Counter Culture


Counter Culture Ep. 13

Join host Grover Silcox and tonight's guests: Bill Boggs, Legendary talk show host; Marcus Allen, CEO of Big Brothers, Big Sisters in Philly and Former Pro-Basketball player; Peggy Boyce, Executive Producer of the “Ladies of Laughter” Competition.

AIRED: December 08, 2020 | 0:27:50

- Welcome to Counter Culture, a talk show normally in a diner.

On tonight's show,

I welcome legendary talk show host Bill Boggs...

- I cashed a check for the day

and had lunch with Sophia Loren.

- ..CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters

in the Philadelphia region, Marcus Allen...

- My childhood really defined my passion for people

and the type of work that Big Brothers Big Sisters does.

- ..and the executive producer of the Ladies of Laughter

Competition, Peggy Boyce.

- All the comedians I know, both men and women,

are just ready for the pandemic to be over

and for clubs to be open again and theaters to be open

so we can get up on stage and make people laugh again.

- All right here on Counter Culture.

Hi, folks, I'm your host, Grover Silcox, coming to you

from Lehigh Valley Public Media Studio B, where we wait

for the go ahead to return to our original home

at Daddypops Diner in little old Hatboro.

- I knew I was going to be writing a book about a dog

who became a big TV star with his master

that follows certain things that happened in my career.

- My first guest has interviewed

some of the most famous people in the world,

from Frank Sinatra and Gore Vidal

to Jerry Lewis and Donald Trump.

For 11 years, he interviewed these legendary celebrities

as host of Midday Live on WNEW in New York.

He also has hosted and produced

other local and national programs,

including Corner Table for the Food Network,

and his latest book,

The Adventures of Spike the Wonder Dog,

sort of parallels his life in broadcasting

through the eyes of his dog, Spike.

Please welcome my old friend Bill Boggs to the counter.

Bill, how are you?

- Grover Silcox, my main man!

Oh, what a second...

I'm good.

You know, in honor of my hometown,

I wore the Lincoln High School ring today.

- Aw! That makes me feel good since I'm a fellow graduate

of Lincoln High in Philadelphia.

And my wife, who also went to Lincoln High, said,

"Bill Boggs, wasn't he that good-looking substitute teacher

"we had way back when?"

- Yeah, I don't know about that.

But, yeah, I... Growing up in northeast Philadelphia,

my father said, "You've got to hustle, make a buck."

And so all along in my life, I've had multiple jobs.

I was a substitute teacher in northeast Philadelphia

at the same time while I was managing a comedy team

and getting my start in show business.

But anything to make a couple bucks and put gas in the tank.

And I'm still working. Got gas in the tank.

- Well, I mean, you have interviewed

some of the biggest celebrities in the world, really.

Let's start with the Chairman of the Board, Frank Sinatra.

- Totally charismatic human being.

You could feel his presence even when he was behind you.

- Wow! And was that one of your early interviews on Midday?

- Well, I took... I started at KYW.

I was interviewing people there.

Then I went to High Point, North Carolina for three years

and I was interviewing a lot of major people down there.

So when I got to New York in 1975,

I'd already been doing it four years.

So Sinatra was in the fall of '75. It was my first year

in New York but my fourth year on television.

Been a huge Sinatra fan all my life.

I was introduced by his friend, Jilly Rizzo...

Caesar's Palace, four o'clock in the morning,

Frank and I had a conversation. At the end of the conversation,

he said, "Jilly says you have a show in New York."

I said, "Yeah.

He said, "Look, I don't want to promise anything" -

this is April '75 - "but I'm going to be in New York

"with Basie and Ella in September.

"Maybe I'll come and do your show."

So it was the result of meeting Frank Sinatra

and having Frank say that to me that led...

I'm not asking for anything, and he really liked that.

And he took my hand, he said, "I know you're not.

"Maybe I'll come." And he did.

So that's the story of how Frank came.

- How about Sean Connery, the late Sean Connery?

- Would you say that, essentially,

your life has been the projection of a fantasy

that you began to start acting

and you've ended up as such a successful star and so forth?

- I don't know where the fantasy begins

and the reality ends.

- Sean Connery, he was 44 years old when I interviewed him.

I think he was at the peak of his personal beauty.

