Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Terry Crews (@terrycrews)—author, action-movie hero, sitcom star, children’s book illustrator, advertising pitchman, playable video game character, talent show host, high-end furniture designer, and human rights activist. The list goes on and on.
Terry’s new memoir is Tough: My Journey to True Power. In it, he chronicles the story of how he went from being a six-year-old boy with a goofy, toothless smile to being utterly selfish and angry to being a man who can finally acknowledge his own weaknesses and vulnerabilities and use his experiences to help motivate those around him.
Terry has starred as a series regular in three consecutive TV series that have surpassed the coveted 100-episode mark: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Are We There Yet?, and Everybody Hates Chris. Terry is set to star in Tales of the Walking Dead and hosts NBC’s top-rated alternative series America’s Got Talent and its spin-offs, AGT Champions and AGT Extreme.
He recently added yet another title, children’s book illustrator, to his resume for his first-of-its-kind augmented reality book, Come Find Me. Terry’s Crew is Terry’s latest children’s lit entry, a graphic novel set to be released in November 2022. Terry’s Crew provides insight into his childhood in Michigan and what it was like trying to find his place. In 2021, Terry and his wife, Rebecca King Crews, released an exclusive Audible audiobook, Stronger Together, sharing the staggering ups and downs of their relationship and how they have weathered the myriad crises that have rocked their marriage.
Terry, a lifelong artist, released his furniture collection with Bernhardt Designs in 2017, which premiered at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York and was awarded the prestigious “Best of NeoCon 2017.”
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With many episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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This interview was transcribed by Rev.com.
Tim Ferriss: Terry, it is so nice to see you again. Thanks for taking the time.
Terry Crews: Good to see you too, Tim. I tell you, it’s been a long time.
Tim Ferriss: It has. And last time we were in person on stage in Los Angeles. Now we are remote, still looking at each other via video. And for those who can’t see where I’m sitting, because they’re listening to audio, I’m sitting in a studio with a projection of the skyline of Austin behind me, because I had two location failures today. This is my third location.
And it made me think of something I heard once when I did very little television, which was — or it was more of a joke. And the joke was, why does thunder come after lightning? And then the answer was: because even God waits for sound. So I was hoping if you could maybe just give people a little bit of connective tissue related to your professional life.
Because people see the red carpet events, they see the TV shows, and they might assume that it’s just all highlights, all day long. And I was just wondering if you could maybe add a little bit of color to what a day in the life actually looks like, because there’s so much behind the scenes.
Terry Crews: It’s seasonal for me. One thing I learned, especially now, it’s not as — entertainment has changed significantly just in the last five years, especially after the pandemic, the last two years. And streaming has taken over. I had a much more structured life before. You do a sitcom, and you kind of you wake up at four in the morning, get the workout in, go to the set, do your whole thing.
Usually my workout is two hours, so no matter what my call time is, I’m up at least three hours before my call time so that I can get all my — you know, my workout in, my showering, all that stuff. And then I go right into a usual day. And that’s a 12-hour sitcom day.
When I was doing Brooklyn Nine-Nine for eight straight years, that was my go-to. And that’s how a day went. But now it’s streaming, and the way everything is going, people have now started to do limited series. And I’m not on Brooklyn anymore, but I am doing — I did a stint on a TV series for AMC called Tales of the Walking Dead, which is going to be really cool.
But it was all in Atlanta, and we shot 15 hours, and it was shooting a movie in 10 days. And that’s how everything goes. It’s always, hurry up, shoot it all, and then now you’re down for two weeks, three weeks finding out what your next thing is. But this is the thing, I never lose my own structure, you know what I mean? Wherever I’m at, I have my — the first place I’ll do, and first thing I find is where I’m going to work out.
And then, also what I’m going to eat. And also my timing of my eating. I still do intermittent fasting. I’m in the beginning of 12 years now, straight, of intermittent fasting, and doing my eight-hour window from two to 10. And then it changes by when I go to whatever time zone I’m in. And now it’s funny because a lot of times I find I can go one meal a day. I actually enjoy skipping that two o’clock, and then maybe by three or four, having a charcuterie, or something like that with some real satiating cheese, and some meat, and that’s it.
And then I have a dinner, and then I’m done.
That’s kind of the way I’ve been doing it lately. But the industry’s changing so much, and so much is also on social media. It’s now, they expect, every production expects to take all your followers with them. So you’re doing two jobs at the same time. And this is where I had to really, really push back a little bit. Because too much phone time, it’s just not good for you.
I never bring my phone when I’m working. I leave my phone in the trailer. I find that if you have — if I lose my focus, I could lose my career. And the lack of focus that comes from always checking our email, always checking a post, and looking at what people are commenting on, and this kind of stuff, man. It slowly but surely changes you. And I saw it happening in my performances. And I only did it for a small time, because I immediately started to see a decline in my performances.
It didn’t look I was there. I didn’t feel present. I was somewhere else while I was saying the lines. And I said, “Man, this is going to hurt me. So I learned to just kind of leave, and create a seasonal kind of thing with my social media. And what was crazy, and what I figured out, I didn’t lose any followers. In fact, I would gain some.
People are like, “Where you been?” I’m going, “Oh, my God,” because you get this feeling of you got to feed the beast.
Tim Ferriss: Of course.
Terry Crews: You know what I mean? If you don’t keep the pipeline running, all of a sudden you’re just going to run dry. But I found it wasn’t true. I found that when I’m doing America’s Got Talent, and it’s time to promote, and time to get your social media back up and running, it’s like people never left. And I was like, “Man, that was a really good thing to find out.” You know what I’m saying?
Tim Ferriss: Good to test early, and learn that you can do it.
Terry Crews: Yeah. And that’s my day. And again, I try to go to bed as early as I can. If I can get to bed, literally at 8:30, I’m gone. Because I just enjoy my mornings, with workout, it’s my peace, man. I put my headphones on. I’ll listen to your podcast. I’ll listen to some — I read a lot of good books, be it audiobook, while I’m working out that just give me the insights in the thing that I need. And I literally, I probably read a book a week, at least. And sometimes two, if it gets really rolling, if the books are short. But I find that the reading just really keeps me levelheaded in a world of quick blurbs, and people who want to excite everyone else, and get everybody riled up.
