Counter Culture Ep. 7
Counter Culture: A talk show in a diner with PBS39's Grover Silcox. This week's guests are Jack Dugan, Owner of the Doylestown Escape Room; Marjorie Winther, Storyteller; and Chris Coccia, Comedian.
-Welcome to "Counter Culture," a talk show in a diner.
On this episode of "Counter Culture,"
I welcome Doylestown Escape Room owner Jack Dugan...
-Escape rooms are a great form of art,
because it's a form of art that interacts back.
-...and creative storyteller Marjorie Winther.
-I tried to get into prison,
and I kept setting off the metal detector.
And there were these Mafia wives in the waiting room.
They were like, "Honey, are you wearing an underwire?"
-Plus, comedian Chris Coccia.
-It sounds like I competed against dogs and cats.
You know, I won some money and, uh, kibble.
-All right here on "Counter Culture."
Welcome to "Counter Culture," a talk show in a diner.
I'm your host, Grover Silcox,
coming to you from Daddypops Diner
in beautiful downtown Hatboro.
You know, if you're ever stuck in a maze --
can't find your way out --
you might want to call my first guest.
He and his wife, Heather, design and create escape rooms.
You know, for entertainment, recreation, team building,
and just plain ol' family fun.
Jack Dugan, welcome to the counter.
-Thanks Grover, glad to be here. -So, how'd this all get started?
Did you get lost at the mall when you were a kid?
-I got lost at K-Mart when I was a kid,
but the blue light led me home, so...
-Oh, during the Blue Light Special.
Well, there you go.
Maybe we should give a definition for an escape room,
for those who haven't experienced one yet.
What is an escape room?
-Sure, so, an escape room is a live-action adventure game
where a team of players
are entered into a themed room or rooms.
And they are immersed in a story
where they have to accomplish a specific goal or mission,
or maybe even solve a mystery while they're in the room.
-Now, do these people come together,
or are they individuals
who happen to be put together in this situation?
-So, typically, a group comes with friends, family,
So, typical groups arrive together,
and they undergo the activity together.
But, sometimes we do have mixed groups, but not very often.
-And where are your escape rooms?
How many do you have, and what's their location?
-Yeah, so, I have five escape rooms in Doylestown Borough.
Our main location is on South Main Street in Doylestown,
and I have three escape rooms in Chestnut Hill
neighborhood of Philadelphia.
We have three different themes there.
-Who helps you with this?
Now, your wife, Heather, and do you have children?
-It's definitely a family business.
My wife, Heather, and I run the business on a day-to-day basis.
Customers almost always have an interaction with Heather or I
when they call or stop in.
We also have thirteen employees
His name's Keanu.
and my stepdaughter, Gabrielle, who's 26.
-Wow, you got the whole family involved.
who game master our various rooms for us.
And my son also works for us, who just turned
-It's a whole team.
It's exactly what we wanted from the start.
-How did you get into this? -Yeah, so, um...
-You weren't really at a Blue Light Special.
So, I spent 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry.
-And a few years ago, we were on a family vacation,
and we were looking for an activity
that the whole family can enjoy.
-Right. -Grandkids, kids,
parents, the whole deal.
So, we stumbled across an escape room, had a total blast,
and we knew that Doylestown Borough,
for all the attractions that it has, with culture
and food and drink and history and retail shopping,
really needed a live-action entertainment experience.
So, we decided to take that great experience
and bring it home to Doylestown Borough.
-And that was when Doylestown Escape Rooms started.
-Tell me a little bit about the themes
that you have at your escape rooms.
-Yeah, so, our goal at our escape rooms
is to have a variety of different themes
that appeal to people of all ages and interests.
-Right, so we have everything from an adventure
in your grandma's attic,
to an interview with a serial killer,
to coming face to face with a ghost,
to finding your rock star friend's guitar pick
before the biggest concert of his life.
So, basically, we have themes that make you laugh,
themes that make you cry,
themes that make your pulse pound.
And at the end of the day,
all of the themes will bring you group closer together
and make some great memories. -Uh-huh, and you're sort of --
you're locked in a single room, is that it?
