John Morgan is a comedian, musician, and actor who’s been all around the world and made millions as a renowned George W. Bush impersonator.
The crazy thing? He almost never tried to pursue that career. In fact, he thought it was a terrible idea, something only an insane person would do.
In this episode, John tells the story of why he ultimately decided to pursue a career as a celebrity look-alike—and how fear almost crippled his shot at a job that has given him so much joy and success.
How did the idea to become an impersonator originate?
The idea sparked when I met one of George W. Bush’s staffers during his presidential campaign. The staffer said, “You look a lot like ‘W.’”
As Bush became more well-known, people everywhere pointed out that I looked like him. It wasn’t until three years into his term as president that someone enlightened me about an emerging popularity of celebrity impersonators.
I dismissed the idea as crazy, kooky. I was a normal person.
The only comedy I’d done was goofing around with my family. I had tried to launch a music career—I had an entertainment gene—but couldn’t make a go of it. So I went back to my mom and dad with my tail tucked between my legs and worked for 20-25 years at their appliance store.
So you knew you looked like “W” and that you had talent, but you still worked at the appliance store. What stood between you and launching out into a new career?
Like I said, I didn’t know there was such a career as being a celebrity look-alike. My wife went online and found out a guy was making stupid money impersonating George W. Bush. She woke me out of a dead sleep and said, “I just found your new career.”
There was no way that was going to happen.
Then, out of nowhere, I thought, “How do I know it’s not for me? How do I know God doesn’t have His hand in this?” After exploration and prayer, I knew this was something I should try.
What role did fear play in stopping you from launching into this career?
In the early years of my life, I was fear’s slave. I experienced verbal and physical abuse. I majored on avoidance, rather than risk. To me, success was not being bullied or hated.
Once you learn the nature of fear, how it operates, how it cripples instead of protects you, then you can rise above it, push through it, and achieve the purpose for which you were created.
We usually tell stories about massive failure and lost money, but you have more of a “failure by default” story. Can you explain what that is?
For many years, I would think, “You could be in a band.” But each time I immediately shut the thought down, fearing rejection. If you never try, then you never fail.
But I’ve learned something. To not try isn’t to not fail; to not try is to be in a continual state of failing.
If putting a glass on the shelf is the goal, you can say you’re not going to try, so you won’t fail. But the reality is, you’re continually failing to get the glass on that shelf.
My best option was to be brave, willing to take a risk and move forward. Risk is a funny thing, too. Risk is a moving target, because risk is something that you assess based on your point of view.
What some may see as a ridiculous risk may not be a risk at all. To those who have more education or knowledge of how the economy works, they might know that if you try something, it’ll work.
Have you had any failures since you were actually playing Bush?
I did have one, and it was pretty royal.
I’d been challenged to go on a certain reality show that has to do with talent and America (wink, wink). I was afraid to go on it at first.
However, there was another show on ABC called “The Next Best Thing,” a reality show about celebrity look-alikes. With my background of being afraid of rejection, I hesitated, but I thought, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” and I went for it. I ended up in the top 10—I was so excited.
I was in LA getting ready to film the finale, and a guy came up to me. It so happened that this guy, Terry Fator, was in the top 10 of NBC’s megahit. And he recognized me.
Terry went on to win that show. I wound up fourth out of 1,000 contestants on “The Next Best Thing.”
The following year, I got wind of auditions for the NBC show, so I called my friend Terry to ask for his advice. He said, “When you audition, bring your A-game.”
I said, “Yeah, but if I do the best thing, how will I top it later in the show?”
He said, “I had to work harder than I ever have in my life to come up with something better each week.”
That didn’t seem like something I could do. Besides, I presupposed that my talent alone would get me through my audition.
I had barely watched the show. I prepared, but not with excellence. I wasn’t ready, to no one’s blame but my own.
I walked out on the stage, in Dallas of all places, and that audience went nuts. I had a fatal thought: I only had 90 seconds to audition, and the audience was using up all the time.
Had I watched the show, I would have known to let it play out. I should have gone with the flow and said something like, “It’s good to be home.” I failed to recognize the affection pouring into that stage, and I simply launched into my prepared remarks that had nothing to do with the moment.
The audience turned on me; the cheers turned to jeers. They were loud, vehement. I got buzzed off the stage because if I had been on it any longer, tomatoes and shoes would’ve come flying.
At three in the morning, I asked myself what I had learned. Then I wrote down things:
- Always bring your A-game – You better believe I learned that loud and clear.
- Always love your audience – Always.
So yes, I failed miserably that day. But in failing, I learned two of the most important lessons of my life.
I would do it all over again to learn those lessons.
Fear: The Most Powerful Lie
A few years ago, John realized that fear had debilitated his progress. He got mad. Out loud he said, “I declare war on fear.”
He meant it. He began to read and learn and develop a theology of fear, if you will.
He realized he’d been a prisoner of war, a prisoner of fear. He started to fight and, to his utter joy, he started to win. He journaled the things he was learning, which turned into a book: War on Fear. We highly recommend checking it out.
When you read it, you’ll be equipped to fight your own battle. The stories are lighthearted, but you’ll learn to discern when fear is trying to stop you and how to be free to do something with your life.
After all, if John hadn’t pushed back against fear, he would have missed out on the opportunity to influence people the way he has—and to have his eyes bulge with joy every day he wakes up.
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