One thing I like to say is the media likes to get everyone angry, and keep them there. Because it’s very profitable, but reading calms all that down. You know what I’m saying? It’s a very realistic way of looking at life. As opposed to blowing through the day, it’s like you’re enjoying a sunset when you read a book. You know what I’m saying? That’s the analogy that I have for that.
And it gives me great perspective. Sometimes I read books on people that I wouldn’t normally listen to, or understand, or try to understand. And then you get a deep — you get a new empathy for different people, and you may not even agree, but I can definitely empathize with points of view, and where people are coming from. And it gives nuance where there is — I mean, the death of nuance has been kind of what’s happening lately. You know what I mean?
Tim Ferriss: Sharp contrast. So I have probably 27 footnotes that I’ve made for follow up questions on what you just said. So let me jump into some of them. We’ll start with the end first. Are there any books, audiobooks, anything that you’ve consumed long form that has stuck out to you, or that has been memorable in the last, could be six to 12 months, two years. It’s been a while since you and I saw each other. It feels recent on one hand, but it’s also quite a while ago.
Terry Crews: There is a book. I’m trying to — Walter Isaacson is my favorite biographer. This man he gets so in depth.
Tim Ferriss: He’s great.
Terry Crews: It’s like you’re living a life with these people as you read it. You know what I mean? And I believe — what is the one? Oh, my God, it’s about — it’s with Jennifer Doudna, and how she decoded —
Tim Ferriss: Oh, Code Breaker, I think. The Code Breaker.
Terry Crews: Yeah, Code Breaker. Oh, my guy, that. Let me tell you, man. And I’m a big science guy.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And for people who don’t know, this is CRISPR related. There’s a lot more to it, but very CRISPR related.
Terry Crews: Exactly. Well she, Jennifer, was this biologist who basically developed CRISPR. But what happened while I was reading the book, it blew me away. Because I learned about — and it’s the first time I heard it, but it was all about James Watson. One of the — Watson and Crick who, his teammate, they basically deciphered and basically discovered the whole helix —
Tim Ferriss: The structure of the double helix.
Terry Crews: The structure of the double helix, and the whole thing. But James Watson went public about how he felt that the intelligence of blacks were inferior to everyone else because of their genes. And you’ve got to understand, as I’m reading this book, my heart just sunk into my stomach.
I was like, “Wow, this is the man who is probably going to go down in the annals of history as being this innovator, this person that really solved so many problems. But here he is creating a new one, right at the same time.” And it hit me really, really hard. Because this is another thing, there was level of success you get to that it actually can harm you.
One example is even when I watched The Last Dance, The Michael Jordan documentary. And Michael Jordan is one of the greatest athletes of all time, but was he happy? When you look at the whole doc, you go, “My God, here’s a man who’s — I don’t know if we could really say that he was actually fulfilled in any of this.”
In fact, a lot of teammates, a lot of people were like, “He was one of the people that you really didn’t want to be around.” You know what I mean? And this is the quandary. This is not a judgment on Michael Jordan, but it’s myself included. I was the guy who had what everyone would say was everything, and was great.
But I had all these other things wrong at the same time. And here I was. I was successful. I was popular, and everybody liked me, and the whole thing, but my wife was ready to leave. She’s like, “I can’t put up with it anymore.” And that reminded me a little bit of James Watson’s conundrum, you know what I mean? It was like, here he is, one of the smartest men on Earth. And he’s got this thing so wrong.
But see, this is how we think even as men. We think who should run the — whoever runs the business is the guy with the biggest bench press. And you’re like, “But that makes no sense.” “But I have the biggest bench press, so I get to say what goes on in this business.” But that doesn’t mean you know anything about inventory, or — but it’s such a wild take where, “You’re misrepresenting here.”
And for me, I look at those things, and these things in Hollywood, in science, in politics, in almost every genre of what you would call life. And I say, “Man, that’s the mistake we could always make.” And we can never forget that. And we have to humble ourselves. We have to really, really understand that we’re all just beginning. Even when you’ve succeeded, when you’ve got this thing, you’re still starting at day one. You know what I mean? Every day.
Tim Ferriss: And is the mistake, I think, just assuming that you know more than you know? Or that you have more certainty, and more places than you actually do? Is that the crux of the issue? Or Is there, would you describe it a different way?
Terry Crews: You know what I would describe the mistake is? The mistake, to me, is self-righteousness. That’s the mistake. The mistake is you have deemed yourself self-righteous. And when you are self-righteous, you can now do the most heinous, inhuman things to other people, because you feel right. Because you know in your heart you’re right. But for thousands of years, and this is the thing where it’s so crazy, because now we can mix everything up.
Because people have, I think there’s a lot of conflating going on, even with racism. People say, “Well, that’s racist.” Well, actually, a lot of it is self-righteous. You know what I mean? And if you define the problem correctly, you can actually deal with the problem correctly. And this is the thing about self-righteousness, is that you can be black and self-righteous. You can be gay and self-righteous. You can be white self-righteous. You can be a policeman and self-righteous. You can be all kinds of things.
It doesn’t matter. You can be poor and self-righteous. But we have these things, especially in Hollywood, where it’s like, you’re poor, now you’ve got the upper hand. You know more, and you’re the downtrodden, and you’re this and that. It’s what I call victimology. Where it’s like you’ve created a hero out of anyone who’s been abused or hurt. But the issue is also that same — there’s two ways to be self-righteous. You can have the divine right of kings. You can be like, “I was born this way.” Or you can say, “I’ve suffered more than anybody else, so now I get to say how everything goes.” You see what I mean?
Tim Ferriss: I do.
Terry Crews: And I think a lot of people have never looked at the other side. You know what I mean? It’s just someone who suffered a lot is immediately given all this play. But my thing is, is that, but you still have to respect other people. You still have to understand that you are no better than the others. And the phrase I’ve used before, and will continue to use, is that it’s really, how can you compare your suffering to another person?
You know what I mean? It’s not the oppression Olympics. It’s just not. We’ve got rights. We get to be right because we’ve suffered the most. And I always look at that, and have to examine it even in the light of my own suffering, and my own thing. And let me tell you, no one has basically been a victim more than Terry Crews, okay?