Or is it a number of adjoining rooms?
-So, that's a good question.
So, we don't actually lock people in rooms.
Folks can leave at any time. -Well, that's reassuring.
-Yeah, no one's actually locked in,
but you have a specific mystery that you need to solve
before your time runs out, which is 60 minutes,
or a specific mission to accomplish.
It's really about getting -- accomplishing the mission
or solving the mystery before your time runs out.
People come to escape,
but they leave talking about their time together in the room,
which is really the important thing.
-Right, and so you have become like a scriptwriter?
I mean, you started out in the pharmaceutical business.
-I don't assume that you were writing,
you know, themes like this for, you know, RX medications.
-Yeah, you know,
they say necessity drives invention, right?
-So, when I left the pharmaceutical industry,
I needed a plan for the second half of my life.
So, we decided that we were gonna be artists.
And escape rooms are a great form of art,
because it's a form of art that interacts back.
So you can go to a museum and look at a painting, right?
And the panting might bring about certain feelings
or emotions in you.
In an escape room, however, you can actually physically,
and even emotionally interact with the art.
-Uh-huh. -And we feel it's really unique,
and it's a great way to make a living as an artist.
-These themes, do you you come up with them yourself?
-We write, design, build,
and produce our own escape rooms.
Every escape room starts with a great story.
So, we'll usually write a great story
that we think people will like. -Uh-huh.
-And then, we'll usually start to build the puzzles
and the challenges and the mysteries around that story.
And then we start to get the physical props and technology
to bring those puzzles to life.
And then we put everything together
in a meticulously designed set.
So, one of our escape rooms is like a professional movie set,
except for the players are the star of the show.
-Right. Do you get instructions before you go in --
some pre-flight instructions?
-You do get some instructions to set the stage,
and some rules. -Uh-huh. Right.
-Our escape rooms are unique because your game master --
um, where at some escape rooms the game master
is in a separate room kind of talking to you over a speaker --
-Right, in kind of a little control room type thing.
At my escape room, your game master is a live actor
that actually goes into the adventure with you
and is a live part of the experience.
-Let's solve this mystery together.
-So you have someone in there to support you
and enhance the experience the whole time.
-And where do they -- what kind of clues do they have?
Like in the serial killer room.
-Often, the puzzles involve finding different pieces
and combining that information to come up
with a solution to a problem.
So, it really relies on creativity, resourcefulness,
and, most importantly, communication between teammates.
Every day, I see family, friends,
and coworkers impress each other with their creativity.
And it's great to hear people leave and say, "You know what?
I didn't know you were so smart."
Or, "I never knew you were so creative,"
or, "Wow, you were awesome in there,"
and that's what we really want people to walk away with --
an appreciation for the people that they came with.
-And where do you go to escape from your escape rooms?
-You know, this is really a unique situation
where my hobby is my work, right?
-So, building escape rooms, building props,
is really what I do for fun.
It happens to be what I do for business,
but the thing I love most, of course,
is spending time with my family -- vacations, getaways.
Living in Doylestown Borough creates so many great
opportunities for family time. -Right.
-Walks in town, different restaurants, different shops.
So, we spend most of our time right in the borough
just loving every minute of it.
-Wow, well that's one mystery you've solved --
family time is the most important time.
-[ Laughs ] Jack, thanks for joining us at the counter.
We'll give you some clues as to how to get out of the diner
and on your way back to Doylestown.
-Thanks, appreciate that. -Jack Dugan,
escape room designer and creator.
My next guest performs a classic American art form --
She shares this passion with such notables
as Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, and even Dorothy Parker,
although she was good at the one-liners, too.
She is an award-winning storyteller,
and it is a pleasure to welcome to the counter Marjorie Winther.
Marjorie. -Hey, Grover, nice to see you.
-Very good to see you.
-Can I just say something about Dorothy Parker?
-Yes. -'Cause I love her,
but it always bothered me that, growing up,
my only role model was a suicidal alcoholic.
-Dorothy Parker, yeah, she had a few problems.
