Robert Bannon: “HIRE YOURSELF!”

HIRE YOURSELF! A lot of the time we wait for someone to hire us. You can be your own boss. Write that project, shoot that short, put on that cabaret, keep the creative juices flowing. When you invest in yourself, I think others will see it and hire you! Work makes more work. ‘Unfinished Business’ […]

Thrive Global invites voices from many spheres to share their perspectives on our Community platform. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and opinions expressed by Community contributors do not reflect the opinions of Thrive Global or its employees. More information on our Community guidelines is available here.

HIRE YOURSELF! A lot of the time we wait for someone to hire us. You can be your own boss. Write that project, shoot that short, put on that cabaret, keep the creative juices flowing. When you invest in yourself, I think others will see it and hire you! Work makes more work. ‘Unfinished Business’ was originally born out of the idea to just keep working. Take a step and the road will open. I promise.


As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Robert Bannon.

Robert Bannon has been dazzling audiences on the stage and screen for years, his emotive and powerful vocals and knack for comedy bringing people by turns to tears of emotion, laughter and elation, and always to their feet.

Now, the accomplished and lauded cabaret singer and “Saturday Night Live” actor is about to release “Unfinished Business,” his debut album set for release in 2021. The highly anticipated album features Bannon’s versatile vocal talents and includes duets with Grammy Nominee Jane Monheit and recording star Loren Smith. “Unfinished Business” consists of two originals and 11 classic songs by a variety of American Songbook crowd-pleasers running the gamut from Frank Sinatra to Johnny Mercer to Whitney Houston. Bannon recorded the album in his home studio with all musicians adhering to social distancing guidelines.

The album’s first single, a powerful rendition of the Bette Midler song, “From a Distance,” is a highly emotional and inspiring performance that sums up 2020 perfectly, providing an unforgettable, uplifting soundtrack to a tumultuous year. The track spotlights Bannon’s unforgettable and emotive rich, soaring voice and vocal flourishes as he signs of a hopeful, peaceful and prosperous future.

The album was produced by international cabaret superstar Lee Lassack. In 2020, Bannon and Lassack co-hosted the virtual sensation, “Quarantine, Cabaret, and Cocktails,” a weekly live stream on Facebook and YouTube that has reunited the Broadway casts of “Frozen,” “Aladdin” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” and featured Broadway legends like Lea Salonga, Chita Rivera, Shoshana Bean and many more. They have also hosted the applauded “Best of Broadway and Music” on Facebook Live and YouTube.

Bannon, a tireless performer, brings a wealth of experience and rave reviews to listeners. In addition to his work on “Saturday Night Live” the past three years, Bannon has performed with a number of rhythm-and-blues, jazz and comedy icons including Patti LaBelle, George Benson and Whoopi Goldberg at legendary venues like Madison Square Garden, the Beacon Theatre and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Bannon also sang for Bill and Hillary Clinton during for Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center and for Hillary Clinton at a Martin Luther King Day event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Bannon has also traveled the country performing his hit one-man show, “Unfinished Business,” including at New York’s famed Feinstein’s/54 Below cabaret. The autobiographical performance traces Bannon’s journey from his time at the prestigious Juilliard Prep School to giving up music to become a teacher and finding his way back to the stage. He’s also performed in national touring and regional productions of “My Big Gay Italian Wedding,” “Rent,” “We Will Rock You,” “My Way” and many more.

Robert Bannon has been singing since he was 12. He is a graduate of the William Esper Conservatory and Juilliard Prep, both in Manhattan. Bannon was admitted into the very first Juilliard Prep class for musical theater under the direction of Broadway icon Bertin Roswer at Lincoln Center. A Fort Lee, New Jersey, resident and native of Ridgefield Park, New Jersey, Bannon spends his “downtime” from singing and performing in the classroom as a 5th-grade history teacher in North Bergen, New Jersey.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Sure thing! I am from Ridgefield Park, NJ. I am full-on Jersey! Taylor Ham, hairspray, and malls galore. My parents are not musical, but they loved music. They were always playing Carly Simon, Earth, Wind, & Fire, Sinatra, etc. When I was in 5th grade I told them that sports were not for me. They sent me to my first music class at the Bergen Mall in Paramus, NJ. From there I was accepted to Juilliard Prep School at Lincoln Center. It was my first musical theatre class, and I began working as a professional musician at 12. When I was 14, I was diagnosed with meningitis caused by chronic Lyme Disease and the music, well life as I knew it, ended. I never spent a regular day in high school. It really shaped my outlook and my life. It was not typical or the way I planned it at all, but it does have a happy ending. The whole idea of the album and the one-man show is called “Unfinished Business” because it was time to come back to the music that had stopped decades earlier.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Well, to answer this question and continue the story from the question prior, at 18 I was called in to audition for Roger in “Rent” on Broadway. It was my first audition after being sick. I botched the words so much and was so lost after years of my illness that I decided to give it up. I went to college and became a school teacher. I taught 5th grade and thought my music days were over.

