An inspiring interview with Christophe Zajac-Denek
We are so excited to have Christophe as our guest today. Christophe Zajac-Denek is an American Actor, Stuntman, Professional Drummer, Speaker and Podcaster. He has appeared on multiple talk shows including Jimmy Kimmel Live. He starred in “Standing on Water” a film by Tommy Corey. In addition to acting for film and TV, Christophe hosts and produces a podcast called “I’m Kind of a Big Deal: Little People Huge Stories.” If that long list isn’t enough, he also is extremely athletic, energetic, and a lot of fun!
Christophe’s favorite quote:
“And those that create out of the holocaust of their own inheritance anything more than a convenient self-made tomb shall be known as “Survivors”. Keith Jarrett – Survivors suite
“You never know.”Christophe Zajac-Denek
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[00:00:00] Christophe Zajac-Denek: So, hi, I’m Christoph Zack Denek from I’m Kind of a Big Deal podcast and I’m the guest on the Inspiring Influencers Show.
Intro: Welcome to the Inspiring Influencers Show, Paul and Jennifer Hansel host interviews with inspiring thought leaders, storytellers, entrepreneurs, and legacy builders just like you. Learn from experts about finding your voice, mastering your mindset, and creating movements with your message. [00:00:26] Enjoy uplifting stories and powerful strategies. Get ready to transcend to new levels of success, happiness and joy.
[00:00:33] Paul Henczel: Hi everyone. This is Paul and Jennifer Hensel. Hi from the Inspiring Influencers Show. We are so excited to have Christoph Zack Denek as our guest. Christoph is an American actor, stuntman, professional drummer, speaker, and podcaster.
[00:00:54] Paul Henczel: He has appeared on multiple talk shows, including Jimmy Kimmel Live, and if that long [00:01:00] list isn’t enough, he is also extremely athletic, energetic, and a lot of fun. Thank you so much for joining
[00:01:07] Christophe Zajac-Denek: us today, Christoph. Thank you so much for that amazing introduction. It’s great to be here with you, Paul and Jennifer.
[00:01:13] Jennifer Henczel: We first met you at Pod Fest last year. Yeah. Because we’re all podcasters and we got to hang out and we went to a party and we just had fun. We just really, you were our favorite person that we met at Podcast Fest.
[00:01:27] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Oh, thank, thank you so much. No, the feeling is mutual. I, I loved our conversation. I mean, we were in.
[00:01:32] Christophe Zajac-Denek: A super loud dance bar, trying to have like a meaningful conversation and we’re like, we’re gonna continue this later on. Yeah, for sure. Cuz this is too good. But yeah, it was, it was such a, such a great time meeting the two of you and, and hearing your stories as well. Yeah. And then
[00:01:48] Paul Henczel: after that, the next day I happened to see you speak and your talk was incredibly inspiring and your, your presence on stage man
[00:01:59] Christophe Zajac-Denek: was just [00:02:00] out.
[00:02:01] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Oh, thank you so much. Yeah. That, um, I appreciate that. That was my first in-person, uh, keynote, so I was so nervous to get on stage and, and do that. But I, I appreciate you so much for the kind words. Thank you. You never would’ve
[00:02:15] Jennifer Henczel: guessed No. That was your f never.
[00:02:17] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Yeah. Oh man. I was just in my hotel room anytime that I was not at a loud dance party, , trying to memorize my speech.
[00:02:26] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Um, but it was, yeah, I mean it. I guess what was really easy or comforting about that whole, uh, situation was I was asked to mostly talk about my story and share my story. So, you know, I’m really close to my story. And so that was, yeah. You know, ki wasn’t too far from what I know already.
[00:02:46] Jennifer Henczel: Well, you know, you told us that you loved surfing and our son loves surfing, so I remembered that about you and you told us that you, you know, did some stunt work in acting, but you didn’t tell us you were famous.
[00:02:55] Jennifer Henczel: Dude. . .