-She did. -But maybe that's what it takes
to come up with great one-liners.
-Maybe. -But you're a storyteller.
-I am. -So, if I start by saying,
"It was a dark and stormy night,"
where would you go with that? -Nowhere.
[ Both laugh ]
How did that line become the quintessential bad opening line?
-Right, yeah, how did that become?
-It's not really that bad.
Perhaps it was a dark and stormy night.
Why is that just like "pfft"?
-That's right, because if it's true,
then it belongs in the story.
nights are dark and stormy. -Uh-huh.
-And I don't like to drive in the rain, it's very scary.
-Oh, boy, now we're really getting into it.
-It's very scary.
-So what kind of storyteller are you?
Are there different types?
-Well, I suppose, because a lot of people think storytelling --
Hansel and Gretel, fairy tales, children.
-Yes, I know I do. -This is not children's stories.
-The stories that I do are part of story slams,
and the rule is, 5 minutes, true.
A lot of stories are just an ordinary day
where you learned something, you know?
So it doesn't always have to be drama, it could be
that you lost your keys and you were on
your way somewhere. I mean, it --
-Right, these are first-person narratives, right?
-Yeah, and they're true and what happened,
and the way that I look at a story is something happens --
well, there's a person, there's a setting, there's a place,
and then something happens, and then, now you have a hat.
Do you know what I mean?
Like, you can't be the same at the end of the story...
-Right, you have to go through something.
-...as you were at the beginning of the story...
-Right. -...or what's the point?
-Creating a story is hard work. -It's hard fun.
-It's hard fun, that's a great way to put it.
But, yeah, it takes not too much conscious thought,
like you can get in your own way if you think about it too much.
-Right. -Like, you've got to let
the idea come, let the idea bubble, and just write, write --
I still use a pen. -Anyone I write something,
I like to send the editor in my brain away.
-You have to. -And then just let it write.
And then the next day, the editor comes back.
-Yeah, yeah, and I'll even have that as my header,
"sucky first draft," because you have to
give yourself permission to be terrible.
Because it won't be terrible eventually.
-Exactly. -But it is terrible at first.
-Right, everything needs honing. -Yeah.
-Did you do this as a kid?
Were you a storyteller as a child?
-Um, not, like, formally,
but I always could make my father laugh.
If I could make him laugh, I didn't get in any trouble,
which is a little tough for stand-up
'cause my dad likes jokes that most people don't like,
'cause he's just a kind of a weirdo.
He likes numbers, he likes math, he likes --
Like, I used to do a joke that no one liked except my dad,
and it was about -- This actually --
I was in a bar once, and someone was hitting on me
and told me he was 1/3 Italian.
And I was like -- I lost interest in him as a man
and became obsessed with him as a math problem.
Like, you could be a 1/2, or a 1/4, or 3/8.
You know, you could, like, asymptotically approach 1/3.
And, see, my dad thought that was hilarious.
-So, tell me something about the slams now.
You won, what, two slams already?
-Well, I win a lot of slams, but then, when you win a slam,
all the winners for the year compete in a grand slam.
So you're competing against the other winners,
and I've won a couple of those,
and that gives you the title "Best Storyteller."
I recommend, everyone watching this show,
go to a story slam and put your name in.
Don't be afraid. -Who judges?
-They pick judges out of the audience.
People, when they're coming in, they say,
"Do you want to be a judge?"
-And how many would there be all together?
-There's always three, and you get two scores --
one for performance, one for content.
-Right. -And, Grover, if I can brag,
my very first story, I got six 10s.
-Wow. -Yeah, and that was the story
where I said my life had fallen apart.
I had gotten a phone call at work.
I had been married a long time to kind of a...
nice, was fine...
-Yeah, didn't appreciate your storytelling, was that it?
-He was a nice -- But I get a phone call, it was my son.
"Hey, uh, mom, the FBI's here." [ Laughs ]
So I told that whole story of what it -- your life is --
you're just this regular, middle-class person,
and suddenly, you're dealing with federal prison.
And the first story was about trying to...