A really handsome man, but his eyes...

His eyes had egg whites for whites.

He had the most crystal-clear eyes I've ever looked in.

- Wow. You have a lot of visual memories.

I mean, you really remember what they look like

and how that made you feel,

it's very interesting, as much as what they said.

- You know, it's interesting because these 450 interviews

on the YouTube channel,

some of them, I've never ever looked at.

They were live and we taped them.

I just put them up.

But I did watch the Sean Connery interview

the other day because somebody had a question for me.

And so that's why his face is fresh on my mind.

- Midday, which went for 11 years in New York City,

was like the primo show to be on and almost

like a network show.

- I had ten years on the Food Network interviewing

celebrities, including Sophia Loren.

I want to know what Sophia Loren thinks of American pizza.

Like, you know, when you go into a store and say,

"I'll have a slice and a Coke."

- You know, pizza is very simple to do.

And even in America, it's good.

But sometimes, they put too many things on it.

- I had a show there on the Food Network

called Bill Boggs' Corner Table.

And it was an idea of mine.

I would sit down with celebrities

in their favorite restaurants. It was like a scam.

I got the Food Network...

..go to the best restaurants in America,

sit down, eat for free and be on television.

I cashed a check for the day

and had lunch with Sophia Loren.

- How was Sophia? How was she?

- Sophia Loren had the most gorgeous green eyes

and olive skin. She was really gracious.

- Wow! And we should mention that you're still going strong

and some of these fantastic interviews that you've had

in your career are available for people to see now

on BillBoggsTV on YouTube.

- Yeah, that's right. Almost anybody you mentioned

will be on BillBoggsTV on YouTube.

I love when people go and subscribe.

- You're a talk show host.

But, really, your role is to be a great listener,

which, of course, you are

and were through all those interviews.

I want to ask you about your latest book,

The Adventures of Spike the Wonder Dog.

He was actually...

This English bull terrier was your dog, right?

- Yeah. It's a book about this kind of dog.

By the way, this is a Spike the Wonder Dog bank.

The first person to buy a thousand copies of the book,

I come to your house to give you this,

stay at your house, cook for dinner for you

and do whatever you want.

Yes. English bull terrier.

I had a dog named Spike...

My talk show in Philadelphia...

It's a dog story.

And it's designed to make you laugh.

And the dog is narrating the story.

And we've had a lot of comedians,

from Andrew Dice Clay, Lisa Lampanelli,

Judy Gold, to name three of several,

really get behind the book. This is the book.

It is an English bull terrier who becomes a huge TV star.

His master is a guy like me named Bud,

so what's loosely patterned on my career,

but the whole point is it's designed to make you laugh.

- It's just a terrific book. And it's an easy read

and it's just fun.

It's like a little ride through Spike's life

and your life combined.

- The thing that makes me really happy is,

in spite of the fact we haven't gotten a review by the...

Philadelphia Inquirer, if you're watching...

- Oh, they need to do that.

- The thing that makes me most happy

is that every single blurb, every single review

mentioned "laugh-out-loud funny".

- Yes. And folks can get it at the bookstores

and online, at Amazon, etc, right?

- It's on Amazon.

It's a hardback, a Kindle and it's also now

available in Audible.

- Well, Bill, I want to thank you so much.

You are like the big brother of talk show hosts,

you know, for all of us who are in the field.

- You've got the real big brother coming up

with Marcus Allen. That man is doing really good work.

I'd like to meet him someday. Thank you very much, Grover.

Good health. You remember, your health is your wealth.

Everything is pinned on that simple fact.

Stay healthy and well.

- You got it, pal. And right back at you.

Thank you so much. Always nice to have a fellow Philadelphian

and Lincoln High School graduate on the show.

Bill Boggs, a pro who discovered early on

that a great talk show host must, by definition,

be a great listener and someone who really savors

what his guests have to say.

My next guest jumped hoops in college and professionally

and afterwards helped others jump hurdles in life.

He is the CEO of Big Brothers, Big Sisters

in the Greater Philadelphia region

and manages the largest one-on-one mentoring program

in the Commonwealth.

It's an honor to welcome Marcus Allen

to Counter Culture.

Marcus, thank you so much for joining us.

- Grover, it is such a pleasure to be here.

I got to tell you, that first interview,

I was so entertained.

