4 features about the ‘It Gets Better’ anti-bullying campaign
• The anti-bullying campaign comes to the Houston stage
• No more werewolves: Andy Neilson is living proof that ‘it gets better’
• Finding Acceptance: Once a bullied teen, Christopher Henry now has the friends and confidence he wanted
Super Bowl ‘Puppy Love’ Actor Don Jeanes talks bullying
by Donalevan Maines
Watching—through happy tears—the Budweiser Super Bowl commercial “Puppy Love,” who knew the buff cowboy was bullied as an elementary school kid in Humble? “I remember walking down the hall, reading Where the Red Fern Grows or Bridge to Terabithia, and a kid slapping the book out of my hand, saying, ‘Quit reading, you dork!’
“I was a dork,” says Don Jeanes, 33, who has been an LGBT ally since making friends with gay men after leaving Texas in his 20s.
“Then in seventh grade, my mom let me play football, and everything changed,” he says. “When you’re on a team, it’s kind of hard to get picked on.
“I started to gradually get cool.”
Now his career is red hot as the star of two popular Budweiser Super Bowl commercials.
Jeanes learned something akin to the loneliness of gay youth when he was seven, his parents divorced, and he moved with his mother and older brother from a ranch in Moscow, Texas, to the comparative metropolis of Humble.
“Being the new kid, from my perspective, I was ostracized,” says Jeanes. “I only had one good friend. We were the country kids, the hillbilly kids, and I had a little bit of the loner thing going on.
“I took theater, because a lot of kids told me it would be an easy ‘A,’” he explains. “I thought I could sleep through it.”
Instead, his teacher, R. Scott Allen, who’s now the principal at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA), inspired him to act.
“I think my love of theater came from being an outcast,” says Jeanes.
Dividing his time between high school sports and theater was a challenge, Jeanes says. “When I had rehearsal, I would tell the football players I was going to work out. But they kind of knew.”
After graduating from Humble High School in 1999, Jeanes earned a marketing degree at Texas State University in San Marcos, then worked for a year in business-to-business sales in downtown Houston.
“My buddy was having a great time in New York, acting and bartending, so I moved up there. I couldn’t resist,” he says.
“A busboy I frequently worked with was gay, and he showed me that he was a great soul,” says Jeanes. “Now, my gay friends are some of my best friends. They are free of inhibitions and they know exactly who they are, and I respect that.”
The past five years, Jeanes says, he’s auditioned practically every day in Hollywood. On his second callback for the first Budweiser commercial in 2013, they asked him to wear a cowboy hat and boots.
However, when Jeanes didn’t hear back before he came home for Christmas holidays, he thought he didn’t get the job. Feeling dejected, he says, “I decided to stop acting. I told everybody ‘I’m coming home in February.’”
But arriving back in Hollywood, Jeanes was met with the news that he booked the job. Even then, he says, “I thought, ‘Hey Don, this will be my swan song. Take the money and run.’”
But Jeanes kept acting, starring again in this year’s Budweiser commercial, which has attracted about 50 million views on YouTube, and 200,000 Facebook “Likes.”
“I’ve been working nonstop,” says Jeanes.
Don Jeanes offered this advice to kids being bullied in school.
“Don’t let bullies get you down. I was where you are once and, instead of listening to them and taking their degrading words to heart, I used their words as motivation to get better—to get better at sports, to get stronger, to learn martial arts, to read books on winning arguments, and even better than arguing, books on persuasion so I wouldn’t have to argue anymore.These improvements not only stopped me from getting bullied, they helped me to succeed in every other aspect of life.
When you let someone take up space in your head—good or bad—they win. So don’t let bullies win. Now, I’m not saying go get in a fight and get hurt. If someone is physically hurting you or degrading you, then tell an adult and first get that situation resolved. But after you’ve separated yourself from that environment, don’t carry it with you.
And if you let it affect you at all, then let it help you to become the best person you can be. You’ll look back years from now and those bullies will still be the sad, uninvolved people they were, but you will have achieved things beyond your wildest dreams. I’m so excited for your future and I’m so excited to hear about the incredible, amazing things you’ll do.”
Donalevan Maines also writes about By the Way, Meet Vera Stark in this issue of OutSmart magazine.