I had victimology down. I was like, “Okay, my father was abusive. I’m black. I grew up poor. I grew up in the hood.” I had every excuse in the book, you know what I mean? And I felt justified in my self-righteousness. And I used that. I used that against my family. I used that to manipulate people. I used that in order to gain things that I never earned.
Because I knew people would give me the benefit of the doubt because of my background, I knew I could use that. But in the end, when all is said and done, it did not leave me fulfilled, because I knew these things didn’t play. The problem with victimology is all those excuses. They work for a minute, but they expire very quickly. I like to call it an expired credit card. It’s like your excuses, they have a valid date, but it expires really fast.
And then you try to use it the next day and you get declined. And it’s like every excuse you ever wanted to use, there’s a time when it doesn’t work anymore.
Tim Ferriss: I would love to hear more about your personal experience. So you had, as you mentioned, victimology down. And then at some point you reflected back on that, and with self-awareness, and then changed behavior, or your perspectives, how you approached things. Were there any particular triggers? Was there a particular day? Could you tell a story or give us an example of something that catalyzed that change? Because for a lot of people, if they have any perspective, they may not change that. They may not actually have a trigger to turn it inward, and take a look at that. So could you describe what happened?
Terry Crews: Well, in our house, we call it D-Day. It was the day everything changed. I’ve gone public a lot about my pornography addiction. And then there’s a lot of people who say you could never really be addicted to pornography, or whatever, and it’s always been said, that. But all I knew is I couldn’t stop. That’s all I knew. For me, it was a numbing device.
It was something that I went to when I was sad, when I was happy. And I always went back to it. And it left me unfulfilled, and I had to get more to get a feeling of fulfillment. But then I would be left empty again. So it just, it was a cycle. I couldn’t stop. But it was also a secret that I held from my family, and my wife, and the whole thing.
And my wife finally confronted me on it. And let me tell you what was so wild, and really, really strange. Is that I was — the question I was asking was, “Why doesn’t she believe me?” But the question I should have been asking was, “Why did I lie?” You know what I mean?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Terry Crews: Think about that. The context is the same. And I’m sitting here lying, and wondering why she won’t believe me. But it is all out focused. It was all her. It was, the responsibility was on her in order to make me right. “You should believe me, because I’m telling you this.” But I was lying. I was lying. “I don’t deal with this. No, I got no problem. I don’t do any of this.” And then, “And why doesn’t she believe me?”
But once it switched into, “Why am I lying?” All of a sudden it went inward. All of a sudden, I had to ask myself the questions I had been avoiding for years, and years, and years. And it was like, “Hey man, you have an issue. Why aren’t you doing something about it?”
And like I said, and I would pull out that card of excuses, and this, and I would say, “Well, I’m a man. And men we need to — I have a high sex drive,” and this kind of stuff. And I’ll pull out that card. And then my wife declined it. It was like, that credit card was done. It was expired.
And she was out, and you know what, Tim, what’s so crazy is that I was like, “Fine, bye. Leave. I’m Terry Crews. I can get any woman I want. In fact, I will.” And you know what, this is a normal thing in Hollywood. Divorce is pretty normal, and it’s not a big deal. In fact, my career won’t suffer, and nobody cares if I lose my family. Hollywood certainly doesn’t. And then I listened to myself talking like that.
And I went, “Who are you?” I didn’t like that guy. And I started to have internal conversations with myself, and I was like, “Man, this is not who you say you are.” And I realized I was two different people. And when you have a double life, and when I say double life, what I mean is I was more concerned with the image. I was more concerned with the image of Terry Crews rather than who Terry Crews really was. And it was two different people.
And once I started to try to put them together, my world crumbled. Everything that I knew, everything that I was around, everything that I thought I stood for. I thought I was like, “Yeah, women are equal, and the whole thing.” But nothing in my behavior would do that, or even said that.
And in fact, I thought I was more valuable than all the women in my life, simply because I was a man. Simply because of the culture I was in. I grew up in black culture, and hip hop culture, in sports culture. And there was a lot of misogyny. It was a lot of, “You’re the man, dog. Hey man, you better get your girl in line.” These kind of words, these kind of — and it wasn’t look looked at. It was looked at as like, “Yo, man, you control your wife or your girl.” You actually owned her.
I remember in the NFL going to the strip club. And we’d be in the club, and with all the guys, and the whole thing, and the girls would be up there on stage. And one of them would come down, and actually want to talk to the players. And I would look at her like — okay, she’d start talking, “I’ve got to get through this for my kids.” And you’re like, “Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop.” You’re like, “You’re ruining the experience, because you’re becoming a human being right before my eyes. I like you to be a picture. I want you to be a doll, a mannequin.”
Tim, once you start, once you open that can of worms, it’s literally like a domino effect. Everything started to fall on itself. And I went through a huge, huge just — and now I’ve got to say this, because in my culture, when I grew up, therapy was looked at as ridiculous. Because they, where I grew up, it was like, “You can’t cure crazy.” That was the term. It was like, “If you’re crazy, you can’t cure it.”
My father being an alcoholic, I remember him going to — he went to a psychologist one time. And I remember I was probably around 12, 13 years old. And I’m like, “Wow, my dad’s finally going to get some help,” and the whole thing. And, dude, it was crazy, because a week later the psychologist killed himself. It was on the front page of the newspaper.
Tim Ferriss: My God.
Terry Crews: And I went, “That don’t work.” My whole mindset was like, “Huh? Did my father kill him? Did he say something that made this guy jump off a bridge?” And he literally jumped off a bridge. I was like, “What? That doesn’t work.” And so I had in my mind that all this therapy stuff is mumbo-jumbo. And so there was a block. There was a resistance to that. And I finally saw a counselor who said, “You need to go to this place and get some therapy.” And I was like, “Oh, no.”
And I remember, and my wife said, “Look, you know what, if you don’t do this, there’s no hope of us ever coming back together,” Because we had split up at that time. And so I went. And I said, “All right, I’ll give it a shot.” And I’m sitting in there in this room with these people, and —
Tim Ferriss: Terry, may I interject for one second?
Terry Crews: Oh, yeah. Go ahead.