Never heard anyone refer to Sophia Loren as being...

That was amazing!

- Thank you.

Well, you know, true to Bill Boggs, of course,

he complimented my next guest, which is you,

you know, saying exactly how I feel,

that what you do is so important

and your organization just serves such a vital role.

Tell us a little bit about Big Brothers, Big Sisters,

leading it for the last, what, since 2013, is it?

- '13, yeah. So Big Brothers, Big Sisters,

I'm leading the affiliate here

in the Greater Philadelphia region,

both Philadelphia, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware Counties,

as well as southern New Jersey, Burlington,

Camden and Gloucester.

Big Brothers, Big Sisters has been doing work in

this community and all over the country

for over 100 years, Grover.

And it's really based on this simple concept

of putting a caring, compassionate adult

in the life of a child who's having some challenges

and helping that child and/or family

navigate those challenges, so that

that child will have better outcomes on the other end.

And we're now serving over 130,000 kids

across the country, and we're working with a number

of corporate partners like Starbucks, like the NFL,

so many corporations and individuals and foundations

who are helping us to put these caring, compassionate adults

in the lives of these children.

We're always trying to grow in our area because we know

that the challenges in the greater Philadelphia area

seem somewhat insurmountable,

when we think about the challenges

that our children and families are experiencing,

particularly now during the pandemic.

And I call it the triple pandemic,

when you think about the pandemic

from a coronavirus perspective,

you think about the pandemic from an economic perspective,

and then you think about the pandemic

from a racial tension perspective.

And so when you add all three of those things together,

organizations like ours and so many other non-profits,

we are like more in need and essential today

more than any other time in my lifetime.

- Some folks might think, "Wow! The CEO, you've got

"the great position."

Is he sort of, you know, separated from the front lines,

from those kids who are out there,

but yet you yourself understand

the experiences they're going through, because as a child,

you also suffered from poverty and a single parent family?

- Am I right? - When I was born,

I never really knew my father,

grew up chronically homeless situations

and my mom was trying to do the best she could to rear

both my brother, my sister and I.

And so my title as CEO has no bearing on my proximity

to the type of situations that many of our families

and our kids are experiencing today.

My childhood, Grover, really defines my passion for people

and the type of work that Big Brother Big Sister does.

And for me, the reason it speaks so deeply to me

is because there was a mentor in my life who was

a police officer at the time, who was one of the first people

that I can remember that told me

that I can actually play sports,

because when I was born, the doctor

told my mom I would never play sports or walk properly

because I had a degenerative bone disease.

And so this mentor said to Marcus, "Marcus, you may not

"be the most talented, you may not be the fastest, you may not

"be the strongest, but you can always outwork folks."

And so for me, him planting

that seed in my head, in my heart,

I think propelled me to try even harder.

And fast forward, I was able to get pretty good in basketball,

but more important than basketball,

I did really well in the classroom and earned

an academic scholarship to go to college.

And then I became decision to play it a year.

And then I was invited to Denver Nuggets

and then I played professionally for seven years,

both in the country and overseas.

And so for me, what Big Brother Big Sister stands for

is this idea of never accepting defeat,

never accepting no, and knowing that every American citizen,

given the right opportunities and access,

can be a success.

And so this work that I do is more than just a job for me.

It is a calling.

It is what I and many others have committed ourselves to,

how do we extinguish poverty?

And now we've added to that

how do we extinguish poverty and racism?

Because in some instances they go hand in hand.

And so this is a mission now of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

And the reason we call ourselves

Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence,

not only because we're situated in Philadelphia, which is home

of independence for this country,

but also independence in terms of

I have children and ultimately I want all four of my kids

to be independent.

And so the kids we serve, we want them

all to be independent as well.

- What do some of the folks who volunteer for this

say to you, you know, what kind of experiences and revelations

do they have after doing it?

- Our mentors are called Bigs, and so when they spend time

with our Littles, who are the mentees,

many times many of them say to us,

I feel like my Little did more for me

- than I did for him or her. - Right.

A year later, two years later,

they're telling me, I am so... I feel

so much better about who I am because of my experience

with my Little. And then to take it a step further,

Many of our Bigs and Littles stay friends and stay involved

with each other for ten, 20, 30, 40 years.