[Laughing] ...trying to get in to see him,
because it was like none of this made sense to me.
-Wow. -He was Mr. Boy Scout,
how is this even -- Tried to get into prison,
and I kept setting off the metal detector.
And I -- It was like "boop."
I'm like, "What?" You know, "boop." "What?"
Like, why am I --
And there were these Mafia wives in the waiting room.
They're like, "Honey, are you wearing an underwire?"
-And is this the story you told that won you the slam?
-That was my first, yeah. -Wow.
-"Take off your bra," you know, it's like --
-Wow. So your story about the slammer won you the slam.
-Oh! Oooooh. -Hey!
Now, you did stand-up comedy at one time
and still dabble in it a bit?
-I do. -What's the difference?
-You know what I do with stand-up?
I never bookmark it myself at all.
The only time I do is if my friend Paul Lyons,
who you had, he says, "You want to open for me?"
I'm like, "Okay."
So I don't, like, do any of the marketing.
-But what's the difference?
We were talking earlier. Comedy --
I mean, storytelling, the laughter comes from truth.
It comes from vulnerability. -Right.
-It comes from authenticity,
and you don't need to exaggerate.
Comedy -- there's no expectation of truth.
A horse did not walk into a bar.
-There's no expectation of truth.
The expectation is exaggeration and reversals and surprise --
-Caricature, big... -Yeah, yeah.
-...putting things out of proportion. Yes.
-Tension and release, tension and release.
And this is something I struggle with --
-And you're waiting for a laugh every six seconds.
-And you need that. -Right.
-You need that, whereas, a story --
oh, Grover, can I tell you,
there have been times when I've written a story
and I'm like, "I'm not gonna go for jokes.
This is a sad story,"
and I'll be literally weeping as I write it.
Just weeping. I'm gonna tell this sad story.
Then I get up there, and it's hilarious.
-And you didn't even think that you were going to be
telling a hilarious story.
-I'm just telling what happened, and people --
it was one about I was dating an alcoholic,
and we were gonna go to dinner,
but he couldn't find his pants, you know.
And the audience is laughing, and I'm like...
-That is kind of funny. -But it's not.
I didn't write it to be funny,
I wrote it to be pathos. -Right.
Yes, well, comedy is all rooted in tragedy.
We know that, right?
-It is. -Yeah.
-But let me tell you what's exactly the same,
and I'm just now exploring this as an artist, is pausing.
-Oh, the power of the pause. -Oh.
-Yes. -Like, you can just stop.
-Well, you know what?
I'm gonna pause right here to thank you
for coming to "Counter Culture."
-Perfect segue. -You are terrific.
-Lovely to be here. -Wow.
Marjorie Winther, award-winning storyteller.
My next guest is an old comedy pal --
an outstanding stand-up comedian.
A popular favorite on 102.9 WMGK,
the "Morning Show" with John DeBella
in the greater Philadelphia area.
He's been on Comedy Central, and he was the 2008 winner
of the Purina Pet Comedy Challenge.
Not many people can say that.
I'd like to welcome to the counter Mr. Chris Coccia,
your headliner, ladies and gentleman.
-Thank you so much, thank you.
-Not everyone can say they won the Purina Pet Comedy Challenge.
-I know, I was thrown off by "old."
My old friend, an old comic... -That's right.
Well, not as old as me, so you're a lock there.
-The Purina Pet Co--
I-I tell people not even to say that as a credit,
because it's so confusing.
Nobody has any idea what it -- It ran for, like, three years.
It sounds like I competed against dogs and cats maybe.
-I beat a Jack Russell out, yeah.
-There's nothing in the title that indicates anything
about what it could have been, so, yeah.
It was great -- the money was great.
That was it.
I won some money and kibble, and that's about it.
-Yeah, hey, what more could you ask for, right?
-What really -- What more could you --
In this business, yeah, money and kibble.
Hey, they feed us!
-You know, Chris, I have to tell you,
I had an opportunity to see you perform last weekend.
-That's right. -And as always, I'm just amazed
at how comfortable you are on stage,
and how it just seems as though you're just chatting
with the audience over the most sometimes mundane things,
but everyday things that people can relate to.
