Counter Culture


Counter Culture Home Edition Ep. 5

Monique Impagliazzo, Director, Producer, Spokesperson. Served at Barwood Films as Barbra Streisand's Executive Assistant; Jess Ponce, Media Coach and author of “Everyday Celebrity,” has coached over 2500 spokespeople, hosts and talent; Mike McGrath, Host, “You Bet Your Garden” on 91.3 WLVR and WLVT PBS39.

AIRED: May 23, 2020 | 0:28:00

-Welcome to "Counter Culture,"

a talk show normally in a diner.

This is our Home Edition.


On tonight's Home Edition,

a woman who was executive assistant

to singing icon Barbra Streisand,

Monique Impagliazzo.

-You need to be moving very quickly,

and you need to be making sure

that all details are taken care of.


The author of "Everyday Celebrity,"

coach to the stars, Jess Ponce.

-All we really need to do is to be ourselves

and convey a message in a purposeful way.

-And the longtime host of "You Bet Your Garden,

Mike McGrath.

-I am a pine straw devotee.

-All right here on "Counter Culture: The Home Edition."


Hi, folks, I'm your host, Grover Silcox,

coming to you virtually with coffee in hand

and a great menu of guests.


-What a life my first guest has lived,

and she's still living it, as a film producer,

writer, director, talent coordinator, and more,

and most recently, she's been working

with "SNL" alumnus Cheri Oteri

on a film called "Turkey's Done."

She also helped produce

"Philadelphia: The Great Experiment"

with History Making Productions.

In addition, she served as executive assistant

to singing icon Barbra Streisand.

We're going to learn all about what she's been doing,

what she's going to be doing right now.

Please welcome Monique Impagliazzo.

Did I say that right?

-You said it perfect.

-[ Laughs ]

Well, I want to make sure it's right.

Anyone from South Philly,

you know, you have to get the names right.

So, and that is where you hail from, correct?


-How do we go from South Philadelphia

to Los Angeles

to becoming executive assistant

to one of the most famous people in the world,

Barbra Streisand?

-That's a really good question, Grover.

I was actually working on a film in South Jersey

called "Standing Ovation."

And the producer, Diane Kirman, and Stewart Raffill,

her husband, who was the director,

are very good friends with James Brolin.

And James Brolin was also the executive producer of the film.

And after the film was wrapped, we came back to L.A.

And I eventually stayed here in L.A.,

because Diane asked me to stay.

Barbra Streisand was looking for

an executive assistant at the time.

And James Brolin had asked me if I was available

or wanted to set up a meeting to meet with her.

And I did two days later.

I met her on a Thursday,

and I started work in her office

basically as the executive assistant to her

and Barwood Films that Friday.

So it all happened pretty quickly.

It's still to this day amazes me.

Coming from South Philly, went to Saint Maria Goretti.

Grew up -- I always had big hopes and dreams.

I was pretty young, too.

I was only about 29 or 30 years old.

I had never been an executive assistant before.

I didn't even know really what that meant.

But I am a very fast learner,

so I jumped in and made it happen.

There was always a lot going on,

so it was a big multitask at all times.

So it really taught me that, you know,

you can handle different things at once.

And you have to move really fast,

but you also have to be very detail-oriented,

because Barbra is is a genius, basically,

not only as an artist, but she's extremely intelligent.

So you need to be moving very quickly,

and you need to be making sure

that all details are taken care of.

-Did you prepare when she was going to do concerts

or television or whatever?


First and foremost, I took care of her entire schedule.

So anywhere that she was going to be

or anything that she had to do,

I was responsible for, of course,

helping her prepare to get ready to leave

and having everything that she needed.

I also was her executive assistant on the concert

that took place in 2012 here in the States,

and then we traveled across to Europe and Tel Aviv,

which was a lot of fun.

-Well, how long did you serve as her executive assistant?

-I think it was five years, yeah, five or six years.

-Wow. -Yeah.

-And so you must have met a lot of famous entertainers

and people who came into her sphere.

-I got to meet Morgan Freeman, Seth Rogen, Colin Firth.

There were always a lot of celebrities.

It was a lot of fun. We had a good time.

-Why did you leave that job?

Because someone like Barbra Streisand would think,

"Oh, my goodness. How am I going to keep going

without this person who knows everything I need?"

