The Storyteller: SUNY Broome alum Roger Brooks goes deep on ‘American Real’

Roger Brooks at SUNY Broome's Hornet Field
Roger Brooks at SUNY Broome’s Hornet Field

Everyone has a story, a unique human experience aching for expression. Roger Brooks’ mission is to draw it out question by question for the world to see.

A Binghamton native, Brooks is the founder and host of American Real, a weekly video talk show and podcast that features real stories of fascinating people. He wasn’t always in the host’s chair; rather, the show is a second career of sorts for Brooks, who spent more than two decades in the sales field.

“I do what I love: Tell people stories,” he explained.

Laying the foundation

Rewind the tape to the late 1980s, when Roger Brooks attended what was then called Broome Community College. He played baseball and majored in Liberal Arts, minoring in both theater and communications. His mentors included the legendary theater Professor Angelo Zuccolo – a friend of the family – and Communications Professor John Butchko.

Learn about Theater at SUNY Broome.

Learn about our Communications & Media Arts program.

Learn about the Liberal Arts division.

Outside of the classroom, Brooks worked in the Little Theatre part-time, doing everything from answering the phone to marketing and selling tickets — an opportunity that introduced him to the world of business.

He also developed other necessary skills. In the Communications & Media Arts program, he learned how to use a camera and edit video, and how to act in front of a microphone.

“It was my foundation for what I’m doing today. Looking back, I never thought it would have much impact, but it has had a tremendous impact on my life,” he said of SUNY Broome. “It was a great community that set the foundation for my life.”

After attending Broome from 1987 to 1989, he transferred to Portland State University in Oregon, where he spent a year and a half before dropping out and embarking on his business career. He began working for Dina A Mate, Inc., a Binghamton-based funding company, and worked his way up to director of sales and marketing. After that, he spent 15 years as vice president of loyalty strategy for FIS Global, before becoming the senior vice president of business development for ZipLine Payments, where he works today.

While Roger Brooks admits freely that he wasn’t a standout student, he worked hard and achieved success in the business world, owing perhaps to his interest in people. But still, it wasn’t enough of an outlet for his passion.

“I just figured out last year it wasn’t really me. It wasn’t really what I wanted to do,” he recounted. “When I started ‘American Real,’ I could really be myself.”

Creating ‘American Real’

‘American Real’ came by way of local artist Anthony Brunelli’s loft, where a group of friends – Brooks among them – brainstormed about ways to create and promote positive content. “Someone suggested a podcast,” Brooks recalled. That pricked his interest; he had been watching a show, Brian Rose’s “London Real,” that told the stories of interesting people, and Brooks wanted to do something similar.

“My father always taught me to be a good listener, whether it was on a ballfield or in a classroom,” he said.

He did his research, and enrolled in Rose’s London Real Academy to learn how to become a podcaster. To cap off the academy program, each year Rose selects one of his pupils to interview him in London. He picked Roger Brooks.

“That really made things propel forward from there,” Brooks said. “I do not believe in coincidences, as corny as it sounds. I believe everything in our life happens for a reason.”

And thus was “American Real” born. His first guest on the show was Brunelli, and he has since expanded to a wide range of guests, including Sgt. Sammy Davis, a Broome County sheriff’s deputy and an instructor in SUNY Broome’s criminal justice program, as well as former SUNY Broome Vice President Debbie Morello, now an author and entrepreneur.

Since starting in August 2017, his interviews have continued to expand: Musicians, a psychologist, surgeons, EOs and even his dad. He was headed to New York to interview a woman from Jordan, one of the top 100 female entrepreneurs in the world, he said. His number one dream guest: the Pope.

It’s a comfortable set, and interview subjects tend to open up. The conversation is real, and can go deep.

“The show has an energy about it based on the guests I’m interviewing,” he said.

Looking ahead, he will continue to produce an episode every week for his free podcast, taking “American Real” on location to Los Angeles, New York City and Atlanta. The next piece is starting the American Real Learning Academy, so he can pass on the tricks of the trade to the next generation of inspirational podcasters. The American Real Live Tribe, a private Facebook group, will also give members the skills to perfect live video.

“Podcasting is for young people and everyone with a business or sales background who really wants to propel their career,” he said.

He’s also working on a historical novel – not his first book, as Brooks published The Power of Loyalty: 10 Essential Steps to Build a Successful Customer Loyalty Strategy, back in 2010. 

Wherever Roger Brooks’ journey takes him, he will continue to listen and learn. After all, everyone has a story, and something to teach.

“Life is short. I’ve learned to try and maximize each day with putting out as much positive energy as I can in the world because it comes back,” he said. “I’m learning from each of my guests. I’m hopefully making a small impact on the world.”