How do you create that atmosphere?
-So, by the way, here's the funny thing,
I thought you were gonna -- "How comfortable you are
on stage and how uncomfortable you seem in real life?
Why are you such a nervous wreck?"
-Well, some performers are more comfortable on stage...
-I'm much more comfortable on stage.
I am absolutely.
But, the -- I-I just, you know what?
I was not always that way.
I mean, we've been working together for years,
known each other for years in comedy.
I was the most nervous person --
I was terrified of getting up stage.
I can't tell you how many times --
literally, like, in the hallway to the stage
or to the backstage, where I thought,
"I could just turn around and run home."
Finally, at -- we're talking like, five years in, I was like,
"Okay, you have to be okay with these people being here,
'cause as you get more successful,
there might be more people."
-It's usually one of the indicators.
"Hey, look at that, the second row filled in."
So, I finally -- I forced myself,
and literally, this is what I did --
I just looked at one person in the audience and went,
"Hi, how are you?"
And that was like, if they were like "Okay,"
then I was like, oh, okay, we can go to the next.
"How are you doing?"
So, it kind of evolved out of that.
It was like I started talking to people,
and it made me feel more relaxed,
because it was like "Okay, okay, they're not out to get me."
There would be times that I would be getting a big laugh,
and my first thought was "Oh, is my zipper down?
Are they laughing at me, is that it?
They're not laughing at the jokes.
I must have -- Maybe I spilled something on me."
It was just this ridiculous -- -Right.
-It took me years and years to get over that.
And, like I said, that talking to the audience
and making it conversational
was what really helped me to get comfortable on stage.
-Right. Well, your act is so strong --
I mean, your material is so good.
That's your strength. That has your back.
That's what makes you feel confident.
-The problem I run into sometimes is,
because I like talking to the audience,
I get so invested in their stories.
And finding out, I'm like, "Oh, no" --
I look around and the audience is like,
"Uh, can we be included?"
And I'm like, "Oh, yeah, sorry, I was just really --"
I kind of get distracted by that, too.
So that's the pitfall that I run into sometimes.
-Right. But you pull things out,
like your mother had a cell phone?
-So, yeah. So, my mom upgraded her cell phone.
She upgraded from a flip phone to an iPhone X,
which, for anybody is,
like, way too much of a technological leap, right?
-Right. -I mean, that's just like,
"Hey, have you tried this pogo stick?
Now, the rocket ship.
You know, it goes up a little higher on the first bounce."
-That's right. -So, she had the flip phone,
which I loved.
I loved her flip phone, because it closes.
It closes and it covers the keypad,
and you don't accidentally call your son every 15 minutes.
-The iPhone X is a random call generator.
I was getting all mad, and I realized,
she's probably wandering around Target,
oblivious to the fact she's got her purse over her shoulder.
She doesn't know that that purse is screaming,
that coming out of that purse is, "Mom!
Mom! Hang up the phone!"
-And then you pull material from your marriage.
What do you get, 20 minutes just by getting married?
-Oh, I thought you were like, "How long have I been married?"
It's been longer than 20 minutes.
-Yeah, how long have you been married?
-30. 30 minutes, yes. -Wow, really?
-No, 30 minutes. -Oh, okay.
-Yeah, I think over 25, so, here's --
Yeah, I do a ton of material about being married.
And now, I lost my ring.
I lost my wedding ring, like, months ago, which is weird
'cause I'm talking about being married,
and I don't have my wedding ring on.
And my friend goes, "Buy another ring,
because you've got to get another ring."
He goes, "'Cause if you don't have a ring,
women are gonna think you're single,
and they'll start hitting on you."
And I'm like, "Todd, I lost it in October.
That has not come up yet."
You know what I mean? Like, that is a non-issue.
That is the least reason I need a ring for.
You grab my keys in the back, I have a CVS Extra Care Card.
You can't get more married than that, you know what I mean?
No single guy's walking around, "Hey, give me 4% off gum."
You know, like -- I use my CVS Extra Care Card
because I'm an idiot and I think it's gonna do something for me.