[00:02:58] Christophe Zajac-Denek: I need to lead with that, [00:03:00] right? Like, hey. Yeah. So, you know, you’re so humble. You’re so humble. Yeah. Um, I, that’s so weird. I don’t know that I. Think of myself as famous. I feel, I mean, I live in Hollywood and I know and sometimes work with some famous people, and so I feel so far from, uh, I mean, you look at my Instagram and it doesn’t seem like I’m famous at all, but , um, Yeah, I guess working on it,
[00:03:25] Jennifer Henczel: you’ve done a lot of impressive work.
[00:03:27] Jennifer Henczel: We didn’t realize like you’re on Jimmy Kimmel and all this kinda stuff, but we’re just thrilled to know you and have you on the
[00:03:32] Christophe Zajac-Denek: show. That’s what it’s all about, right? I mean, good personalities. With good personalities. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:03:38] Paul Henczel: And I mean, before moving on, I do have to ask, doing some research and checking you out a little more.
[00:03:45] Paul Henczel: Is there anything you don’t do? ,
[00:03:48] Christophe Zajac-Denek: I don’t play baseball and I don’t, um, I don’t go snowboarding because I don’t like the cold and I have a spinal fusion, so I can’t twist. So there’s, those are [00:04:00] things that I, I don’t do. Yeah, I don’t do, I don’t do falling stunts anymore either because. Of all the surgeries and spinal fusion and stuff like that.
[00:04:09] Christophe Zajac-Denek: So yeah, there’s, there I have lines. Don’t, Paul, you don’t have to. I have lines,
[00:04:19] Paul Henczel: we saw your film, uh, standing on Water, which was excellent by the way. It was so much. Very well done. And uh, in the show notes we’re gonna link to. Could you share with our audience your story and how that led to what
[00:04:36] Christophe Zajac-Denek: you’re doing now? Yeah, absolutely. So, um, well, I’ll, I’ll mention a little bit about standing on water.
[00:04:41] Christophe Zajac-Denek: So, um, and I’ll kind of tie that in with my, my backstory. So I’m, I’m a little person. I’m four, four inches tall, and I’m from Detroit, Michigan originally, and I grew up just, uh, I, I’ve had two reconstructive leg surgeries and a spinal fusion and. [00:05:00] Thankfully, I mean, miraculously I am a able to be really physically active and athletic and do a lot of the things except for baseball and snowboarding that that I want to do.
[00:05:11] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Um, and, and I’ve ended up touring in a rock and roll band throughout my life, and then I moved to Hollywood and. Started to work on productions here, and I’ve always been obsessed with surfing. I don’t, I, I’ve always just kind of been drawn to water into the ocean and being able to stand on water on a wave, on a surfboard just blew my mind.
[00:05:34] Christophe Zajac-Denek: And that was instantly obsessed At 14 years old, um, we would go to Florida for Easter school break, uh, and. I, I would just end up in surf shops and looking through magazines and just looking at these photos of waves all over the world, thinking how cool this was. And it just kind of spoke to me in this weird way.
[00:05:57] Christophe Zajac-Denek: And I was always into surf and skate [00:06:00] culture. So, uh, when I moved to California, when I left the rock and roll band and moved to California, um, I just started surfing as much as I possibly could, and I never saw another little person surf. That was something that was just what I wanted to do. I just, You know, tried it and I was physically able enough to do it pretty poorly at, at the start, which is how everybody starts out surfing.
[00:06:25] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Like you, you suck pretty bad for a long time and I just loved being out in, in the ocean. It was, it was a cleansing moment for me. It was. It was an attachment to nature. It was me connecting with myself and learning, um, learning how to read the ocean as a study in itself. You know, you, you go out there and you’re kind of battling this, this gigantic beast that you can also kind of tame and ride, you know, it’s energy and it’s, it, it’s [00:07:00] pretty amazing.
[00:07:00] Christophe Zajac-Denek: So I just, I just became a super nerd about it, and, and I just loved it. And so when I moved to California, I started to surf regularly and I also kind of shifted out of doing music stuff and I shifted into acting, uh, mostly because of my styles. And after 14 years now of working in the acting industry, I have mostly been offered, um, elf roles, leprechaun roles, demonn roles.
