Counter Culture


Counter Culture Ep. 6

This week Grover talks with his long-time friend Turk Pipkin, Screenwriter, author and actor; Kira Willey, Children's Singer/Songwriter; and Doug Stevenson, Storyteller.

AIRED: October 13, 2020 | 0:28:29

- Welcome to Counter Culture, a talk show

normally in a diner.

Joining me tonight are the multitalented author, actor

and all around good guy Turk Pipkin.

- I've had really good luck in parts coming along.

It's not easy for a guy who's

six foot seven to disappear into parts.

- Award winning children's singer, songwriter

and yoga expert, Kira Willey.

- It's such a different energy to perform

for an audience of kids.

We love nothing more than going into a school

and performing for 500 kids in a gym.

- And a storyteller with a story to tell.

Doug Stevenson.

- If you know what you're doing with story

it's money in the bank.

It's marketing. It's sales. It's branding. And it works.

- All right here on counter culture.

Welcome to Counter Culture.

We're coming to you from Lehigh Valley Public

Media's studio B.

We'll be here until we return to our original home

at Daddy Pop's Diner in downtown Hatboro.

If you watched the 2004 film version of the Alamo

with Dennis Quaid and Billy Bob Thornton, you'll see one

of the defenders looking over everyone's shoulder.

That's my next guest. Turk Pipkin.

But don't stop there because he also wrote The Tao

of Willie, a New York Times best seller.

He also penned ten other books, directed three

documentaries and about 50 short films.

You might have also seen him on HBO's The Sopranos

or The Leftovers also on HBO.

He's also a clown and a comedian.

And he also found time to co-found with his wife,

Christy, the education nonprofit called

the Nobelity Project. Plus, he's an old friend.

It's a pleasure to welcome Turk Pipkin

to counter culture.

After all that, Turk, how are you?

I'm never gonna live up to that.

I am great, Grover, all things considered.

I have no complaints.

And it's great to see you.

- Oh, same here. It's been a little while.

I know you're coming from your hometown

of Austin, Texas.

I see behind you a photo of our old buddy

Harry Anderson, which is how we got to know one another.

- Harry was our great connection.

Fantastic magician and comedian now gone on

to that great magic castle in the sky.

And not a day goes by that I don't miss him.

- I know. Me too.

- We loved Harry.

- Well, man, you've taken off in various directions,

and done quite well.

When did you get into acting? I mentioned the Alamo.

I was happy to see you there standing among the...

Was it the Tennesseans?

Were you a member of Davy Crockett's group?

- You know, in Texas

people know these little small details.

But I played the leader of what's called the immortal 32,

32 men from Goliad, Texas, who were the one,

when the call goes out to help us defend the Alamo,

this is the one group who actually rode

through the Mexican army lines in the middle of the night

and came to the rescue of the people in the Alamo.

And about 24 hours later, were all killed

for their bravery. But it was a fun movie.

And I was... When we started, we trained for a long time.

I probably had more experience on horseback than most.

But John Lee Hancock, who directed, who's fantastic,

John Lee said "you'll be like the big man at the Alamo."

And I said, I want to be the really big man.

I want to put on some weight.

So I went to Billy Bob Thornton and I said,

how do you put on all that weight for a movie?

He said, Oh, it's easy.

Just somebody has a burger, you eat two.

If they have a beer, you have two.

Whatever it is, you have two.

So the whole time we were training, we were also

partying and having fun. And I put on 40 pounds.

- Wow.

- And I was really, really big.

Which looked great on camera.

Had all this huge facial hair and beard...

When the movie was over, I went back to Billy Bob

and said, OK, how do I lose the weight?

And he went, Oh, that's the hard part.

- That's for sure.

Get your friends to lock you in a small room

with just cigarettes for like two weeks.

You know, I started acting, the first movie I did,

I got my SAG card on a movie with Dennis Quaid

and Ellen Barkin way back.

I was actually playing at the Laff Stop in Houston

and I was at breakfast one morning with a buddy of mine

and I looked out at a line, an audition line

and went, I'm going to go see what that's for.

I walked up the front and said, I'm a comic,

I'm playing in town, can I audition for this movie?

And they said, yeah, go right in.

- Really? - So I got my SAG guard.

Of course I did The Sopranos and The Leftovers for HBO.

And those were just good luck.

I've had really good luck in parts coming along.

It's not easy for a guy who's six foot seven

to disappear into parts.

- And I noticed reading the Tao of Willie, which is one

of your many best selling books...I think,

is that your most recent one?

- Well, the Tao of Willie, it was the most...certainly

at that level of publication.

