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Jackie Gleason: “The Great One” dishes on talent

3 min read



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In his only interview with Johnny Carson, Jackie Gleason said, “Talent is a very annoying thing because you can’t take any credit for it. It’s a gift from God, and you’re stuck with that. Somebody says you’re good … God did it,” Gleason deadpanned.

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The gods may have been with Gleason, nicknamed “The Great One,” but he earned it with his work ethic. One of the comedic giants of his era, Gleason began his career in vaudeville and burlesque, then pioneered the early days of television with a variety show and later created the pathbreaking sitcom “The Honeymooners.” Gleason then moved to film, won an Oscar nomination for his performance as Minnesota Fats in “The Hustler,” and performed on Broadway. His last major gig was a reboot of “The Jackie Gleason Show,” a variety show featuring sketches from “The Honeymooners” and other comedic sketches.

It almost makes you winded just listing all of his accomplishments. Of course, Gleason had talent — timing and gesture for his comedy and subtlety for his drama. And he had energy — not only as an entertainer but also as a bon vivant. Gleason was the toast of New York nightlife but never missed a gig.

Putting talent to work

Talent is a gift, but for all successes like Gleason, you must put in the work. The Malcolm Gladwell rule of 10,000 certainly applies. The Beatles played six-hour gigs up to seven days a week in Hamburg. Night after night, gig to gig, Bruce Springsteen wedged himself into a U-Haul-style truck packed with his band’s gear. Larry David did stand-up to earn his comedy chops as he made the journey to writer-actor-producer.

Stephen King, the mega-selling author, put it best: “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” 

Talent opens the door to possibilities. For example, one may have a head for numbers, a gift for presenting aloud, an ability to conceptualize or an attention to detail. Those are talents, but they stagnate unless married to skills that enable the individual to apply the talent or talents toward what you love doing.

Talent offers choices

Of course, if you are talented in a particular discipline — sport or the arts — it does not mean you must pursue it professionally. It may become a hobby that leads to personal enjoyment, or it could lead to coaching or teaching, helping the next generation of talents to hone their skills.

There is another aspect to talent. “You gotta have luck,” Gleason told Johnny Carson. “Anybody who thinks it’s just their talent, they’re crazy. You gotta have luck.” Fortune, however, smiles most on those who put in the effort to be at the right place at the right time.

“True happiness,” wrote John W. Gardner, a life-long public servant, “involves the full use of one’s power and talents.” From the application of talent can come fulfillment. And as Jackie Gleason would say, “How sweet it is!”


John Baldoni is a member of 100 coaches and a leadership keynote presenter. He is recognized as a top 20 leadership expert by Global Gurus, a list he has been on since 2007. He also ranks as a Global 100 Leader and Top 50 Leadership Expert by John is the author of 15 books. His leadership resource website is 

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