[00:07:27] Christophe Zajac-Denek: I’ve played a lot. Uh, rolls in a ton of foam, in monster suits, in a ton of prosthetics. So my face has rarely been seen, even though I’ve worked on, you know, 30 projects or something, or more than that. And after 10 years or so, I’m thinking, why doesn’t anybody ever wanna see my face? Like, what? It’s, I know I didn’t grow up as a trained actor, but still, you know, like I can never get anything where my face is shown.
[00:07:54] Christophe Zajac-Denek: And then I realized, oh, this is. Little people are offered, this is what we [00:08:00] in society are, are, you know, relegated to playing in, in these productions. And so I started my podcast and I, um, started to realize how discrimination is kind of handed down and how discrimination, especially for little people, is confusing.
[00:08:17] Christophe Zajac-Denek: It’s, uh, misrepresented. It’s, um, it’s. Pretty just blatant as well. It’s, it’s really across the board and I wanted to talk about that. And so, um, tying it back to standing on water, Tommy Corey is the director of that series, and he, he was his series. I like to describe his series as showcasing people who do things, who don’t look like they should be doing those things because he has all these.
[00:08:48] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Um, all, all these different people in coming from different backgrounds in, you know, embodying different situations, doing what they love in the outdoors, and I was just so grateful that he, [00:09:00] uh, was interested enough in, in me to, to make a, a piece about me. And it’s about a little person surfing . And for me, being from, you know, Detroit, Michigan, that’s like a dream come true.
[00:09:12] Christophe Zajac-Denek: So, Yeah, that’s the, that’s kind of like my story tied in. I don’t know if that, I hope that makes sense. Yeah, that’s a,
[00:09:21] Jennifer Henczel: it’s a beautiful film and we’ll link to it in the show notes. And you’ve done such wonderful advocacy work in this area. And one of the things is your podcast, I, I know you’re on a little bit of a hiatus, but it’s the type of podcast you can go back and listen to.
[00:09:35] Jennifer Henczel: We’ve listened to some episodes and it’s so. Inspiring like anybody can listen to because it’s just every episode is just filled with stories and really, really inspiring, um, interviews that you have and some that you, you’ve done on your own. You, you have your story in there in one of the episodes of acting and coming to la, which is so interesting.
[00:09:55] Jennifer Henczel: Yeah.
[00:09:55] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Thanks. I, for so long I felt like I wanted to. [00:10:00] Deny my own existence or I, I, I just had really low self-esteem about myself and, um, how, where I fit in this world. And then once I started to talk to other little people, I realized that other people have similar experiences and maybe similar feelings as well.
[00:10:17] Christophe Zajac-Denek: And I just think that, you know, I come from the, the background of having dwarfism, but I think a lot of people can relate to, you know, similar feelings that, that. My guests, um, talk about, yeah.
[00:10:32] Jennifer Henczel: So what are some of the tips you can give people for getting motivated, staying motivated, you know, cuz you’ve, you’ve shown such, um, you know, motivation and inspiration through your career journey and all these things that you’ve been doing.
[00:10:46] Jennifer Henczel: I know you’ve won some awards for your surfing, right?
[00:10:49] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Uh, I, yeah. One, a couple of competitions, um, here in California, which again, it that blows my mind. , if [00:11:00] you were to tell 14 year old Christoph that he’s gonna surf in California and, and win some money for surfing again, that would’ve been just bonkers.
[00:11:08] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Um, yes. I mean, staying motivated, I, I guess, I don’t know. I still try to, I, I’m still figuring that out. I have. I have just so many ideas. Um, I guess maybe one thing is like, uh, find the belief in yourself. Be true to yourself when you sit around and you if, when you allow yourself to be bored and you allow yourself to just kind of, Um, sit with yourself and sit with your past and sit with your, your present.