Tim Ferriss: Just one question. So did you guys split at that point, or were things on ice because of how you handled the situation? D-Day and that conversation? Or was it the subject matter? The addiction itself, and other things? I guess I’m asking, was it what you did, or was it how you handled what you did? Or something else?
Terry Crews: It was also, it was what I did. Because what happened was, I confessed to an infidelity that happened 10 years earlier as a result of this addiction.
Tim Ferriss: Got it.
Terry Crews: Because I went to a massage parlor, and got a hand job, and I vowed I would never ever tell anybody. It was one of things. But it was at the beginning of my career. I was in Vancouver. I was by myself. Just, I thought I would never be there. I thought I’d never do something like that. But it was wild, because I found myself in those circumstances, and I did it. But I thought I would never tell. I was like, “I’m taking this secret to the grave, man. This is never ever coming out.” But my wife constantly, she was like, “No, you did something.” She said, “There’s something you’re not telling me.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. She knew.
Terry Crews: Like I said, I was lying the whole time. And she could feel that. You can feel when your significant other is not telling you the truth. And it was just, there was something she didn’t know. And when I told her, I remember just, it came out, and I remember she’s just going, “That’s it. Wow, who am I living with?” She had no idea. And that was the thing, because I had put an image in front of her.
And what was so crazy, is that she was married to this image. And it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair to her. There’s no honesty in the relationship, because you have to cover a lie with another lie. And then it just keeps continuing to grow. We were getting farther and farther apart, is what was happening. And she knew it. She felt it. And that was the D-Day moment. And she said, “I’m out.” She’s like, “That’s it. You can’t come home. And you have to show me that you want this, that you actually want to do something.”
And like I said, in the beginning, I was like, “I’m fine.” And then I realized. I was like, “You know what?” Because the whole thing was about her. And it’s little bitty questions. It was just like, “Man, maybe it’s me.” And realization that hit me, that it was me, that it was. And I have to say this, going into therapy, all the — the great thing about therapy, and especially with addiction therapy, was just the 12 steps.
The 12 steps, they work for every addiction. Be it drugs, alcohol, sex, all these things. And it starts with the serenity prayer, which is, “Help me to accept the things that I can’t change, and the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference,” okay. But you have to understand, men, especially in my world, you live life as if you’re in a revenge movie.
Tim Ferriss: I’m laughing because I’m a lot smaller than you are, but I understand. I get it. I get it.
Terry Crews: Hey, movies like that, man. Payback, and Death Wish, and —
Tim Ferriss: Wrath of Man. There’s a long list, yeah.
Terry Crews: Wrath of Man, Taken. This thing where you get on the phone and you tell the guy, “I’m going to hunt you down. I’m going to take you and your crew out one by one, and you’re going to die slow.” It’s like —
Tim Ferriss: Man on Fire, also a good one. Man on Fire.
Terry Crews: Oh, my God, and you make them pay for everything. You make them pay for everything they ever did to you. That’s the male fantasy. It’s better than sex. It’s, oh, my God, you can literally sit in a theater like, “Man, that feels good.”
Tim Ferriss: I do.
Terry Crews: But this is the problem, Tim. This is the problem, man. I found out. And this is so crazy, is that you can have, you can either have success or revenge, but you can’t have both. It blew my mind. And when you talk about getting revenge, this is why I even alluded to the 12 steps, was because revenge is trying to control things you can’t control. It’s literally, you’ve lost it, and now you’ve just got to even the score. Most of us are all about settling scores. But the thing is, the score’s never really settled. It’s like, things just get worse. Things tend to fall apart.
I bring up incidents where the things — where I used violence. I was the kind of guy, I even start my book out where I talk about how I beat this man up on the street, man, for disrespecting my wife. And this was in Pasadena. This was around, I would say 2008, 2009. And this guy, he basically talked disrespectfully to my wife, and she was just like, “Whatever,” but I put this dude out, literally put his head on the concrete. And the police came, and it was a big hullabaloo, man. And the only way I got out of it was because there was a guy in the crowd who was like, “No, no, no. I saw the whole thing, officer. This guy came up there and they were bothering them too,” and the whole thing. So I got away with it. But it was way out of — it was way too big a reaction for what was done.
But that was me settling my scores. Here’s the revenge movie. And my wife pulled me to the side when we went home and she said, “Terry,” she said, “You have to promise me. Promise me that you will never, ever do anything like that again.” And I was like, “What? You need to be protected.” And here she said, “Wait a minute.” She said, “I got this, but you are going to lose everything you have.”
She said, “You’re going to get sued. You’re going to get shot and injured. Or you may be killed by someone who you go up against on the wrong day. Or a police officer. You can’t go around, and putting people on their head like this.” And Tim, I was like, “No, I don’t…” I said, “I’ve got to, this is my thing. This is me being a man. This is what this is about. This is me being tough.”
And she said, “No, Terry.” She said, “You’ve got to promise me. Promise me.” And I said, “Okay, all right. I promise. I promise.” And I don’t even think I meant it at the time. But I made a promise to her that I was going to take the righteous path, and be less violent, or nonviolent. And try to handle things in a nonviolent way. And little did I know, in the future, it would actually save my life in so many ways, so many ways. And what I mean is, is by not choosing revenge. Because that’s what that is. Is when you put somebody on — the whole thing is a little bit like you’re playing chess, and you don’t know the right move, so you turn over the board.
That was my answer for everything. I’m stuck on a move, instead of thinking my way out of it, my answer was just turn everything over. And that was my answer for everything. And it led me to a very, very hollow existence. So there I was in therapy, trying to figure my life out, and trying to control the things that I couldn’t control. Because you can’t control people.
You can’t control what people say to you. And a lot has been said about even my friend Chris Rock, and my friend Will Smith, and what just happened at the Academy Awards. And I, there was a time when I was Will Smith. But what saved me was when I was, the time I was Chris Rock, and it didn’t descend into chaos. I decided to what you would call, take an L for one day, but actually win the whole war.
And the other thing was, in therapy I discovered, is when you can have the courage to change the things you can. And let me tell you this. Because of victimology, I had given up control on probably every aspect of my life. It was always up to somebody else. Even where I worked, what I did. It was always someone else’s decision. And then I found out I had a lot more power than I realized.