Fast forward and I was talking to my brother and explaining that I needed a creative outlet. I was lost and missing something in my life. It was music. It was acting. It was ART! I took it a step at a time. I went to an acting conservatory for 2+ years. I started music lessons. I saw as much art as I could. I met as many artists as I could. I started auditioning for musicals, commercials, TV, anything I could. I sang anywhere I could. A lot of credit goes to writers, actors, activists Matt Gould & Griffin Matthews who were kind enough to invite me into their circle and share their expertise. Without them, I am certain I would not be making music and finding my place in the art landscape.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

That is so hard! I have been blessed to do so many interesting things! I have appeared over 20 times on “SNL”, which is INSANE! I still can not believe that. I have had the chance to sing with Patti LaBelle numerous times, I have toured my show around the country, I did a bunch of musicals including my turn at “Rent” after my bad audition so there are so many stories!

I think the most recent fun story was filming and performing for “The Real Housewives of NJ.” Margaret Josephs and her mother Marge Sr. have been huge supporters of my music. I performed at her Pride event and had no idea they were filming it. I showed up with my little Amazon sound system and performed in front of all the ladies, their friends, and fans. It ended up being a blast. Since then, I have done another event for the ladies. Check my cameo out next season!

PS- I had never seen an episode of the show so I was literally texting my cousin, sending pics asking, “Is this a housewife?” Since then, I have binge watched them, and I am hooked.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

HAHA! I love this question. In acting, when you slate, you state your name, your agent, maybe your height, weight, the role, etc. It is used to identify you in the taped audition. I went to an audition for a TV show and it was my first taped audition. The casting director asked me to slate. Instead of me saying I have no idea what that means, I just thought a “slate” was the slate that they use on set to yell “ACTION!” Then they smash that little black and white marker and you act! I legit thought that was what it meant to slate so I just used my hands and pretended to close the marker and I yelled “Action!” I could NOT understand why they were looking at me dumbfounded! Needless to say, I did not book the job, and I went home and Googled it and LAUGHED for days! I am still laughing. Lesson: Make sure to do your research, ask questions, everyone is a person! They will not bite your head off! If you are unsure, just ASK!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I just finished over a year and a half of a virtual online show called “Quarantine, Cabaret, and Cocktails” which morphed into “The Broadway Cast Reunion Series.” We reunited Broadway casts for theatre fans around the country! That was a blast! It did not feel like a job. It was legit a dream to talk to all of these talented performers!

My main focus has been promoting and performing the album! My album “Unfinished Business” is out. You can grab a copy on Amazon or stream it anywhere music is heard! I have done shows in NY, LA, and Pride Festivals around the country. I have more concerts to be announced very soon! So if you are in NJ, Palm Spings, San Fran, etc. be on the lookout. I am also headed to Detroit to perform at Motor City Pride! So the main focus and project is the music!

