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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 nobelity.org.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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,
And thank you for joining us.
Stop in next Tuesday for more amazing guests and conversation
right here at the counter.