[00:11:48] Christophe Zajac-Denek: W what speaks to you, you know, and, and, and not, um, and, and embracing that and, and just not, not being judgmental about what that, what that is, I think is. [00:12:00] It’s, I don’t think that’s easy. I think that’s really tough because there’s so much external judgment that comes in that says, well, you know, is that going to make you money or is that going to get you seen by the people that you quote unquote think you should be seen by?
[00:12:14] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Or whatever that, that judgment is. And I think if you can listen to, um, you know, your heart and whatever that, that part of your, your mind. Uh, is saying to you, I, I think, you know, there can be happiness in that. And then I think the other thing, like once you find that and you are on your path, I think one of the best things is to focus on the small successes.
[00:12:39] Christophe Zajac-Denek: and focus on the little, and I mean, you guys have a great podcast. Like, it, it didn’t just like happen, you know, you have, you have little success, but you have this goal, you know, of being, of, of having a certain number of downloads or having a certain number of outreach or having a certain number of episodes and you just have to, for me anyway, I, I have to [00:13:00] focus on the little bits that bring.
[00:13:03] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Success or happiness, you know, because if, if I, if I focus too much on the stuff that’s just feels so far out of reach, it makes me just kind of not want to do anything.
[00:13:13] Jennifer Henczel: You’ve accomplished so much. Yes. More than most people. Yeah. So what, what would you say, what would you give advice to somebody who’s starting out in the industry or really just starting out in life?
[00:13:24] Jennifer Henczel: You know, what kind of tips can you give? For, you know, being inspired to really follow your passion, cuz you’ve really done that, you’ve really followed your passion because it’s, it’s just as hard to, to do something you don’t like. Right. ,
[00:13:38] Christophe Zajac-Denek: I, I, I have, there are a couple friends that I have, I was just having this conversation with a, a close friend the other day about, you know, what is, you know, what feeds your passion and what feeds your pocketbook and are, does that really.
[00:13:54] Christophe Zajac-Denek: The, is that the same thing? And, um, cause a lot of times, you know, the [00:14:00] money like, it, it makes you, uh, able to have comfort in your, in your life, but it might not actually fuel your real passion. And, um, I think, you know, the, the advice is, is be true to yourself. You know, listen, listen to yourself. Above, above all, and I’m, I’m, and I’m guilty of it too.
[00:14:24] Christophe Zajac-Denek: I, I reach out to people and bounce ideas and wait to see what they’re gonna say. And then I evaluate, well, this friend’s past decisions were this, but they’re telling me to do this other thing. So I don’t know if this is, if I should really follow this advice. I mean, at the end of the day, you have to be with yourself and, and whatever you want to create is gonna be ex an extension of you.
[00:14:49] Christophe Zajac-Denek: And I think if, if you listen to what that truly is, then um, that’s, that’s the most important thing. And then once you figure out a [00:15:00] mission and a path and just maintaining the consistency and, and, and, and drive for that, I just read a book. Um, Is it gr I think it’s right here. Um, Greg McEwen. It’s called Essentialism.
[00:15:17] Christophe Zajac-Denek: And I’ve struggled with this my entire life is having so many, you know, ideas of things that I want to do, you know, playing drums, surfing, um, uh, photography and writing, and like all these, all these different things that I, I, I dipped my toe in, but, To be an essentialist, you kind of have to strip away the things that really don’t speak directly, you know, from your heart.
[00:15:47] Christophe Zajac-Denek: And that’s, that’s really, really tough. So I think honing down what it is that you really want to focus on can be an important task too. So, on top of
[00:15:59] Jennifer Henczel: all of your [00:16:00] personal pursuits and your career pursuits, you, you, you know, advocate. For your community. And so what, what do you want as far as your advocacy?
[00:16:09] Jennifer Henczel: What do you want people to know? Like what is your message around that? What do you want people to
[00:16:13] Christophe Zajac-Denek: know? Yeah. The message around my advocacy for little people and, and dwarfism is, I mean, that’s a great question, , uh, I, I want, I want people to understand. We as little people are, are not scary. We are just like other people.