I was like, “If I just work on me. If I stop pointing at everyone else, and I just put a hundred percent into improving myself,” all of a sudden things started to change. Tim, I have to tell you, man. That first year was really, really hard coming out of therapy. And I was there for, in and out for a while. We would do it by phone. We would go back in. It was a place called Psychological Counseling Services, in Phoenix.
And they had dealt with a lot of people who had really lost everything because of these kind of addictions. And it was really — it was wild because I thought, “Can I change?” I was getting triggered every five minutes. And it’s like, “I don’t know.” But what was happening is as I continued to work on myself, I began to change. I changed. I slowly but surely started to see things the way I needed to see them. And what’s so crazy about belief is when you believe you’re different, you slowly start to become different. You have to believe it first. You know what I mean, it’s kind of like —
Tim Ferriss: Terry —
Terry Crews: Go ahead.
Tim Ferriss: — would you mind giving an example? It would be very helpful, because I think from the outside, looking in, people see this incredible physical specimen. Certainly, in all of my interactions with you, and your descriptions and stories, and tribe of mentors, you’ve done a lot of self-development, and you’ve worked on yourself a lot. Could you give an example from that chapter, during or after therapy, of something that you worked on or a belief that you gave attention to?
Terry Crews: I could tell you a distinct example that let me know I was different. We were on vacation. Wait, and it’s so innocuous, and small, and tiny. But it was so powerful. We were on vacation, and my son who’s 16 now, but he was probably four years old. And I have five total kids. Four daughters, and my son. And we were out to dinner, and he spilled his water all over the table.
And it was all over me. It was all over everybody. And I just said, “Hey, man.” I said, “That’s okay, we’ll get a towel.” And I said, “Hey, man, we people make mistakes. It’s okay.” And I started dabbing up the water, and the whole thing.
Now, that sounds like nothing. The whole table was looking at me like this. They just were froze. Eyes bugged out, like, “What is this?” You have to understand, Tim. The way I was, was like, “What is wrong with you? What? Didn’t you see the water right there? You got me wet. You got this wet. You caused this. I paid for this dinner. You guys can’t stay still. You guys are not paying attention.” I would’ve went off. Tim, I can’t count the family events, and the things that we went to do that I ruined.
Now, you also have to understand that these things were happening also because with my addiction comes guilt. You know you’re lying. You know what you’re doing, so you take it out on everyone else. I would snap at the drop of a hat. And it was because I was angry with me, because I couldn’t control myself, so I would go off on everyone else.
It’s this common — your projection, that’s the term. And I was projecting my own guilt onto everyone else. And I was that guy. I have to say, I still, I have adult children right now that I still apologize profusely for how they grew up. The Terry Crews that I was back then, was — he was “My way or the highway.” It was vicious. Now, but this is the thing, Tim. And again, I was Mr. Self-Help, still. And the whole thing is I never hit my wife. Because I was like, “My mom went through that.”
So my idea of, I was comparing myself to what I saw, and I was like, “I’m way better than that.” What I grew up in, it was, man, people, women were getting smacked with impunity. And it was expected that you were to beat your wife. It was expected that you owned your kids, and you beat them within an inch of their lives. You know what I mean? And so I’m like, “I’m better than that. Look at it. You guys are living a good life, and you ought to be lucky,” you know what I mean?
But it was still cruel. It was cruel. It was self-righteous. That self-righteousness that I had, or mixed in with the guilt that I already felt. It really kept my family in this cage, in an attempt to control them. In an attempt to control my family, and control the way they thought, and control everything.
Control the fact that you spilled the water, you know what I mean. And man, my wife looked at me when I just dabbed that water up, and didn’t lose the thing. And let me tell you, man, I didn’t even — I wasn’t perceiving it. She said, “Oh, my God.” And she pulled me to the side. She said, “Terry, you’re different.” Man, I’m sorry, it’s — just even imagine, going back to that moment. I was like, “What?” She was like, “Terry, you’re different. You changed. You changed.” And it hit me that all — and this is years later. This is years into the therapy. Years into constantly working on myself. And my behavior started to change. And I’m going to fast forward a little bit to 2017, is when — I think, I believe what was crazy, we were still going through it last time we talked.
But I talked about the time my agent assaulted me at a party in Hollywood. And the whole thing was, it was so degrading. And so, I pushed him off. I was like, “What is your problem?” I don’t know what his problem was. I think he was high, or whatever. I don’t know what he was doing. But all I could say is, here is this guy. He’s the head of the motion picture department at William Morris Endeavor, my own agency. And he grabs my crotch in the middle of this party, and I’m going, “Get off me. What the hell are you doing?” Now, my first instinct, because of what I’d done my whole life, is to put people on their head. And I could have killed this guy.
I don’t even think that there’s anybody who would even doubt my ability to murder this man. It’s not the question here. But I remembered my promise, and I remembered my therapy. And I remembered the water. I remembered that I was different. And I said, “You know what? The whole phrase responsibility is just that, the ability to respond. I can choose how I’m going to act in this way.
And I went against decades of programming, and said, “No. No.” I grabbed my wife’s hand, and we walked out. Now, Tim, I’m going to tell you. I got in the car. I was going to drive the car right back through the club. I’m trying to, like, “Terminate.” Again, the movie never stopped. The revenge movie was still there, Tim. I was going to turn around, and drive right through the front door, and just start blazing on everybody.
That was in my head, but I kept driving. And I remember not even seeing where I was going. And I ended up in the driveway. And I remember my wife’s voice echoing over and over. She said, “I’m proud of you, Terry. I’m proud of you, Terry. I’m proud of you.” Because she was there. She saw the whole thing.
She said, “I’m so proud of you. I am so proud of you.” And it kept me, and it held me. Man, and now when I say it saved my life, the question is, would anyone have believed me had I knocked this guy out? That’s the question I like to give to anybody.
I could have said, “Yeah, he did this,” and whatever, and everyone would’ve looked at me like, “Wait a minute. He’s the head of William Morris. That makes no sense. Why would he do that? And you knocked him out, maybe because you were angry about something. There you are, super big, muscular, angry black man who probably got pissed off, probably was drinking too much.” And I don’t drink at all.
