefficient to have to work between 9:00 and 5:00. I'm not necessarily creative between 9:00 and 5:00. I'm creative at different times of the day. And, around that time, I joined the comedy troupe and I was writing for them and performing with them, and it kind of grew and grew and grew, and I said, “I'm just gonna quit this job, this really isn't working.” And I just kinda went full-bore into the acting and this comedy troupe which actually worked out great because I was doing more writing and then I was helping to find work in the bookings and performing, and it kinda just grew out of that.

14:21 Pei: Yeah, wow, coming from when you were a kid, you had speech impediment to where you are today, and of course, getting out of, quitting your corporate job, launching your own business. So if you have to nutshell for our audience who some of us actually wanna transition into the next step and be successful, what would be your top two success tips, either mindset or relationship or resource?

15:00 JD: Well, with resources now, when I was starting out in like the '86, '87, from that period, the resources weren't as available because of the internet. Everything, there's so much, so many resources now, I wish YouTube was around when I first started. I could be shooting comedy videos everyday, not that I can't now but it's kinda of like, it's a little different. But as far as mentally, it is, I need to meditate, I need to focus as a creative person and I always have so many different ideas and you want to just run in 20 different directions, but one of the best tips I can give is just focus on that one thing that brings it all together for you. If you know what that is, you may not even know what that is yet and for me, it's been a learning process as I go, 'cause I kept relaunching and reinventing every few years as I learned different things in the industry and how I can kinda bring that in to what I offer clients.

16:13 Joel: So let me ask you this, what are some of things that you are learning or relearning about yourself?


16:19 JD: I've always said, if I ever write an autobiography, it's gonna be, “I thought I was somebody else”, because over time, as I learned things it's like, “Oh! Its this way, it's not that way” and I thought something was like this and I had this image of this and overtime I've learned and I've just re-adapted along the way and that's what's really… We were talking, the whole thing is about one specific relaunch in my life. I was, in the mid '90s, like '96, '97, I was doing a lot of commercials in New York, I was doing stand-up and doing some other acting, and it just wasn't jelling for me, I couldn't figure out what was missing and so many things weren't the way I thought they would be especially with stand-up, you know, being on the road, it's lonely, it's tough to tell you the truth because every time you go into a club, it's totally different environment.

17:21 Joel: Were you gonna jump into the conversation?

17:24 JD: Okay. Sorry.

17:25 Pei: Oh I'm good, go ahead, John.

17:27 JD: Oh, okay sorry about that. I got interrupted there by a message on my phone. Are you still there?

17:33 Joel: Squirrel! Squirrel!

17:35 JD: Yeah, pretty much. But I was on the road, things were really tough and I just wasn't… I dreamed of doing stand-up and performing and it just wasn't what I thought it was gonna be. And going into auditions, I was getting commercials but I learned that actors are so, what's the right word… There's really no value to a certain extent. If you weren't available for a shoot date, they just find somebody else even though you had done a fantastic job. And I really want to have more value. I knew I could bring more value to projects and offer so much more. I just didn't know how do it, 'cause I was working under an old paradigm, kind of the “Go to New York and be an actor and James Dean” and all that kind of thing. And the same thing with stand-up. And I… What happened was… Two things happened within a very short period of time: I got called for a commercial by an agent. They said, “The audition is tomorrow at 10:00. The callback is 4:00, and then if you book it, you leave the next day to go to LA.”

18:37 JD: And I was thinking, “Good Lord, how could this… ” They're not booking the studio space in 24 hours or buying the film stock or getting the catering company. But the actors were always the last person they brought in. So they were the most disposable, in a way. And I was also doing a club in Lancaster, Pennsylvania called Billy's Comedy club. And I walked in and I said, “Hi, I'm John Di Domenico. I'm your featured act this week.” And the owner basically said… He was like, “Well, I hope you're funny kid 'cause the last person your agency sent sucked.”

19:14 JD: So I was like, “Oh, great to be here. Fantastic.” And a week later, I ended up doing my very first corporate gig for Sony in Florida. And they flew me down first class, and I had never flown first class. And I was picked up in a limousine and taken to the hotel. And I went up to my room, and I got a call and it said, “Hey, we're having a production meeting downstairs. We want you to meet everyone. And then, I met the production team. And it was all these Broadway people. And the show was amazing. It was so well produced. It was a great audience 'cause they were a smart, captive audience. And I just was like, “Wow, this is incredible.” And I went back to my room that night and I wrote down every single company I could think of, in every single major city. And I looked at that list and I said, “There's meetings going on all over the country, all over the country, and I should be on those meetings. That's my money.” And I told the person who booked me for stand-up, I said, “Don't book me anymore. I'm changing gears.”

