Local shipping wars star Jarrett Joyce opens up about politics, poetry & Austin Texas

Nov 2nd, 2014 | By | Category: Tales of the Joyce Family

By Michael A. Wiseman from Camel City Despatch

jarret joyce

I remember the first time I met Jarrett Joyce. NC State football had just dropped another game to the equally-struggling Demon Deacons, and a friend invited my wife and I over to commiserate the loss. It was strange – the house was unfamiliar, everybody (but my friend) was a new face, and I was busy looking for the cooler.

But one guy stood out. “Where do I know you from? You look familiar.”

That guy was, of course, “The Rookie” from popular A&E reality show ‘Shipping Wars’. So we chatted briefly about Austin Texas, reality television, being on the road, and what it was like to be portrayed as the goof. Joyce claimed the network played a lot of it up for entertainment. But, on the other hand, they had bought him a closet full of duplicate outfits (one for the road, one for the testimonials filmed after the fact), so maybe looking foolish wasn’t such a bad deal.

As we left the house later that evening, a few of Joyce’s friends were walking in. Right as we crossed paths, they hollered back, “Jarrett, we can’t get your van to start…”


Fast-forward a year. When I met him again in late October 2014, Joyce was gearing up to go back out on the road, and had to check his phone multiple times to remember the agenda. A film crew was flying to Winston-Salem the next morning to get the pre-transport bidding footage.

For those who don’t know, ‘Shipping Wars’ covers a group of independent shipping carriers who deal with merchandise too bulky, unwieldy, or bizarre to be transported through traditional means. The cast members bid on hauls through website uShip (with the lowest price snagging the job), and each episode chronicles what happens as they try to make the client’s deadline. Upon delivery, the show calculates how much each shipper made, taking into account fuel, labor, and any other penalties, and ranks them based on total profit. There’s even a five-star feedback rating, just like eBay.

It’s a quirky, fast-paced, quick-edited show that’s maintained a steady viewership over its six seasons on-air. While ‘Shipping Wars’ can’t match network’s hate-politics juggernaut ‘Duck Dynasty,’ it’s at least outlasted ‘Hoarders,’ ‘The Hasslehoffs’, and (recently deceased) ‘Longmire.’ There’s even a UK version in development.

And throughout those six seasons, Joyce has been on more episodes than almost any other cast member. But still, he’s the “rookie.” It’s a spot he seems to embrace, knowing that fans appreciate his goofy, laid-back nature. But it also jives with his upbringing – Joyce’s mom once hired a clown for his high-school graduation party. What to most teenagers would be the most humiliating thing in their lives, Joyce looks back on with a sense of understated appreciation.

So it makes sense to hear him say things like, “I’m not the kind of person who would be on TV,” and puzzlingly follow that up with, “apparently everybody wants to be on TV.”

It’s not that Joyce seems resentful of his popularity. In fact, he’s “happy” with his current level of superstardom, saying ‘Shipping Wars’ (which averages around 2 million viewers) lets him fall just under that threshold of uber-fame. While fans still stop and ask him for a picture or autograph, he can at least go to the grocery store mostly uninterrupted.

jarret joyce

And it lets Joyce keep everything in check. He’s a humble Piedmont Triad native, graduating from Parkland High School in the 90’s and moving on thereafter to an Agriculture degree from NC State. His mom owned a license plate agency in Kernersville and his dad both retired as chief deputy sheriff of Forsyth County, and served on the Forsyth Tech Board of Trustees – an honor which resulted in the community college naming one of its Northwest Forsyth buildings the “Robert F. Joyce School of Justice.” When college officials hosted a ceremony for the senior Joyce, Jarrett flew back from the midwest (despite conflicts with production) because it meant so much to him personally.

Those strong area ties keep Jarrett Joyce coming back. Even with a hectic filming schedule, he still finds time to return and help his uncle run a Christmas tree lot on Peter’s Creek and Academy every year. He also passionately believes in the community college system, a fact he repeated numerous times throughout our conversation.

But there are things that Joyce is even more passionate about; when returning from a quick break during conversation, Joyce asked me pointedly what I wanted to write about. “Just you, your background, your life” I told him dumbly. He had something else in mind, though. And then he said those three magic words every writer/reporter/American citizen wants to hear:

“Let’s talk politics.”

I was amazed at how Jarrett Joyce, the comedic relief from a somewhat-overlooked reality show, has deep-seated beliefs about the economy, democracy, television news stations, and the wealth-divide. It’s not that I mistook Joyce for a simpleton. But he expressed articulated viewpoints that can only be the result of countless hours on the road sitting, listening, and thinking.