I also publish this Pipkins book of every other month club,

I publish six books in a year.

And that was a really eclectic bunch of books.

But the book with Willie Nelson, the Dao of Willie,

I feel like it really... I mean, I wrote it with Willie

and it really gets to the heart of why Willie is so magical,

not just his music, but as a person.

You know, he is one of the most iconic, if not

the most iconic American.

And it's a beautiful book.

Everyone who meets him is like, "Oh, my God, Willie.

"He was listening so closely."

You know, it creates a level of generosity

over this person who leaves $100 tip for fried eggs.

- Right. - For years.

And love is the second thing he really sort of lives by.

And those are great.

Those are great models to try to live up to for any of us.

- I saw the film where you are playing chess

with Willie, and he seems to apply some

of that philosophy in his game.

He is a wicked chess player.

So I directed this feature at Nobelity,

which is a look at the world's

problems based on interviews with Nobel laureates.

And when you make a movie about problems,

it did very well,

and I soon realized everybody expects you to make

a movie about solutions.

So the next movie was One Peace At A Time and more Nobel

laureates, but people I felt should win a Nobel Prize.

And so Willie was in there and we talked about life

in general and the problems of the world and a lot

about the environment

while playing a game of chess

and carrying on a conversation while playing chess

with Willie is really hard.

- And speaking of the Nobelity project,

you created the nonprofit.

- When we made the first film, Nobelity, it did really well

and we realized even before we'd finished shooting

the film, and I think I was interviewing Desmond Tutu

and it was just such an alive, amazing experience,

and he was giving us his time,

and I sort of realized then that, you know,

we were making a movie for profit.

We had an investor and I went back to the investor almost

immediately after and said, I've got bad news.

We don't want to sell the movie for profit.

We want to form a nonprofit that's dedicated to education

and the environment.

And the investor who had put a lot of money

into this film said okay.

I'm in, I'll be your first donor.

- Wow. - And he basically wrote off

the whole cost of this movie to found this organization.

So we've made about close to 100 short films about global

issues, three features. But we have education

projects in Texas and in Latin America

and especially in Kenya.

We have about 50 schools

we've built all or part of in rural Kenya.

I have a lot of frequent flier miles.

- I've seen a number of the photos and video from Kenya

with the schools and the libraries, donations

of books to create these libraries

and all of these resources for these young people

in this Kenyan village.

- You know, we started with one school

and then the neighboring schools said, wow,

we'd like to have a school like that.

And then we just kept spreading and spreading.

We needed a library.

So we did a book drive and we shipped.

at one point we shipped like 40,000 books to Kenya.

But we also learned that shipping books is,

you know, there's a lot of carbon impact of shipping

books and a lot of people donate books that are good

and a lot of people donate books

they just want to get off their bookshelf.

And we're also, when you take, it's a little bit

like when you ship clothing overseas, the best thing

you can do is buy books in Kenya that are published

in Kenya, support the economy there.

Same thing when we build buildings, we don't

helicopter in something we built someplace else.

We hire workers on the ground.

We build really quality buildings.

So we ended up, we've found an education partner,

publishing partner in Kenya.

They even published a kid's book that I wrote

over there in English and Kiswahili,

a dual language book.

So we have stocked,

I don't know, maybe 40 libraries with books

that have come through our partner,

and they're, you know, they're in English,

but they're also in Swahili and Kiswahili.

So the kids can, they're getting the most bang

for the buck for their education that way.

- How can folks help you out with that?

With the Nobelity project?

Oh, thanks for asking.

So it's Nobelity.

We've kind of recoined the word nobility

with the Nobel Prize, for

And there you can watch these films.

Most of it's available there free or on our YouTube

channel or on our Vimeo channel.

You can sponsor a kid, you can make a donation,

or you can just have fun and learn a little bit

about the world. - Turk, thank you so much.

- Thanks, Grover. Good luck.

- Good catching up with you. You too.

Turk Pipkin, who couldn't decide what he wanted to do

when he grew up.

So he decided to do everything as long as it was fun

and it helped others.

I'm tapping my toe right now, just thinking

about my next guest.

She'll bring out the kid in you that's for sure.

She's an award winning children's music artist,

author, kids yoga and mindfulness expert

and the creator of Rockin Yoga School program.

She also wrote Colors, which was featured

in a worldwide Dell ad campaign.

Hey, it's a pleasure to welcome Tara Willey

- to the counter. - Hey.

- How are you? - Thanks, Grover.

- Good to see you. - It's so nice to see you.

It's nice to see you, too.

- We are used to seeing each other in our PBS station.

- I miss seeing you guys around.

I can't wait till we can get back to in person.