But everyone would’ve had a picture of what happened that night, that I would not have been able to overcome, at all. And like I said, I even asked the head of William Morris. I asked Ari Emanuel. I said, “Man, if I’d have knocked him out, would you have had any mercy on me?” And he said, “No, Terry, we wouldn’t. We wouldn’t.” And I was like, “Damn it.” I said, “This is the world we live in.”
And think about this. When I look at the jails that are full right now of young black men, old black men. How many were baited? How many were pulled? How many were tricked into reacting in a way? How many were baited into turning that chess board over?
And it’s so easy. Because again, it’s the revenge movie. It’s so easy, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Tim, there’s a — let me tell you. Right now in our community, in the black community, there is an expectation that if anybody calls you nigger, you knock them out. That’s the reaction. This was told to me many, many times. And it’s told to each other. Like, “Man, if you…” There are videos on TikTok about when it happens, you see it. Somebody calls somebody a nigger, and all of a sudden you knock the guy out, no matter what.
But the thing is, and the thing that hit me, and it hit me hard, was that I would only really be offended if I felt I was a nigger. But there’s no such thing as a nigger. So why would you offend me? See, I had to examine all of these things. It’s like calling Bill Gates broke.
He would look at you and laugh, like, “Okay.” And so if anybody ever called me nigger, I can look at you and go, “No, that’s not it.” And I can count it to ignorance, instead of it being a bait, and a switch, and a trigger in order for someone to get me into a position that would make me vulnerable. And I was — and let me tell you, Tim, this stuff is tough. This is why I called the book tough, because it’s hard to do. It’s very, very hard.
Tim Ferriss: So I want to dive into — I’m actually going to pull up a couple of paragraphs about the book, because I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for many reasons. And the title for folks, just so they get the idea, Tough: My Journey to True Power. So I want to read just an abbreviated two paragraphs, and then launch into a question about this. So, “From Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Terry Crews, the deeply personal story of his lifelong obsession with strength, and how after looking for it in all the wrong places, he finally found it.”
Now, there are several paragraphs, but I’m going to leave those for now, and come to the last that I have in this little blurb, which is, “With Tough, Crews’ journey of transformation offers a model for anyone who consider themselves a ‘tough guy,’ but feels unfulfilled. Anyone struggling with procrastination or self-sabotage, and anyone ready to achieve true, lasting self mastery.”
So let me combine that. And I apologize for the long question, but it will have a question mark at the end of it. A quotation that I love, that I believe you also love, which is from Ralph Waldo Emerson, which is, “God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.”
Terry Crews: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: And the reason I bring that up, is that my experience also just being male, and priding myself on having certain characteristics, or developing certain types of strength, is that you don’t want to be perceived as a coward. You don’t want to perceive yourself as a coward. So how do you think about the — and I think the reason many people, many men, let’s just say respond hyper aggressively in different situations, is to prove to themselves and others that they’re strong and not weak.
So how do you, and this might sound like a funny question, but demonstrate strength, and think about strength so that you don’t have that self-perception. Maybe that’s a bad question, but I’d love to just see where that goes. Because if someone — I feel like for someone to have the ability to walk away, they need to have supreme confidence on some level in their own strength, or that maybe that’s self-perception. So I’d love to hear you speak to any of that in any direction that might make sense.
Terry Crews: No, I understand. Listen, I understand your question. Because that was the conundrum that I dealt with. Even when my wife challenged me on this stuff, I was like, “But what if somebody does this?” And the thing is, is that toughness in a supremely hyper-masculine world is about how hard can you give a punch? But what I found is that there’s a toughness in a right kind of world, is how you can take them. There’s two ways. To be a great boxer, you have to learn how to take them. The greatest boxers in the world took punches. [crosstalk].
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. You have a glass jaw, eventually.
Terry Crews: You can have the hardest swing of all time. I look at all the fight fans out there, when you look at Foreman and Ali, and all the punches he took. And I would never recommend anybody go through that. But what I say is, how that right there is a sign. To me, there’s another toughness that involves endurance. I guess that’s the phrase, endurance.
Which is not a super fast, two-minute, three-minute event. It’s long. It’s long term. It’s how much can you take? How long can — I love, love, love Viktor Frankl and his story. And I’ve probably read everything that he’s ever put out. And the endurance that this man put up within the Nazi concentration camps, as he watched all his friends die, his family died, his wife. And he came out saying, “Yes,” to life.
I said, man, that’s the kind of endurance that transcends. And I think that it’s really, it’s truly, truly one of the things where that level of toughness is where I want to be. Because this is another thing. The world really, really determines winners way too early. They just do. And it’s always celebrated. I mean the valedictorian of your high school. But most of these people don’t end up winning long-term. It’s, whoever’s winning at a young age, it’s like, “Wait a minute.”
I think we need to look at the people who over time have displayed success, and really displayed — just have seen the most of life, and seen all the lumps, and been through all the things, and what have they been through? That’s where you get your real examples. I am a results-oriented person, whereas when I see how most of the world celebrates just instant wins — you know what I mean?
And one other thing, Tim. I like to call it the sportification of our culture. Things have been sportified, and this is where it goes back to even our last conversations, when I say how people have — how I feel that competition is the opposite of creativity.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. This is so key. I highlighted that when I reviewed our first conversation. I’d love for you to just elaborate on that. It’s so important.
Terry Crews: I will. I will, because it’s something that I’ve been challenged on. People are like, but without competition, you’ll never get better. And we’ve got to have competition. You’ve got to…” And I said, “No, you don’t. You do not have to compete with other human beings.” Now, the thing is, you don’t need competition, but you do need resistance. Two different things. Listen, the fact that you get up is a resisting — you’re going to face resistance with going outside.
The wind is fighting you. If you plant something, weeds are automatically — they grow. Anything good is attacked. You have to build a house. You have to make sure everything is so easy for entropy to happen. But everything that’s worth something has to be built, has to be designed. It has to be created.
You automatically have resistance. But competition, however, I think — imagine if the world had evolved through competition, there would only be one set of people. Doesn’t work that way. The world evolved through collaboration. That’s how I feel society evolved. That’s how humanity evolved. It’s all through collaboration.