20:16 Joel: Really?

20:17 JD: Yeah. And I refocused on just doing corporate.

20:22 Joel: And what year was that, John?

20:24 JD: That was '97, '98, I made that transition. And then I was… ‘Cause I didn't even know this whole area of corporate entertainment existed. But the quality of the work was so much better and so much more consistent than just day-to-day acting work, hoping you'll get a commercial and traveling to Boise, Idaho to do the Chuckle Hut, or something like that. And within that… When I was making that transition I started getting auditions for corporate shows. But I was still getting them and the show would be about two weeks away. And I thought, wait a minute, I'm still coming in too late to this process.

21:04 JD: And then, I changed gears again, and I figured, I need to get to the production companies themselves, find out who the creative directors are, introduce myself to them, however it takes, and say, “Hey listen. I am your solutions provider. I do 30 different characters. I'm a writer. I understand this. I was in copywriting. I love business.” And that's what I did. So all through the 2000s and right up 'til now, I built my relationships with the production companies. And then, they… When they do their pitch to these companies, whoever it is, I'm part of that package.

21:41 Pei: Awesome. That's like… There are many big relaunches but many tweaks, many relaunches along the way to where you are now.

21:53 JD: Yeah. And that was… Without that main one, that was their epiphany for me. That was the main relaunch. I was like, “I'd been romanticizing this career and I can't… I need to give myself fully to this and how can I do that?” And then, this was the way that I saw to do it.

22:10 Joel: Was that a big thing for you to fully give yourself to that? Because if we talk about surrender and totally surrendering to a dream or an idea, it sounds like that's, when you went back to your hotel room that night and started listing out companies, it sounds like that's the mindset that you were in. Yes? No? Maybe?

22:33 JD: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I want something where I could… And I admire people who can just be actors. I have friends in LA and New York, and they'll sit around and wait for the job. I can't do that. I have to be really proactive and I have to be involved in every single project I'm on. I'm a pain in the ass that way. But I have to… I want to know what's going on. I want to contribute creatively, not just hiring me to perform, you are hiring me to add value and to bring my experience as a writer, as a performer, as a host, as whatever it's gonna be. If I'm taking very technical information and conceptualizing it, and making it funny, whatever it is. You know, and in a way, it's very satisfying that way but it also kind of takes you into a corner to a certain extent. But I like the corner that I'm in. And I don't mean corner in a negative way, it's my niche, is really the way I should describe it.

23:36 Joel: So talk about your niche, and infotainment is something that I read that… Some material that you sent. So how do you actually do this in a meeting to be engaging, to be entertaining? Could you just give me an example?

23:54 JD: I'll give you a great example. I was approached by a company… I think it's great, but I was approached by a company, and their whole thing is about DC power. And they need to make it palatable at trade shows, and they gave me all the background about AC, and DC, and Thomas Edison, and Tesla, and going back to Benjamin Franklin and the lightning strike, and I came up with a couple of different proposals. By about the third round, I changed things a little bit, and of course, I kind of like to work in my characters, but I said, “How if DC power is represented by Austin DC Power?”

24:38 Joel: Nice.


24:40 JD: And AC is represented by Dr. AC Evil, and he owns a power company.

24:46 Joel: Nice.

24:47 JD: So I pitched that to them. We shot myself on video as Dr. AC Evil, and then I did a live presentation as Austin DC Power. So we're able to communicate it, recognizable characters, humor, things people can wrap their brain around really easy, and they're gonna listen and retain more because it is funny, and they know the characters.

25:10 Joel: Sure. That's sounds exciting.

25:12 JD: Yeah, that's a capsulized version, and we do a lot of financial things with Donald Trump, and I've hosted town hall meetings as Dr. Phil for a lot of big companies 'cause he can work to diffuse… Not their hostility, but sometimes tempers flair at meetings when questions are being asked of them, the CEOs and upper management. And then we'll do team building as Guy Fieri. So we do a whole “Minute to Win it” thing. Man, I'm driving the bus to Flavortown, baby!


25:42 JD: So I'm always looking… And within that, there's always content. I don't wanna just come in and do some disconnected act. I wanna really drive the messaging of the meeting in and make it fun, because these people have to go to these meetings no matter what. So, if you could have them engaged, have a higher level of retention, and I can do that, and I can bring that to them, I can add that value to a meeting, it's just so much the better.

26:13 Pei: Absolutely.

26:15 Joel: Very well said. Okay, so coming in for a landing here, John, really, really do appreciate your time today.