- Right, exactly.

So how did you bring music, movement, mindfulness

and children all together?

- I'm a lifelong musician.

I'm actually a classically trained violinist.

If you can believe it.

And I started teaching music after college.

And then I got interested in yoga and I started teaching

yoga to kids using music

because music came so naturally to me.

So that brought the movement and the music together.

The kids responded so beautifully to having me

sing the instructions in a yoga class as opposed

to just saying them.

And then as I began to work in schools quite a lot, I saw

the need for simple mindfulness in schools.

And I, having the movement and the music training already,

saw how the three could come together

to really engage kids.

And so now everything I do weaves

those three ends together.

- Yeah. And you talk about kids are natural movers.

But with the technology we have, with computers,

obviously there's a risk that kids are living

a sedentary life.

- Kids are getting, you know, plugged in and getting phones

at earlier and earlier ages.

Much of school is online.

Games are online, the shows they want to watch are online.

And so it's tough to get even young kids enough movement

that they need during the day just to be healthy.

So part of what I do is encourage that natural

movement that's so good for kids.

It also helps their brains work.

It primes their brains for learning, you know.

And it just plain puts everybody in a better mood,

you know, gets the cranky out.

So it's really important.

So it's a huge part of what I try to bring to kids.

- Tell us a little bit about your rockin yoga program.

- Rockin yoga is a blast.

I bring a band, we set up in the school's gym

or cafeteria or auditorium, and it's 45 minutes of totally

interactive music, movement and mindfulness fun.

So we play tons of songs.

We do call and response and rhythm games.

We have singalongs.

We have dancing.

I teach simple and fun yoga poses in between the songs.

I teach easy mindfulness exercises

in between the songs.

There's never a time like maybe during a typical

assembly where the kids are just sitting on the floor

staring at me. They're up and they're moving

and they're interacting the entire time.

And I always encourage teachers and staff

to really participate as well.

And I find that once I get them going,

they really want to and enjoy participating.

And so it's just a very unique, participatory

experience where they come away, you know,

having had this wonderful musical experience, but also

learning a little bit of yoga and a little bit of simple

mindfulness, to help them calm themselves

down and release some stress.

- One of the songs that you wrote that sort of operates

on that theme is Breathe Like a Bear. Right?

I think I see your book behind your back.

- Yes. That's my first book

that came out two years ago.

It has 30 simple mindfulness exercises in it.

So they each just take about a minute to do.

Beautifully illustrated.

So it's fun for kids to even just look through.

Breathe Like a Bear is actually a simple mindfulness exercise

called bear breath.

Imagine you're a bear hibernating for the winter.

Take a long breath in through your nose.

Let it all the way out.

And so you take long, slow, deep breaths in and out

through your nose.

- Try one, Grover. - OK.

- Just let it all the way out. Right.

And if you keep doing that even for 30 seconds

and you imagine you're hibernating in your cozy, warm

cave, it's a way for children to calm themselves down,

to soothe themselves, to let go of some of the stress

and anxiety that unfortunately a lot of kids carry.

And it's fun, since it's using a kid friendly concept

that they can completely relate to.

They love to do it.

- These exercises, I would think, are even more critical

now than even before the pandemic.

- For sure. We are hearing from a lot of teachers

that their students, very young children,

are really struggling with anxiety. Right?

Because this situation, it's not one

specific incident that's happened.

It's this long, drawn out disruption of daily life

that no one, you know, you don't kind of know what's

going to happen tomorrow or next week

or when it might end.

And so we've heard from a lot of teachers who are struggling

to figure out remote learning

and parents who are figuring out homeschooling,

you know, what can I do to help my child,

you know, calm themselves down and let go of some

of this anxiety and just kind of roll with what's going on?

And simple mindfulness like you can find in my book

or many other wonderful resources out there

will really help. And it does not need to be

hard and it doesn't need to take a long time.

It literally can be imagining you're a bear in a cave for

30 seconds or a minute or a couple of minutes,

and you'd be amazed at just bringing in that long,

slow, deep breathing,

how effective it is at helping kids, and you, grownups,

to calm down.

- It's something we can do together actually.

♪ I am green today

- And another big one of yours is colors,

which actually was adopted by Dell Computer people as part

of an ad campaign. Is that right?

- Yes. So they put it in an ad for their laptops.

That was actually featured on primetime TV quite a bit.

And, you know, kind of went around the world online

and has since been used for various other things.

So that was a great door opener for me.

I mean, to have a song in a big commercial

like that is really a boon to any independent musician.

And it led to lots of other great things.

So that was really a lucky break for me.