And I never -- I get, like, a 90 foot streamer of tape
come shooting out of the register.
They expire immediately, which I don't know if you know that.
Have you experienced that? -No, no.
-The lady hands me -- She goes --
She hands me the receipt, she's all excited.
She goes, "10...9...
I'm flipping through, I had two dollars off a Fleet enema.
I don't even know what it is. I got it -- I got it.
I use it to water hanging plants.
-Right, yeah, for some reason,
those coupons never seem to be there when you need them.
-The other way, too, is like, how did that end up?
What's the algorithm?
What have I bought over the course
of that month that they went,
"You know what he probably needs now?"
You know, I mean -- I'm sorry, what were we talking about?
-Well, I wanted to know if you actually --
-This is what happens to me with a crowd.
-Right, right, you get lost. -I get lost.
-But, you know what, people follow you, so...
You teach comedy. -I do.
-Stand-up. Down in Washington?
-No, wait a second. I should have made that
a question -- I do?
Yeah, I teach a comedy class at the Improv in D.C.
-Right. -And it's so fun.
I never thought -- I never thought, like, you know...
I started this about seven years ago.
I never thought it would be as much fun and as helpful.
You know, because, obviously,
whenever you're teaching, you're learning, right?
You know, you're watching people go through stuff
that you went through 20 years ago.
So maybe you forgot that you -- you know, and all of a sudden,
you revert to some of those bad habits.
And you see somebody, and you go, "Oh yeah,
I should be correcting that." -Do they come wanting to be
the next George Carlin or Joan Rivers?
-You know, most of them don't even know who that is.
They're very young, it's scary. -That probably would be true.
-I know, I know, I bring up comics that I love,
and they look at me like...
and I'm like, "Uh, never mind."
But the class is great. It's super fun.
No, most of them are not going to continue doing it.
They're using it for, like, professional enhancement,
because they have to talk to groups.
-Yeah, getting help in front of a crowd.
-Because they want that confidence.
And it's so funny to me to like --
They're going into it looking for confidence
and comfortable interacting with people.
And I'm like, "Man, if we could flash back and you could see me
when I started out..." -Right.
-"...you'd know I'm the exact wrong person."
But that's kind of what I've had to figure out.
Again, when you talk about, like,
learning as you're teaching, that's one of those things.
I go, "Oh, yeah, look at how comfortable,"
you know, how they've gotten themselves comfortable on stage.
-Right. -It's impressive.
-And then, finally, I just want to make sure we mention
that you host a weekly comedy show in Phoenixville.
-Monthly. Monthly. -Oh, is it monthly now?
-Yes, yes, at PJ Ryan's in Phoenixville.
-Got it. Right next to
"The Blob" Theater. So, yes, come out for your --
-That's the Colonial. -Yeah, the Colonial Theatre.
It's right in the basement,
first Thursday every month, and it's super fun.
It's a -- You've been there, you've done shows there.
-Yep. -It's like a great --
The crowd is -- -Right, and you have
a whole handful of comics, and each one is different.
-Guys that I love and guys that I love working with.
That's kind of the prerequisite, is just, like, be somebody
that I like hanging out with and watching,
and I'll put you on every month.
Chris Coccia, thanks so much for coming to the counter.
-Thank you, man. Thank you.
-Keep people laughing, get up on that stage,
and talk about your family, because it's hilarious.
-Oh, thank you. I'll let them know.
-Yeah, let them know for me.
Chris Coccia, my old pal and a great comic.
I want to thank you, Chris Coccia,
for joining us here at the counter.
-And coming out of that purse is, "Mom!
Mom! Hang up the phone!"
-And my other guests, as well.
Marjorie Winther, award-winning storyteller.
-I was dating an alcoholic, and we were gonna go to dinner,
but he couldn't find his pants.
-And, Mr. Escape Room Maven, Jack Dugan.
-Building escape rooms, building props,
is really what I do for fun.
-Don't forget to join us next week
when we'll have more fun and excitement right here,
at the counter, on "Counter Culture."