[00:16:33] Christophe Zajac-Denek: We deserve acceptance and um, and uh, and parity and, and to be seen and, and, and heard in, in communities and that it’s okay to have exposure to us, even if it’s an awkward attempt at exposure. A lot of people say, you know, or ask me. Term do you? Should you call a little person if you meet them in the wild, you know, [00:17:00] what is that?
[00:17:00] Christophe Zajac-Denek: And my response is always, you should call them their name. And if you think about it, you can’t. Know somebody else’s name unless you create an introduction. And so introductions are always sticky and weird and awkward. And if you go up to someone who’s disa, I mean, I think that little people are disabled individuals in this, in this world.
[00:17:21] Christophe Zajac-Denek: And I think that can be even stickier if you, but I mean, going up to somebody and have a st having a a, an uncomfortable first encounter or an introduction, I think is so much better than avoiding them or. Putting in your head that they don’t exist. Or even worse, taking a photo or snickering or making some, you know, off color comment.
[00:17:44] Christophe Zajac-Denek: I, I think embracing that awkwardness and like, I’m, it’s not easy for me too, e even though I’m saying this, like I’m in the same boat. I’m still trying to figure it out. There’s sometimes when, you know, I get approached by kids and they’re like, well, [00:18:00] why, why are you so little? And I have an honest conversation with them.
[00:18:05] Christophe Zajac-Denek: And most of the time it goes well, but sometimes it doesn’t. And you know, it’s just, that’s, that’s life. That’s people. That’s how it, that’s how it goes sometime. And I think if you’re just honest, that that will shine through and that’s the most important thing because even if it’s awkward, that person isn’t going to forget that and encounter immediately and they can still think about it and, you know, maybe be better the next.
[00:18:29] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Yeah, for sure. You
[00:18:31] Paul Henczel: know, I, I just love how you, how you walk your talk. You know, like you, you are who you are. You, you’ve faced numerous challenges that, that most people won’t face, but you, you know, you’re someone who hasn’t got stuck in their story as well, and, you know, you’ve kind of, you’ve risen above and you’ve succeeded.
[00:18:52] Paul Henczel: You know what everything you’re, you’re putting your hand on. You know, we, and you’re, you’re just a cool guy,
[00:18:59] Christophe Zajac-Denek: man. [00:19:00] you are. Well, thanks. I, I, I stay home a lot. Um, , um, I, no, I thank you. That’s a, that’s a very nice compliment. I, I, I, I consistently feel like the work is when I, when I do something, I, I feel like, oh, this is, this is cool.
[00:19:23] Christophe Zajac-Denek: This is great. Let’s enjoy it. And then there’s, there’s more work to be done. Like, let’s keep on keeping on like it there, it doesn’t seem like it ever ends. And, um, and I just, I sort of love that about this, uh, mission because I feel like I, with every person, with every show, with every, you know, presentation I give with every moment that I can have, I.
[00:19:48] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Moving the rock forward, you know, uh, those little successes, right. Every single. That’s kind of where my mind is. All the little successes. Yeah.
[00:19:57] Paul Henczel: And that really helps. Look at it that [00:20:00] way. I’ve done that too. Hey, um, wanna ask you, what, what do you have going on now that, that you wanna talk about or, you know, anything else that you want people to know?
[00:20:09] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Yeah, so I, um, I, I’m very excited because I just had my, uh, I just wrapped photography on a, on a feature film that I was able to star in, which I can’t say anything more at all about , the, the film, um, But it’s, it, it’s really exciting for me to, to have participated in this project. And there’s, uh, there are a couple other projects coming up that aren’t solidified yet, so I can’t really say anything about those either.
[00:20:43] Christophe Zajac-Denek: But it’s nice to have, uh, continued work. I mean, as an actor in LA it’s like, Such a slog for just about everyone, um, at a lot of different levels in, in this town. And so I feel very, very grateful that I, I have that. [00:21:00] Um, I’m just consistently working on my craft. I have, um, some writing projects that are in the works.