But again, that revenge movie, that whole thing that we live, it’s about competition. It’s about putting me on top, and now I’m on top. And I’ve got to cancel everybody else. And, “So and so, you’ve got to go down.” And, “I am the winner, and you’re the loser.” And this is, it’s a sportification. It’s like, “I won, I beat everybody. I’m the best in the world today.” It’s king of the hill. But someone’s coming to kick you off. And when you live those rules, it’s kind like, if you go your whole life canceling everybody, you eventually have to cancel yourself.
Because you’re not perfect. One thing that gets me, man, Hollywood loves to point their fingers at everybody. And Hollywood, at the Academy Awards, it actually canceled itself, which blew my mind. The standing ovation after the assault. I was, everyone was sitting there at home, like, “What? You canceled yourself. This is crazy.” And you realize, “Wait a minute.”
Now, when I go into collaboration, when you realize that the world is a house, and this is the thing. And is the way guys like to play it. Where it’s like, “Hey, man, I am on my side of the house. I’ve got the kitchen. The kitchen is mine. I can cook whatever I want.” And they’re flaunting it. “I’ve got all this kitchen, and it’s all mine.” Well, the other guy is like, “Well, check it out, I’m on this side of the house. I have the bathroom. I can take a shower. I’m clean. I’m good.”
Well, Tim, eventually the guy in the kitchen’s got to use the bathroom. The guy in bathroom’s got to use the kitchen. You see what I’m saying? Now, this is the problem. Because if it’s a sport, who won? Who won?
Tim Ferriss: Got it. Yeah, right.
Terry Crews: Today, the guy with the bathroom, but tomorrow, the guy with the kitchen. And it’s endless. And when you do that, what you’re doing, to me, it’s like — this is a phrase I love to use. And there was a lot being said. And I said things about what was going on with Black Lives Matter, what was going on with a lot of our culture during this whole time. And my issue was that any movement that doesn’t start with reconciliation, I don’t want any part of. We have to reconcile.
We have to reconcile men to women. We have to reconcile black to white. We have to reconcile Republican to Democrat. We have to reconcile. That’s the first rule. Because if we don’t, what you’re doing is postponing a war. That’s all you’re doing. It’s postponing it. It’s a matter of, “Okay, we strike today, and we’ll have to wait and then we’ll get our bearings together, and we’ll strike again later.” And then they come get you, and you come get them. But with reconciliation, there’s an agreement.
With reconciliation there’s an understanding. With reconciliation it’s peace. Wherever you have reconciled, there’s going to be peace. And I knew, and I got in a lot of trouble at the time for talking about, “Hey, I decide to unite with good people, black and white, no matter the race, no matter the color, no matter the creed, no matter I ideology.” I said, “I am going to unify with good people.”
And I was really put through the ringer for that. But I fe el really good about it. Because I made my stand in the middle of a lot of name calling, a lot of people who wanted to fight. And listen, I understood the anger. I understood it. I was that guy, but I realized if we just turn over the chess board every time, we’re not going to get anywhere.
These kind of things have to be, there’s no winning until we reconcile. Sometimes you’ve got to stop playing the game, you know what I mean? And when I say a game, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. You have to walk off the court, and say, “We’re not playing today. Now, we’re going to work together.”
Tim Ferriss: Well, one thing that has always impressed me about you and our interactions, and looking back at your history, and certainly in our first conversation, we talked a lot about your art, and your ability, and many, many chapters of life spent with one foot in the art world. Which we won’t get into right now, but people can really take a look at this very closely, and they should. And also from the segueing, from playing professional sports, then to, say, entertainment, and then folding in the design elements. You’re very good at questioning the rules of the game, and choosing new games to play.
And I think it really highlights a number of things. One of which is your ability to choose creativity over competition, right? Terry Crews is a category of one. And if you create a category of one, it’s kind of blue sky, and you can create the rules of the game that you want to participate in, as opposed to constantly climbing hill after hill, depending on who offended you, or upset you that day to go through the vengeance marathon. Which is not just an exhausting way to live, but it’s also a very incremental way to succeed in any given field. So I just wanted to say that I spot that pattern over and over again in you, and I admire it a lot.
Terry Crews: You know, Tim, that’s — thank you so much for that. And that’s what it — just to elaborate on your point, that’s what bothered me so much about what James Watson alluded to. Because he, now, race was a competition. I was like, “No, but you need each other. We all, we need everyone.”
And if you make a competition out of it, about this race is smarter than the other due to genes, and these kind of things, I’m just like, “Man, what are you talking about?” Think about the musical greatness that black culture has brought in. That’s a whole ‘nother kind of intelligence. There’s several ways to be intelligent. You know what I’m saying? You can’t do what Thelonious Monk did. You can’t redo that.
It’s one of these things where you look at John Coltrane, and you go, “My God, how do you even…” You can’t even put math on that. It’s kind of like, “How did you create that?” It’s another level of intelligence that we don’t understand. But if you create this game that everybody has to play, and then you determine the winners. And I said, “Man, it was a huge mistake.”
And like I said, it hurt me so bad, because I love science. And I love this stuff. And I see a lot of scientific racism involved with, even when you’re talking about coding. And I mean with computers, and that world where there was, I believe Shockley, I think his name was, who really came out with some very racist things about — just about the ability to learn computers, and black people, and this whole thing.
And I just go, “Man, these guys.” It’s that self-righteousness. But this is another thing, and this is what I had to address. I’ve seen black people get the same way, about what they have. And they go, “We are more gifted in this. And we’re more gifted in that.” And I said, “Man, all of that is the biggest mistake you can ever make. Because that level self-righteousness will allow you to be extremely cruel to anybody else.” You can’t feel wrong because don’t think you’re wrong. And you can’t even hear what people are saying. And it’s so dangerous. And so insidious, that you have to cull it out like a cancer.
It’s almost like a growth that can grow on any movement, anything. Because most things start out with people with great intentions. You’ve got to agree, most things, most churches, most events, most movements, most things, and then all of a sudden people are in Guyana, and drinking Flavor Aid with Jim Jones. And it’s like, “What happened?”
There was a moment when things twisted. And it’s a tragedy. And I don’t want to see that. I was in a Christian cult in college. It was nuts. But you see how just because good intention — just because you have great intentions, if they’re not checked, if they’re not balanced, if they’re not really — if you don’t really get that self-righteousness out of there, and start at day one, every day, you’re going to be on the wrong path.