-She was always very supportive of me

wanting to move on to production

and, you know, writing, directing, producing.

So when those projects would arise,

we knew that there would there would be a day

where, you know --

And I still hope one day to work with her on a film.

-So then you moved into

what you originally wanted to do, which was produce, write.

And is that when you started with History Making Productions

back in your hometown of Philadelphia?

-Yes. Then we went on to shoot "Sisters In Freedom," as well.

So, working on something about Philadelphia

with other crew members

and cast from Philly was so much fun.

-Even though you're still living in L.A.,

you've come back, and you have another film you worked on

called "Turkey's Done." Tell us a little bit about that.

-Cheri Oteri, who's from Philadelphia, Upper Darby,

she is the star of "Turkey's Done."

We shot that back in 2016 in South Philadelphia.

-She plays a South Philly housewife...

-She does. -...named Peaches?

-Did he have that pig in my house?

-Peaches' husband was just released from the slammer

after doing a 10-year stint.

And he is already cheating on dear Peaches.

So she gives him a Thanksgiving he'll never forget.

We got Al Sapienza, who was in "The Sopranos,"

and Vic Dibitetto.

Tune into Amazon to see what happens

to poor Dino Bracco.

That's all I need to say. [ Laughs ]

-Remember, dinner's at 5:00.

-Now, how did you get Cheri,

who is a an SNL alumnus, involved in the film?

-Grover, this is such a funny story.

Jennifer Tini, who is one of the producers,

was walking her dog one day in L.A.

and randomly runs into Cheri Oteri.

Now, Jennifer, Krystal, and I had always been fans of Cheri.

And she heard Jennifer talking to her dog

in her South Philly accent,

and Cheri picked up on it quickly.

And she said to Jennifer, "Are you from Philly?"

And she said, "Yes."

And she goes, "I can tell by your accent."

So they started talking about Philly and became friends.

And we came up with the idea saying if we wrote a short film

and we raised the money, we asked Cheri,

"Would you star in it?"

She goes, "Okay, write the short.

I'll take a look at it."

And she did, and she loved it.

Jennifer Tini, Krystal Tini were producers,

along with myself. And of course, Cheri Oteri

was the executive producer.

All-female producing team.

-I am so happy for you,

especially as you are a fellow Philadelphian

and Temple graduate.

-Yes, Temple. Go, Owls.

-Thank you, Monique.

So happy that you could be with us.

-Thank you so much.

And one day, I want to come and visit in the diner for sure.

-For sure. It's a date.

I'll pick up the coffee.

-Excellent. I can't wait. I can't wait.

So, there you go.

Follow your dreams. -There you go.

-Absolutely. Monique Impagliazzo --

a woman, a talent,

a go-getter who might have left Philly,

but Philly never really left her.


-You have to show up with powerful presence

to all of your different audiences.

-I devoured my next guest's book, "Everyday Celebrity,"

which regales us with stories and experiences coaching

and working with celebrities from Oprah Winfrey to CEOs

and, yes, even everyday people.

Please welcome Jess Ponce

to "Counter Culture: The Home Edition."

Hi, Jeff. How are you?

-Hey. Oh, I'm great.

And hello, Philadelphia. Nice to be here.

-We always appreciate a good coffee drinker.

And it looks like you have enough.

-I do. I do. So, thank you for having me.

I really appreciate the opportunity to connect with you

and to speak to everybody who's listening,

so, hi out there.

-My pleasure. I loved your book.

It has a lot of great advice, tips, thoughts

about presenting yourself

in the best possible way and getting your message across

whether it's in front of the camera,

on the microphone, or in person.

What is your coaching style, and who comes to you

to help them improve their ability to present themselves?

-So, I have the opportunity

to work with a wide range of different people.

And being in Hollywood, you can imagine

that a lot of them are celebrities

and creative professionals.

The way that it all started

was when I was in television production

as a celebrity interviewer myself.

And it was a really great time, and I loved what I was doing.

And I'm very grateful,

because I had handlers for the celebrities,

publicists, and managers come up to me afterwards

and say, "You know what? We really liked

what you were able to get out of our client, the celebrity.

And so can we hire you to actually coach them?"

And from there, it sort of grew over time.

And my style is actually to be interactive.