[00:21:09] Christophe Zajac-Denek: I’ve never. Written or sold, or pitched an entire project. And that is the goal. Whether it happens this year or you know, next year or the year after, I, that’s the thing, like I, I really want to be, um, uh, a player or an influence on changing the, the messaging around us as little people. And I think, you know, if, if I can do that, that’s.
[00:21:38] Christophe Zajac-Denek: That’s what I have to do. Good for you. Ah, that’s awesome. So that’s great. Yeah. Thank you . Hey,
[00:21:44] Paul Henczel: so just to kind of like wrap things up, do you have a
[00:21:47] Christophe Zajac-Denek: favorite quote that you, I do have a favorite quote. I listen, I knew you were gonna ask me these questions cuz I listened to some episodes, um, . So I have, there are two quotes.
[00:21:57] Christophe Zajac-Denek: One is like kind of heavy and then [00:22:00] the other one is just what I. What I’ve learned in la So the, the heavy quote is from this, uh, Keith Jarret record that I purchased. He’s, if you’re not familiar with Keith Jarrett, he’s this incredibly talented, uh, jazz pianist who made a lot of avant garde records in the seventies, which is pretty experimental in far-reaching music.
[00:22:23] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Um, uh, and the, the album is called The Survivor’s Suite, and the quote, and those, uh, oh God, should I just forget this? Um, and those that create out of the holocaust of their own inheritance, anything more than a convenient self-made tomb shall be known as survivors. Basically. It’s like if you, I I, I read it as if.
[00:22:54] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Uh, just remain in, you know, in stagnation. If you remain in, [00:23:00] in what people think you should be or, uh, follow along with what everybody else does, you essentially aren’t, um, you’re not, you’re not pushing yourself and you’re not moving forward. And I’ve had this conversation recently with other friends where it’s like, no, changing this messaging is, that’s survival for us.
[00:23:19] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Like, that’s survival as for us as. Disabled folks and for people who that have a, a different life. And then the other quote that I kind of just made up after moving to LA is you never know , . Cause LA is so weird and life is weird on top of it, and my life is weird. Nice. I like it. Who’s inspired you the most?
[00:23:43] Christophe Zajac-Denek: That is such a tough one, but I’m gonna go back to a former drum instructor of mine from college. His name is Gerald Cleaver and he kind of started his drumming, his professional drumming career again at Avant Garde. I love jazz music [00:24:00] and, and I love avant garde, just out there. Crazy. Uh, beautiful music.
[00:24:06] Christophe Zajac-Denek: and he’s a drummer and he started a little bit later in his life, but he has 100% embraced it. He’s so talented and, um, I try to see him perform whenever I can and try to accumulate all the work that he’s, uh, played on just, and, and he’s just taught me, um, so much just like through observation and through lessons.
[00:24:28] Christophe Zajac-Denek: It’s, yeah, he’s incredible.
[00:24:31] Jennifer Henczel: Hmm. That’s amazing. Well, thanks so much for being here with
[00:24:34] Christophe Zajac-Denek: us today. Thank you. Thank you so much for, I’m so, uh, I’m so grateful for, to be on this show. I know. Um, there’s been Yeah. Scheduling back and forth, but I, I really appreciate you having me on and, and letting me be a part of your wonderful show.
[00:24:50] Christophe Zajac-Denek: And we
[00:24:50] Jennifer Henczel: really hope our listeners go to our show notes at Inspiring Show so they can get the link to standing on Water. The film that Christoff is in. [00:25:00] Beautiful, beautiful film. Uh, a must watch for every human, in my opinion. Yeah. And so, and also to your podcast, can you tell us the name and the link to
[00:25:09] Christophe Zajac-Denek: your podcast again?
[00:25:10] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Yep. The podcast is called, I’m Kind of a Big Deal. Love that title. Oh, that’s neat. And the slogan. Oh, uh, I’m kind of a big deal. Little people, huge stories,
[00:25:20] Jennifer Henczel: so Cool. Yeah. Thanks for being here,
[00:25:23] Christophe Zajac-Denek: Chris, off. Thank you so much Paul and Jennifer. I, I really appreciate y’all.