And this is where I am. I’m constantly learning, constantly saying, “Be teachable, man. Be teachable.” It’s so wild, because I’m going to give you a crazy, crazy story, really funny. I’m doing my first year of America’s Got Talent, and I’m loving it. I’m doing my thing. And I wear these beautiful suits, and outfits, and the whole thing. And I love this whole thing. I’m Mr. Creative.
I’m like, “Oh, my God, I’ve got these great shoes. I’ve got this great thing. And we had this thing, we had a suit that we had a belt on the outside of it. It was really unique, and real high fashion. Well, I decide I’m going to go on the show. I’m going to do this. And the NBC rep is like, “Terry, could you just take the belt off?”
I was like, “Oh, really? You talking to me?” I was like, “Hey, man, dude do you know who I am?” It was like, “I am your show. I am the host of this show. I can wear whatever the hell I want to wear.” Tim, it was like that. I switched into this like, “What? How dare you talk to me that?” And dude, and it was wild because I was with my representatives, and the people, and they were like, “You don’t have to change it. You don’t have to change whatever you want you. Yeah man, you don’t have to do that. Just go out there anyway. Go out, just do what you want.”
And all of a sudden it hit me, Tim. I said, “Hey, man. Dude, you’re driving their car. NBC is their truck. That’s their car. But if they don’t want the rims to spin, take the damn rims off, man.” It’s like, “Dude, why are you flipping on a belt?”
It was like. “Man, humble yourself. Relax. Because, dude, these are the boss.” I said, “It’s their show. It’s not my show.” And I said, “Oh, my God, I was that close to pulling this arrogant move where I was just going to go do whatever I wanted anyway. And it probably would’ve put everything that I — my whole future in jeopardy. And I took the belt off. The show went great. The NBC rep was like, “Thank you, Terry.”
Because a lot of times bosses just want to be heard, and the show was awesome. And I realized how close I came off one arrogant move, to losing probably one of the best jobs I ever had. Because it starts there. It’s not one big, giant move. It’s always one little thing. And then it grows, and grows, and grows. And I said, “Man, you got to start at day one every day, Terry.” So it’s hard. Hard lessons, man. Like I said, this is tough.
Tim Ferriss: It’s hard.
Terry Crews: It’s tough stuff.
Tim Ferriss: It’s tough, hence the title of the book. It made me think also about the example, the metaphor you used earlier of walking outside, and the wind is fighting you, right? Maybe that’s just the wind. That encounter is just the wind. It’s not someone attacking you, or insulting your manhood, or — it’s just the wind in some cases, right. And I’ve taken a lot of notes in this conversation for myself. I’m really looking forward to the book.
And I also feel like this balance that you’ve described, I think especially for — not exclusively for, but I think often for a lot of the men listening will be one that comes up a lot. It’s, how do you find a place for male strength? If you feel like that has been removed from society, how do you develop, not just the self-perception, but the capability of being strong? Having that endurance, that resilience, defining strength in a way that isn’t abusive and corrosive.
And I also wanted to just mention, because you brought up his name, Thelonious Monk. And one of my favorite quotes is actually from Thelonious Monk. And I wanted to bring it up, because I think you exemplify it by constantly revisiting who you are, starting at day one, asking yourself, not just who is Terry Crews, but who does Terry Crews want to be? And the quote is, “A genius is the one most like himself.” I just think there is so much depth in that quote. That’s Thelonious Monk. “A genius is the one most like himself.” Of course, that could apply to herself. But every day is day one, like you said.
Terry Crews: That’s right. That’s right. I love it.
Tim Ferriss: And I know we’re coming up on time, Terry. The new book, people can find it wherever books are sold. Tough ,subtitle, My Journey to True Power. I highly recommend people check it out. People could find you on social media, @TerryCrews on Twitter, Instagram. And then on Facebook, Real Terry Crews. Is there anything else that you’d like to say? Any other comments, questions, complaints that you’d like to add before we wrap up?
Terry Crews: Man, first of all, I just always, always enjoy talking to you, Tim. Let me tell you, this 90 minutes went like — it went so fast. I can’t even —
Tim Ferriss: It went quickly.
Terry Crews: It went quickly, but I just want to thank you for letting me share my heart, man. What’s wild is I tend to get misunderstood sometimes. And a lot of that is because of the ability to take things out of context. And I thank you for letting me talk. And so that it’s in context. So you can see —
Tim Ferriss: Absolutely.
Terry Crews: — where it’s coming from, and where it ended.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. For sure.
Terry Crews: When I see the future of what this world is, I’m very hopeful. I am an eternal optimist. And I see, we get — a lot has been said about getting things wrong, and everybody making mistakes, and this kind of thing. But my thing is these errors can push you into better things. A quote that I heard that I loved, that got me through the pandemic is, “That sometimes your greatest hopes are destroyed to prepare you for something better.”
And when you see your hope being dashed, people get disheartened. But I like to see it sometimes as you’re being prepared for something better, for what is next. And I truly, truly think that we can have that better. And I really do. And I’m not a cynical — this is another thing, a lot of comedians tend to get a cynicism, and this whole kind of thing.
And I’ve always resisted that. I’m at war with cynicism. I’ve decided to be positive, and be hopeful, and believe the best about every human being. And count a lot of this, a lot of negativity as ignorance. Until people can figure it out, I’m here for you. Until I — because I haven’t even figured it out. You see what I mean? We’re all on this journey, because I can tell you, 20 years ago, oh, man, I was among the ignorant. I could easily be making excuses, and the whole thing. And that’s why I have so much empathy for everyone out there. Everyone, anywhere because it’s just a matter of time. So thank you for letting me share my heart.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you, Terry. And I want to say to everybody listening, there are many forces in the world that want you to be apathetic. And I invite you to also be at war within yourself against cynicism. Because it is crippling, and what a great way to phrase it. Terry, thank you so much. Again, everyone check out Tough: My Journey to True Power. You can find links to everything we discussed in the show notes at tim.blog/podcast. And until next time, be a little bit kinder than you think is necessary. Both to others and to yourself. And thanks for listening. All right, man.
Terry Crews: You’re the best.
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