Most of the time when people say “you should listen to this podcast,” I tell them to recommend a specific episode. If they don’t, I won’t listen. But for this article, I’m breaking my own rule: The podcast you need to check out is “Marc Summers Unwraps” and any episode will do.
Most people know Summers either as the host of the slime-soaked Nickelodeon kids game “Double Dare” and “Unwrapped” on The Food Network, or his honest and open battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
In any of the 29 podcast episodes he’s released over the last 11 months, it’s clear that Summers is not doing it out of boredom or to stay relevant. He sees it as a duty to pay it forward to the next generation of show business legends and anyone hungry for some competitive motivation.
He wasn’t sold on the idea at first.
“And so kicking, screaming after saying no a bunch of times, I finally said ‘okay, let’s give this [podcast] a shot,’” Summers told the Journal. “But we can’t just go out there and have interviews. There has to be a reason to do this. So I came up with this concept about overcoming obstacles.”
He’s intense. He’s passionate. He’s also warm and curious. His guests are there because he finds them fascinating. They don’t sound like they’re selling something to listeners. It’s not just 1990s Nickelodeon nostalgia. “Marc Summers Unwraps” is an attitude adjustment for anyone wondering why they’re doing the career they’re in.
When it comes to podcast interviewers, Marc Summers is one of the best. And he’s beyond grateful for his nearly five decades in show business.
“When people go to a Broadway show or watch a TV show, or watch a movie, and they see the performers on the screen or live, people say, ‘well, they’re the luckiest people in the world!’” Summers said. “And I always say, well, no, they’re not lucky. The performers worked their asses off and they came up against so many obstacles. The question is, why do some people figure out ways to jump over the wall [of show business] and other people retreat and say, ‘I ain’t doing that’ and go home.”
That’s the theme of the podcast.
Growing up as Marc Berkowitz in Indianapolis, Indiana, at age 14, he approached his rabbi and said that he, too, wanted to be a rabbi. The reason? He wanted to help people. The rabbi said that as a rabbi, you can help a small number of people a lot, or you can be on television and help a lot of people a little. That advice is the basis for every episode of the podcast.
Summers is a no-nonsense guy. He met his wife while working as a page at CBS. He asked her to marry him four weeks later. That was 49 years ago. They’re still together.
After years of slogging it out as a comedian and magician in his 20s and 30s, Summers’ big break was in 1986 on the kids game show “Double Dare.” It was easily the sloppiest game show on television, but also one of the most memorable for any American kid with basic cable through 1993. In 1999, Summers’ fans would learn that through his entire run as “Double Dare” host, he was struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder. He chronicled the struggle in his 1999 book “Everything in Its Place: Living Successfully with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.” The admission of his struggle with OCD has made Summers the public face of the disorder. Today, the book is still as relevant as ever. Still, Summers’ career continued, hosting “Unwrapped” on The Food Network from 2001-2015.
Through it all, Summers has also survived cancer twice and became a grandfather. He starts each day with kisses from his dog Charlie and a five-mile walk. He mentions twice in our interview that another not-so-secret way he stays sharp is by having lunch with comedian Dennis Miller once a week.
Although Summers swears that he’ll never write a book again, in many ways, the “Unwraps” podcast is a sequel to his 1999 book. The first episode of “Unwraps” is with actor and singer Anthony Ramos, who is 40 years younger than the 72-year-old Summers. They met during a summer stock production of “Grease” where Summers played the role of radio disc jockey Vince Fontaine.
Summers belongs on the stage. And if the podcast isn’t the sequel to his 1999 book, then his upcoming stage show “The Life & Slimes of Marc Summers” is. Audiences will be able to see Summers live yet again starting on Feb. 14, when the show have its off-Broadway debut at the New World Stages in New York. The show was first produced at the Bloomington Playwrights Project in Indiana in 2016 and had preview runs in upstate New York. Summers’ life will be on full display in the off-Broadway show, with a set that will look mighty familiar to fans of “Double Dare.” The show is billed as “Part interactive game show, part memoir” that explores his massive success on television for decades, “all while facing immeasurable challenges behind the scenes.”
While Summers’ podcast guests open up so effortlessly to his questions, he spills quite a bit of personal philosophy in each episode on being competitive and living well.
Listed here are some of Summers’ life lessons. All quotes below are from Summers’ interview with the Journal, unless a specific episode of “Marc Summers Unwraps” is indicated.