We have many stories that date back to the 60s and 70s where

people were matched through our program and they've been the

best man at their weddings,

they've been involved in the baby showers,

all of these life-changing events.

So we we've taken this hundred years of experience, boiled

it down to this simple concept,

which is, people want to help people.

And given the support, we believe most people would do

- the right thing. - Is it a matter of just

contacting you and then you

help the volunteer find the right person?

You talk about the match?

- One of our biggest challenges right now, we have about 1,200

to 1,500 kids on a waiting list.

We're always looking for adults who want to give back.

And this doesn't take a whole lot of your time to do this.

We say it doesn't take... You don't have to change your life

to change the life of a child.

So it takes anywhere from four to five hours a month

and you commit for at least 12, 12 months to do it.

I have a Little, his name is Nasir.

We've been matched two and a half years now.

What we'll do is he loves basketball.

I'll take him out to play basketball.

We go out for a walk. I may need to wash my car,

so I'll take him with me,

he helps me wash my car.

But in the process of washing the car,

we have a conversation. He's telling me about girls.

He's telling me about all different types of things

that he's experiencing in life

and wanting to get my advice on it.

And so, and he reaches out from time to time,

even outside of the time that we actually meet up.

So, yes, we are always looking for

caring, compassionate adults

who just want to lend their time and lend an ear

to listen to young people who could actually benefit

from their presence and their listening.

I remember when I was growing up, I grew up on PBS

and this is not a shameless plug, but I did.

I grew up watching educational shows on PBS.

And so for me, that set and environment around me

saying, OK, even though I was growing up around drugs

and violence and crime

and being homeless and all of those things, I always knew

that there was a different way to live,

that I just needed to get access to this thing

that would help me to escape poverty and escape

this generational cycle of violence

that I had witnessed growing up.

And I believe every child wants that,

whether they can articulate that or not,

because I couldn't have articulated that

- when I was a child. - Right.

But ultimately, every child wants that.

And I think we all, as adults and American citizens,

have a responsibility to change

the environment in which our kids are growing up.

- That's the perfect way to close out.

Godspeed to you, your colleagues, and all

those wonderful children you serve.

- Thank you, Grover, and Godspeed to you as well.

Thank you to PBS and all the great things you're doing

- in our communities. - Thank you so much.

Marcus Allen, a leader who is inspired by the people who look

to him for inspiration.

My next guest has juggled several roles in her career

as a comedian, a comedy teacher,

a producer of comedy shows, most particularly

as executive producer of The Ladies of Laughter,

the program which gives women of every background the chance

to get up on stage and perform for great crowds

who loves to laugh.

Oh, and as my guest is juggling her many roles,

she's also a juggler who juggles.

Please welcome Peggy Boyce to Counter Culture.

You did take up juggling, didn't you, at one point?

- Absolutely.

Yes, I did.

When I was... I don't know, ten years old.

I grew up in a family with a couple of brothers

and I was a lonely child

and that's always a good thing

when I want to learn how to juggle.

So my mother didn't like it

because I always dropped my pins, my clubs

on the wooden floor above her bedroom.

So she didn't like it at all.

Yeah, I stuck with it.

It was actually a fun little thing to do.

And then when I entered comedy someone said,

that's really, you're pretty good at that.

You should include that in your act.

And then I became a prop act for a couple of years.

Eventually I ended up in the role of producer

of Ladies Of Laughter,

which is basically a platform for women in comedy

to get to the next level in their careers.

And we do a competition, usually every other year,

after the pandemic hit us this year

we didn't do it last summer,

but we're planning on doing the next one virtually

in the first quarter of 2021 and we'll have a new winner.

And so when we pick a new winner, they go out on tour

to theaters all across the country

and perform in front of these fabulous crowds

in beautiful historic theaters.

And it's a real jump up on their career.

It's a real leg up on their career.

I just want to say I'm so honored to be on the same show

as Bill Boggs and Marcus.

- Well, I think they'd say the same about you, Peggy,

because when you're bringing laughter to people,

we need laughter these days, right?

More than ever.

- Oh, yeah.

Right now, more than ever. We definitely do.

And in fact, all of the ladies that I work with,

they're all ready to go.

There's sort of like, you know, it's like the Kentucky Derby

before the horses are ready to break the gate.