“There are a lot of tough decisions our country needs to make in the next few years,” he said offhandedly, following it up with, “Through Fox News… we took an uneducated population and put fear in them… Nobody feels a duty or obligation to help their fellow citizen.” Joyce wanted to emphasize how much control media has over politics, and how our country lacks the “JFK mentality.” It’s not that he was trying to call out individual citizens. But Joyce believes wholeheartedly that an educated population makes for a stronger democracy. That’s part of why he’s so pro-community college. And, as he put it so eloquently, “It all comes down to a dollar bill, man.”

Joyce was also simply passionate about people helping one-another out, saying, “The greater the wealth divide, the worse off we’ll be… that’s what makes the entire country strong – the lower class being tough, being able to see the future, and being able to see that they can have that future.”

It’s a viewpoint that he carries over to healthcare: “the bottom needs the same health care that the top has because if it doesn’t, it affects the entire country.”

His speech was less a political platform and more of an impassioned plea for people to simply help one-another out. When he said, “I don’t understand what happened to our country,” it wasn’t Joyce unfairly minimizing the great strides our country has made over the last 200 years. It was Joyce’s way of calling-to-task a populace that oftentimes puts its individual desires, or need to be “right,” over the greater good for all mankind. Think of it like the Jarrett Joyce do-unto-others 11th Commandment… his fiery reminder that (in his words) “doing the best for yourself is not actually the best for yourself.”

jarret joyce

It’s a viewpoint that’s allowed Joyce to reflect on his home. When I brought up why I personally relish NC for the eclectic personalities, mish-mash politics, and cultural diversity, he responded, “to me, North Carolina was that example as THAT southern state.” But don’t mistake Joyce’s past-tense verbiage to mean he no longer believes in the “First in Flight” state.

“Everywhere I go, I love Winston more,” he remarked. “We still have everything.”

Joyce did move to Austin, Texas for a short while. It’s where the ‘Shipping Wars’ production company is headquartered, plus Joyce adores the town. But despite opening up a bank account at the local (yes) BB&T branch, Austin never felt like his home. While you’ll hear many people compare Winston-Salem to Austin because of the blended history, culture, business, and art (often described as “Austin Weirdness”), Joyce said, “Everybody found out Austin was cool. It got overrun. It’s a fear of mine I have about Winston.”

Joyce is also a poetry fanatic. He said he reads poems every day in his bus, and writes a lot in his spare time, calling notice to Wendell Berry for inspiration. He also cited podcasts as something that helps the miles fly by.

But when he comes home, he still has his favorites – like Kermit’s pimento cheese dogs, or First Street Bar in downtown Winston. Throughout our few hours at Kernersville establishment Brewer’s Kettle, Joyce couldn’t stop saying how much he loves the place. “It reminds me of Austin.”

However, there’s something that North Carolina has that not even Austin, Denver, Los Angeles, or even Philadelphia does – the best cheesesteak in the nation… at least, according to Joyce. So he wouldn’t let me leave until we stopped at Doss’ restaurant.

And of course, like any night spent with a semi-celebrity, the evening wasn’t over until one of the cashiers, a self-proclaimed “Doss’ Girl,” sheepish asked if she could take a picture with Joyce. He happily obliged. Jarret Joyce’s Facebook page is full of gas-station selfies and pictures with strangers, a sign that simple entertainment can bring people of all classes, genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds together. It’s the great equalizer.

So when I offered her a picture with me, and touted “my 300 Twitter followers,” the cashier just laughed it off. It was a joke, of course. But it still made me think…

Maybe there’s something to being a reality TV star after all.

“You were here with me. Though I don’t know what that means. Did you see this? The beauty of nothing everything and all. Some joke we put a line through it and changed everything. Called it progress. I’ll bet it seems magical to them, because it is. But not more magical than truth. How could it be that we keep forgetting that? There was much more before we had a lot. Love, faith, hope, trust, beauty. Words. We don’t even use the ones that make us happy. They make you rich, they make you work, thy make you tired, they make you die. Maybe we’ll find the right ones someday. Though we don’t have to look.”

-jarrett joyce
road poetry written on I-80 heading west somewhere past Cheyenne

‘Shipping Wars’ returns to A&E on Tuesday, November 18th at 10 pm ET with the Season 7 premiere. You can catch up with old episodes on the A&E website, or connect with Jarrett Joyce on Twitter (@JarrettJoyce) and at Facebook.com/Jarret.Joyce

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