26:22 Pei: We're gonna have to include his YouTube link on our show notes.

26:26 Joel: Let's do that. Let's… Let's definitely do that. Okay, so put your coach's hat on, Dr. Evil.

26:33 JD: Yes. Right now. Yes.

26:34 Joel: Okay, put your coach's hat on. So, what would you advise me to do if I'm really searching for ways to experience my creativity and let other people experience what I have to offer? What are some tips that've worked for you or that…

26:56 Pei: I guess finding that style, right?

26:58 Joel: Right.

26:59 JD: Yes. Find out where you're strong… Two things: Find out where you're strongest creatively, and where you're weakest, and find out both ends of those, and focus on that, and how it can be delivered to whoever you wanna bring it to. So I don't know if you're talking about writing, or performing, or whatever it is, but just doing as much as you possibly can. Get that experience.

27:35 Joel: Okay, so if I'm talking about performing, just for the sake of this discussion I am, how do connect with that and how do I start practicing?

27:49 JD: The basic level of your corporate is toastmasters. If you really wanna get out of your comfort zone, I tell people this all the time. Go to an open mic night at a comedy club. You'll get five minutes. If you wanna have leather skin in five minutes, go to an open mic night at a comedy club.

28:09 Joel: That'll do it.

28:10 JD: Oh, that'll do it, yeah. You better bring it, because they will give you no quarter. I've had executives tell me, “I did it. I went there. I almost passed out”, but it's one of those things that once you do it, it's like a shot of adrenaline. You wanna go back up on stage.

28:31 Joel: Wow.

28:31 JD: Because if you can go into a situation like that which is almost like a combat zone and get the audience to listen to you, because a lot of executives… A lot of the audience is gonna listen to them anyway. They have to. It's a captive audience, but if you can really be engaging, and reach them on a different level, on a deeper level where you're opening yourself up, kind of what your show is all about. If you're really being honest and authentic… And I know I do characters, but I try to be the most authentic within the parameters of that character.

29:02 Joel: So now I'm curious, what happened at your first open mic night?

29:06 JD: Oh my God…


29:09 JD: I was… That was like a bar…

29:10 Joel: Was there weeping and gnashing of teeth? That's what I'm curious about.

29:17 JD: There's bungee jumping and there's stand-up comedy.


29:20 JD: And walking on stage is like a bungee jump. You are just about to jump 300 feet. You're gonna be totally out there, and you can either live in the moment and be there, or just be consumed by flop sweat, with you over-think it.

29:40 Joel: Okay, so let me ask you this. Were you quick to know you were ready to do it again, or did it take some self-talk to get you back in…

29:53 JD: Oh, it always takes self-talk. You wanna get up there, and the funny thing is right before you walk on stage, you say to yourself, “What am I doing? Why am I doing this?” And then when you do it, it's like surfing and riding the wave. It is just so amazing. And you're on stage by yourself, other than a microphone, and people want to laugh. They want to hear what you have to say, and it's an amazing experience.

30:24 Joel: See, I think that's a good, that's a great point to come in for a landing on that. People want to laugh. They want to be entertained. They wanna enjoy themselves, for the most part. Now there might be some hecklers…

30:36 JD: Drunk hecklers.

30:37 Joel: Every now and then, right. Right. But for the most part, people want to just have fun, right?

30:43 JD: Yeah. They do. They really do. People want to hear what you have to say, and they want to laugh.

30:49 Joel: And if you can connect with their desire, because they want to have a good time, so they're already kinda on their way there, so if you can just ride that however and make that connection, yeah, it'll be good times. It still takes practice though.

31:06 JD: It really does. It always takes practice. And one of the things they say before you go out on stage, no matter what, I always say a prayer and it is simply, “God, this isn't about me. This is about them. Let me entertain them. Let me be this conduit to do what I need to do, and communicate what I need to communicate to them.”

31:29 Joel: Nicely done. John Di Domenico, our guest today. We'll, of course, have all the social media hotspots available in our broadcast show notes. And this has been a pleasure. You're welcome back here on ReLaunch anytime. We're delighted that you were able to make it today, and thank you for listening to the show on your own time.

31:49 JD: Yeah, baby.


31:55 Joel: Have a great day, John. Take care.

31:57 JD: Alright. See you too. Thanks for having me. Buh-bye.

Follow John on Twitter, Facebook, and visit his site.

Watch his hilarious performance videos.

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Joel Boggess

Keynote Speaker | Corporate Trainer | Award-winning podcaster I help teams ignite their courage, take bolder steps, and get greater results. Together, we create possibilities that bring empowerment, meaning, and financial impact.

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