Everybody, all the comedians I know, both men and women,

are just ready for the pandemic to be over

and for clubs to be open again and theaters to be open

so we can get up on stage and make people laugh again.

- Exactly. As a comic and a woman yourself,

you understand what, you know,

the participants in the Ladies Of Laughter have gone through,

are going through, will encounter.

I mean, you can empathize.

- You know, it's a very individualized art form

in that you show up, you go to places,

you perform by yourself,

you go on stage by yourself and you leave

and you're alone by yourself.

And what I've tried to do with the Ladies Of Laughter

is create sort of a fun atmosphere where there's

a lot of camaraderie

and people really help each other and support each other

in their careers. And before a show,

you can see a lot of the ladies helping each other

with their punchlines.

"Hey, what do you think about this?

"What do you think about that?"

And it's kind of a nice atmosphere

to be in, a real team environment.

And I've strived to continue that, to keep it going.

I mean, we started this in a YWCA gymnasium back in 1998,

and the following year it went

straight to Caesar's Atlantic City Casino.

So we, we had a big jump right away from a very small venue.

And since then, the program has been produced to some of

the most wonderful arenas around the country,

like Caesar's, like many of the casinos around the country,

as well as Madison Square Garden.

- I couldn't believe it when I read that. Amazing.

- Each year we try to outdo each other,

to outdo the year before.

But, yeah, we're ready to go.

And we've discovered, you know,

a number of really great women in comedy.

Amy Schumer was a contestant, and that was fun.

Melissa Rauch, who was a finalist,

she was a main character in the Big Bang Theory

- for many, many years. - Yes!

Tammy Pescatelli was a winner one year in the Midwest.

Chris Rich, who's a funny lady from Philadelphia.

- Yes, yes, yes. She's great. - Yes.

She was the winner at Caesar's.

And that was a really exciting show.

She came out, it was just amazing night.

And as a result of a lot of these,

as a result of these competitions,

many of the ladies are asked to perform at other venues.

And we had a judge from Comedy Central there that night

that Chris won and she was able to then book

a segment on Comedy Central, which is really great.

- How does it work? I mean, it's a competition,

and yet it feels like all the performers are supported.

- We have two categories.

We have professionals and newcomers, and we have a winner

and then they advance to the final event.

And a lot of the times,

not only does the winner get something special,

which they obviously get a whole slew of bookings

from Ladies of Laughter,

but they also get booked on or get seen by these people

that are in position to really put them

- in something significant. - Right.

So I had mentioned before Comedy Central -

just to be part of it,

if I get to see you and even if you don't win, if I think

you're good enough and I have a slot,

I will put you in some of our touring shows.

- That stage time and working at it and working at it

is how you get good.

- That's how you get good. That's how you find your voice.

We have to get back on stage again because, you know,

that's really how you keep your chops.

You know, we want to be in front of people.

I mean, this virtual stuff is fine for now.

But I think, you know, it does,

it will never replace a live show.

And for comedy, it just doesn't work.

There's something about being in front of a packed

audience, a packed crowd.

- Yes. - People laughing together

and nothing will ever replace that.

Virtually will not replace that.

We had all shows for the fall that were moved to the spring,

And now those shows in the spring

- might be moving even again. - Right.

And so people are just getting really antsy

and not quite sure what to do.

But we've got to get over this pandemic and then,

you know, get everybody back to normalcy.

- That's right. Well, one way they're going to...

- I sound like a politician. - Well, one way we're going

to get back to normalcy is through humor and comedians.

And so please keep on going, doing what you're doing

because we need laughter

and we especially need the Ladies Of Laughter.

Thank you, Peggy.

- That's very sweet of you. Thank you, Grover.

I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on.

- Thank you. - Stay safe.

- You're welcome. Peggy Boyce,

a lady of laughter who cheers on and supports

her sisters in comedy on stages throughout the country.

Well, that's all for this episode.

I want to thank my guests, legendary talk show host

and author of The Adventures of Spike the Wonderdog,

Bill Boggs, the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters

in the Independence Region, Marcus Allen,

and executive producer

of The Ladies of Laughter, Peggy Boyce.

And thank you for joining us tonight.

Don't forget to stop by next week for more amazing guests

and great conversation right here at the counter.


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