1. Be persistent and shamelessly follow up.
“People don’t follow up enough, they get nervous, they get frightened, ‘Oh, I don’t want to bother. I don’t want to upset them.’ I don’t care if I upset them at all. And I don’t care if I bother them at all. Literally. I had people say to me,’ I’ll hire you if you stop calling me.’ I was a pain in the ass … My whole career has been about following up. If somebody says, ‘get back to me,’ I get back to them. If they say, ‘I’ll get back to you,’ and they don’t, then I get back to them instead. And nobody does that anymore.”
2. Intervene with yourself when you notice that you’re getting in your own way.
“For the first year when I was diagnosed [with cancer]I was lower than whale s—. I was so depressed and couldn’t get out of my own way … I finally said to myself, ‘Stop it, this is bullshit, there are people in a lot worse shape than you and so snap out of it, go do the chemo and move on with your life. It got me out of the doldrums but it took me a year.”
Episode 10 with Nikki Boyer.
3. If you’re fortunate to have fans, do the next generation a favor and share your origin story.
“We’ve got to pay it forward. And the way we do that is by taking whatever knowledge we have, the information and the lives that we have been lucky enough to live, whether there’s ups and downs — everybody’s got ups and downs. There’s a Yiddish proverb where they said, ‘if you put all your worries on a clothesline, you would always go back to your own.’ Because when you see the other people’s worries on their clothes line, it’s always going to be worse than yours. We’ve got to be able to take our experiences and our lives and try to help people.”
Episode 13 with Mark McKewen.
4. The experience of doing what you love is worth the agony of the preparation.
“The thought of going out and trying to memorize 70 pages again [for the stage show] scares the hell out of me. But there seems to be somewhat of a demand, people want to see this stuff. I love performing more than anything, so the fact that I could stand on stage for many minutes a few nights a week and interact with people is kind of cool.”
5. Finding your passion isn’t a quest that ends once you have massive success.
“I always tell people, you have to find a passion. So I went to a psychiatrist to help people who are not good at retiring. And he said to me, you need to find another passion. Okay, easier said than done. So I’ve been on that hunt for the last several months. This [podcast] comes naturally and I love doing this stuff. But what do you do the other 25 days of the month is the question. You can’t do this every day. So it’s an adventure.”
Episode 4 with Mike O’Malley
6. Know the value of your time and draw boundaries to preserve it.
“People ask me the same 10 questions over and over. So now, when somebody wants me to do their podcast, I always say, ‘If you can come up with five questions I’ve never been asked, I’ll be happy to do it, otherwise I’m not interested.’”
7. Have at least one friend or mentor who expands your mind (and/or makes you laugh) and meet with them routinely.
“Once a week, I have lunch with Dennis Miller. He’s so much fun, and he’s so freaking smart. I really do need a dictionary, a thesaurus and an encyclopedia when he’s talking because half the time, I have no idea what the hell he’s talking about. But I laugh my ass off for 90 minutes once a week.”
8. If you’re going to leverage past success in the present day, remember what your motivation was when you first went after it.
“I rode my bike over to the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation near our house where we attended services. And Rabbi Weissman was the assistant rabbi and started his career in radio/TV and became a rabbi. And I knocked down his door and said, can I talk to you? And he said, ‘Sure, what do you want to talk about?’ I was maybe 14. And I said, well, I’m thinking of becoming a rabbi, but I now have this thing with radio and TV and I think I may want to do that. And he said, ‘Well, why do you want to be a rabbi?’ And I said, because I think I can help people. And he said, ‘Well, here’s your deal: you can become a rabbi and you can help a small number of people, or you can be on television and help a lot of people a little. I don’t think you can go wrong either direction. Whatever you choose is the right way to go.’ That stuck in my mind. I decided to help a lot of people a little as opposed to a small amount of people a lot. And it’s worked out fine.”
9. Take a walk.
“As one creeps up into the years that I’m up into now, every moment means something special. And here I am with kids — one is in his 40s already, and I’ve got a couple of grandkids and wasted time is not anything that I want to deal with right now. So I try to make every day somewhat purposeful. I’m not always successful at it, but that’s what I go for. COVID changed everybody’s lives, especially mine. When the phone stopped ringing, I had to deal with the fact that maybe I didn’t want to retire, but maybe I’m going to be forced into retirement. So that was a hurdle that I had to overcome. So I started doing a five mile walk every day. It’s kind of changed my life in that some days I just commune with nature. Some days I talk on the phone, some days I listen to music. It just depends on how I feel. It gets the cobwebs out of my head and opens up my mind. Those walks have saved my life.”
“The Life & Slimes of Marc Summers” will run at the New World Stages in New York from February 14-June 2. Tickets: https://lifeandslimes.com. “Marc Summers Unwraps” can be streamed via its website or anywhere you listen to podcasts: https://www.marcsummersunwraps.com