- Not only do you get to perform for kids,

but you get to keep that child inside very much alive.

- It's such a different energy to perform

for an audience of kids.

It can be intimidating at first, because let me tell

you, they will let you know what they think.

We love nothing more than going into a school

and performing for 500 kids in a gym, and we can't wait

to do it again.

Hopefully they'll come back soon.

- Have you been doing some virtual performances?

- Yes. So I've done some online performances

and we are about to film a virtual assembly and start

doing live virtual assemblies as well.

You know, it's not the same without that give and take.

But I think we will reimagine it

and do our best with the virtual platform

until we can get back to kids in person.

There's still a lot that we can we can give online.

So we've got a lot of requests this fall.

So we're gonna start making that happen.

- Your music and your movement and your programs

are all about the imagination.

So thanks so much and keep up the good work and keep

those kids entertained and mindful,

- along with their parents. - All right.

Thank you so much, Grover, and thank you for having me.

- You're welcome, Kira. Thank you.

Kira Willey.

She might not have you seeing colors, but she sure

will have you singing colors.

- When I was in Hollywood

trying to make it as a movie star,

how did I do?

Not so well.

- What's your story?

Don't have one?

Well, according to my next guest, everyone

has a story to tell.

No two are alike.

But sometimes you might need some basic guidelines

to tell your story the way it deserves to be told.

He's the founder of Story Theater International.

Please welcome storyteller Doug Stevenson.

Hi, Doug. How are you?

- Grover, good to be with you today.

- Yeah, same here, I must say, you look like a storyteller.

- We all look like a storyteller.

- I suppose.

Yeah, because we all are storytellers. Right?

I mean, some people feel, oh, I can't tell a story,

but you're here to say you can and you should.

Stories are the most powerful communication tool we have.

They build a bridge between you and your customer,

you and your employees, you and your listener,

you and your kids. Whatever it is that you need to do,

persuade, sell, market, influence, story is the most

effective communication tool we've got.

- And your background is in theater

and standup comedy?

- I started acting at 19 in Chicago

and I did some theater.

I was the original Danny Zuko in the original Chicago

production of Grease, and I thought that I was such

a big deal that I had to get to Hollywood.

So I hitchhiked to Hollywood and spent 13 years out

there doing a lot of theater, trying to get

into movies and TV.

And the interesting connection that I have with you and Turk

in terms of standup comedy is I was always told

by my friends, you're so funny, because I was generally

the comic relief in a play, and people kept telling me

"you should do standup", but I couldn't figure out

what I would do, what I would talk about,

I didn't I didn't feel like I had any material.

But then one night I was in a theater group

where we did these really crazy theater exercises

at a Vanguard Theater group, and the exercise

was called Outer Theater.

Go out into the community and do something

that you'd never do, something that scary, something

that's a risk.

So me and my partner went streaking in Westwood

and we got arrested naked.

Well, the next morning, I tell you, I woke up and I thought,

I finally have some standup comedy material.

And so I booked myself into the Comedy Store

on open mic night up on Sunset Strip.

And I got up there and I told the story...

No laughs.

So I went to another comedy club in and I did five comedy

clubs and I never got a laugh.

Well, 20 years later, I had left Hollywood.

I finally realized I'm not going to make it.

This isn't working for me. I'm not happy.

I moved to Colorado Springs.

I was in real estate.

I was starting to give some speeches just to kind

of... Because I discovered that speaking was a thing

that people do at Rotary Clubs and other clubs.

And one night I was at the Pikes Peak Library

and I was doing a presentation on presentation skills,

without even thinking about it,

I just blurted out, hey, do you guys want to hear

a funny Hollywood story?

Well, I'm in Colorado Springs, of course,

they're like, Hollywood story. Yeah.

I started acting it out because I was starting

to have some fun. And I'm like, here I come.

And I'm running down the street and I'm streaking.

And you get arrested.

"Oh, my God, freeze."

And I'm acting all of this stuff out.

And while I'm telling the story, Grover, the people

in the audience were laughing so hard

tears were coming down those faces.

And I'm thinking, what am I doing?

This is working. This is amazing.

And as I got in the car and I drove home,

I was analyzing what was different between what I did

in Hollywood and what I just did.

Well, in Hollywood, I stood still, as you know,

with you know, comedy clubs,

a lot of times there's a microphone on a stand

and you stand still and you tell.

In Colorado Springs, I became the story.

I acted it out.

And that was the beginning, without me really realizing it,

of the story theater method, the combination

of storytelling, form and structure.

- Right. - Acting, acting it out.

Comedy, drama. Silence, pause.

And branding, message branding, with what I now call

the phrase that pays.