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Diversity in art is a HUGE issue and needs to continue to be talked about and light needs to be shined on alternate viewpoints. While I am a white man, I am a part of the Queer Community. I have many BIPOC friends who have shared their stories and struggles, especially Queer people of color. We need representation. I am personally tired of the same boring white male narrative. I am excited when I see work on stage or on TV that shows different stories! I loved “Strange Loop” last season off-Broadway! I loved “Pose.” I love shows that show the queer community and the BIPOC community. We need more diverse shows like “Ramy.” We should not have one example. We should have a plethora of diversity and races, genders, sexuality, etc. Representation matters and saves lives. When we know more about people, we are less scared and ignorant. Art has the power to truly change the world.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. You can find your place in the creative world. I never knew if I was “good enough.” I struggled and didn’t find work when I was trying to blend in. It wasn’t until I did the work on myself and can show up as myself that the connection to the art and the work happened!
  2. There is no magic member of your team that will make it all happen for you. That member is you! I always thought that a label, a manager, an agent would open doors. They are important. They can be vital, but they are never going to replace you and your drive and hustle. You are the magic and the product. Sell it!
  3. Network not to get ahead, but to find amazing colleagues. This music/acting world is TOUGH! You will need support. You will need inspiration. You will need collaboration. Find the artists that you love and tell them. Reach out. Find your community. Support them and let them support you!
  4. What I know for sure is that I do not know everything! I found studying the craft to be invaluable. Music lessons, acting school, dance class, etc. can make or break you! Not only will you meet amazing people, but you will get better! This business keeps evolving. You need to evolve and hone your craft. It is what makes the difference.
  5. HIRE YOURSELF! A lot of the time we wait for someone to hire us. You can be your own boss. Write that project, shoot that short, put on that cabaret, keep the creative juices flowing. When you invest in yourself, I think others will see it and hire you! Work makes more work. ‘Unfinished Business’ was originally born out of the idea to just keep working. Take a step and the road will open. I promise.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Self-care. Self-care. Self-care. The gym, yoga, jogging, pilates, healthy eating, a massage, binge-watching Netflix, getting ice cream, SLEEP, etc. these are just some ways I try to keep myself from burning out. There are days I go so hard, I wake up, work all day, and pass out. I love those days. I love to be productive and make things happen, but that doesn’t help my real life. I need a day to meal prep, food shop, and do laundry. I easily forget those things. I have set aside time every week to do the other “adult’’ things I need to do. I also always make time for exercise. It is vital to me. When I can not work out, I am miserable. It is my meditation and downtime. I just want to shut off the phone and listen to music. You need to carve time out that is for you. A career is not a life. You have to work on having both and it is not easy.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think the whole mantra of “Unfinished Business” is my movement. I waited 15 years to have the courage to do what I always wanted to do. We learned these past 18 months that nothing in life is promised. So whatever your “Unfinished Business” is, it is time to finish it. Open that Etsy shop, travel to that foreign country, go on that date, learn that language, take that tap class. Whatever it is that you dream about, it is time to tackle it! It moves me so much to hear people tell me what they are going to finish! Let’s go!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

How much space do you have because their are many! Firstly, nothing would happen without the love and support of my family! They really hold me down. I have an amazing group of friends. They have supported me and my crazy ideas for years! My producer and co-host Lee Lessack, the musicians, the arrangers, the other singers, my publicist Angela Thomas, there are a lot of people who help this train go!

Matt & Grif opened this crazy art world to me! I am forever grateful to them. That is the story I will tell. I saw their show “Witness Uganda” when it was at Second Stage in NYC. At the time it was called “Invisible Thread.” I loved it the second it started. It changed my life. I tweeted them afterward to say “I wish I was a part of something like this!” Grif tweeted me back and said, “It’s not about dreaming, it is about doing.” Well damn! How necessary was that! A week later I was at their house and Matt was giving me vocal lessons and helping me build my show. They have since become family to me. The single “I Think He Knew” is their song. They were gracious enough to let me sing it. See- you never know what can happen if you just have the courage to leap, ask, and dream. The right people in your corner make all the difference.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I am a huge believer in “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” I truly think we all get a “vibe” in our gut about people, projects, events, etc. It can be hard to turn down work or stand up for yourself because in art, we are told that no one makes it, we should be happy to just be there. Yet, we also owe it to ourselves to know our worth and to be respected. Now I am not saying that we need to diva tantrum out and throw a cell phone at the crew. What I am saying is trust that gut. The second you say, “hmmmm. That person just did this and it’s not OK.” Know that you conscious is letting you know that it is not OK. Trust yourself!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Well, there are so many people I would love to have lunch with, but I have to say that as a 12-year-old boy, I received a Karaoke Machine for Christmas and it came with the Karaoke Songs of Barry Manilow. Now I did not care if it was uncool. I did not care if the other kids did not get it. I wanted to be a showman like Manilow. His arrangements and showmanship spoke to me! BARRY! Have lunch with me! I will even pick up the tab! It was an honor to sing “When October Goes” on my album. When you see me live, there is always a Manilow song somewhere in the set.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find all my information and tour dates at www.RobertBannon.com

IG- @robertmbannon

[email protected]

Tik Tok- @robertmbannon

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Thank you so much for having me! It was a pleasure!

    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    Work Smarter//

    Organize(d)

    by alicia johnson
    Community//

    Tying Up Your Loose Ends Will Make You Happy

    by Dr. Christine Bradstreet
    Tick-Tock / Getty Images
    Wisdom//

    Mark Zuckerberg Uses One Rule When Deciding Whether to Hire Someone at Facebook That Every Manager Can Borrow

    by Shana Lebowitz, Rob Price
    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.