And so out of this story that I told about going

streaking and getting out of my Volkswagen bus

and running down the street, and the phrase

that pays, the story,

the point of this story was get out of the bus,

because the crisis of the story, the challenge

of the streaking story was I was in the back

of my Volkswagen bus with this other guy, George,

and we'd stripped down to our shoes.

And this was the moment of choice.

Do we bail out or do we take the risk?

And at the end, I say what I learned

from that experience is, get out of the bus.

- Right. - So now, 25 years later,

I have been all over the world,

18 countries, major corporations

and associations, professional speaking.

My book, you know, the story theater method that I got,

all of this stuff has happened because I finally mastered

the art of storytelling, and then people started

to ask me to teach them how.

- Now I've got a business. - Right.

And these are people from all walks of life.

- I'm here to give you tools that you can use.

Would that work for you?

I work with sales people.

I work with marketing teams.

I work with healthcare providers.

I work with highly technical people,

a lot, IT departments, engineers.

They know that they need it because their brain is wired

to do data. And the listener is thinking,

I don't need to know how it works.

I need to know why I should buy it and how it will help my

business. And I integrate into my process..

So let me give you an idea what I mean.

I have this story that I've used hundreds of times

to build and grow my business.

And it's the story of the first time as an adult in Hollywood

I decided I needed to get a dog.

And so I got this little black lab puppy.

I named her Jiah and I raised her.

But at two years of age, she got sick.

All of a sudden it's like, wait a minute, she doesn't

want to eat dinner.

So I took her to the vet and the vet said,

yes, your dog's got a little doggie cold.

I'm going to give you these pills.

She told me how you give a dog a pill.

Never done it before.

But I thought sounds pretty cut and dried. At dinner time.

I called Jiah over and I said, Jiah, come here.

The doctor said I need to pry open your mouth, shove

the pill way down into the back of your throat,

hold your mouth closed, and then you're going

to swallow the pill.

And so I did that.

I shoved the pill down and I held her mouth

and I stared at her and she stared at me.

And I couldn't tell if she'd swallowed it or not.

But finally, after a minute, I thought, I guess

she swallowed it.

So I let her mouth go and she spit the pill up.

Everybody has ever had a dog knows exactly

what I'm talking about. And I called my friend John.

John said, get a scoop of peanut butter, stick

it in the palm of your hand.

Hide the pill in the peanut butter.

Hold it down to the dog.

She'll probably like the peanut butter.

So I did that and...

She swallowed the pill.

She ate the peanut butter and she swallowed the pill.

What a cool thing, hide the pill in the peanut butter.

What has this got to do with business?

20 years later, I'd left Hollywood.

I'm now a professional speaker, teaching

storytelling and business.

That morning I had given my third black lab her pill

because she was sick.

A half hour later, I'm on the phone with a pharmaceutical

company who is talking to me about hiring me to teach

storytelling to their salespeople.

She actually said the words, we have a pill, but we feel

like we're shoving it down people's throats.

I sat there, you know what? Story is like peanut butter.

It's very tasty. It's very sticky.

Your data, your facts, your science, your compliance

is the pill.

What I can teach you how to do

is hide the pill in the story butter.

She sat there for a second.

She said, Oh, my God.

That's exactly what we need.

We need somebody to teach us how to hide the pill

in the peanut butter.

You're the first one was actually said,

we can have the science

and the compliance and the story.

We can blend them together.

She hired me. And over the next four years,

that story became worth $85,000.

- Wow. - What's your story worth?

If you know what you're doing

with story, it's money in the bank.

It's marketing. It's sales.

It's branding.

And it works.

It works to influence, persuade, sell, market,

whatever you want.

I was starting to really get worried for your dog!

That really demonstrated your book in a nutshell.

People don't just listen to story, they participate.

Just like you said, I was starting to feel sorry

for your dog and worried for your dog.

You're not just listening to this story.

You're an active participant.

And that's why story is so powerful.

- There you go.

Doug, thanks so much.

Keep telling stories and keep helping others

tell their stories.

- Thanks so much. - Thank you, Grover.

It's been a pleasure to be with you.

- Great book. Thank you.

Doug Stevenson, a man who can help you get from

once upon a time to they lived happily ever after

without a hitch.

Well, that's all for this episode of counter culture.

I want to thank my guests, the founder of the Nobelity

Project and the author of The Dao of Willie,

actor, comic and writer Turk Pipkin.

Award winning children's singer songwriter Kira Willey.

And the founder of Story Theater International,

Doug Stevenson.

And thank you for joining us.

Stop in next Tuesday for more amazing guests and conversation

right here at the counter.


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