I spend a lot of time interviewing people,

getting to know them.

I now also -- I am a certified coach.

And so I have some different methods and methodologies

that can help me, you know, fine-tune certain things.

But at the end of the day, what it's really all about

is pulling the message out of people,

because a lot of times, we get in our heads, even celebrities,

and over-think things, when all we really need to do

is to be ourselves

and to convey a message in a purposeful way.

-You've coached some of the most successful people

in show business, entertainment.

And one would wonder, well, now, these very successful people,

aren't they already just naturally good at this?

-What celebrities do well

after they've been celebrities for a while

is to know how to respond under the spotlight.

When I first started, there wasn't social media

like there is today.

And so when the paparazzi showed up

or you had to go on-camera to promote a project,

you had to be very purposeful.

And so celebrities know by experience

that they have to be,

you know, direct and concise and clear,

because they're representing a brand.

Now, what's really interesting is that actors

are really comfortable playing a role.

But when you challenge them to be themselves,

that's sort of different. Right?

You know, and you know this with comedians

that, you know, there's always the funny because there's a bit.

But those who actually practice improv

do a much better job on some level

because they're able to do the "yes, and."

And so it's playing into people's sensibilities

and realizing that even though they might be on-camera

playing a role, what I'm asking them

is to be on-camera and be themselves.

Because when you're the person that people are looking at,

if information is power,

you're the one with all the information.

-I found it very interesting in your book,

not only are you giving advice,

but you also talk about some of the most well-known people

in perhaps entertainment and otherwise who you learned from,

someone like, say, Oprah Winfrey.

-When you meet people, and even if it's just for a second,

and they touch you in a certain way,

and you're, like, left feeling better having met that person,

that was exactly my experience of Oprah.

So, it was a few hours.

It was an afternoon up in Stanford University

in Northern California. She showed up. She was witty.

She was everything that you would hope she would be.

And so what I learned from that

is that when you're comfortable with yourself

and you're kind of in your purpose,

which is what I feel Oprah does,

you can give out something.

You know, because you're giving to yourself,

you have the ability to give to other people.

Now, when Oprah first started, you know,

she was fired from her first job as a broadcaster.

And that's because she had to read teleprompter

and be refined to a script.

I think once she let go, we saw the magic that Oprah is.

And I have to say, I feel better

having been a part of the magic

for even just a few hours.

-And some of the things that you offer

in your book, "Everyday Celebrity,"

things like the A factor.

-Oh, my God. Grover, I need to pay you as my publicist.

I love this. The A factor is one of the things

that I have been developing over time.

And it's a really simple concept.

There are three A's that I think all of us need

to take into consideration any time

that we're going to go out there and deliver a message.

And when I say self-promotion, I want people to realize

that what I'm talking about is being purposeful,

is being intentional

in something that you are going to communicate.

So, the A factor stands for your audience, your agenda,

and your call to action.

To know who your audience is,

what is it that they're looking for,

what is it that you have that they might need.

And then create an agenda based on that

so that you're able to convey a message

that's going to land and be heard.

And make sure that ultimately, you have a call to action.

And that means a purpose for this conversation.

Sometimes that's an ask.

In Hollywood, when we're doing talk shows,

that's the plug for a TV show or a project.

-And the thing is, it's not natural

to be standing in front of a camera with lights and a crew

or in front of even a webcam.

-You know, at the end of the day,

the medium doesn't matter

as much as who the person is presenting it.

You could be on-stage and completely freak out

because there's 100 people looking at you.

You could be, you know,

speaking to somebody remotely like we are doing right now.

You could be, you know, recording something on-camera

with a ring light like I have behind me.

And suddenly your mind goes to the technology,

goes to the thing,

goes to the context, and context is important.

However, at the end of the day,

you're the one who is the sender of a message.

And as long as you as a sender of a message

keep grounded and connected to the fact

that somebody on the other end is hearing you

and listening to you, and that that is a human being,

that is a person, then the technology, the thing,

the medium that you're using isn't as important

as what you have to say. You know, if I may say --

I'm going to be a little bold right now, like with you,

you know, right now, you're speaking with your eyes.

The way that you smile,

the way that you're, like, leaning towards the camera,

you're inviting me.

And I can imagine everybody that sees you

in your audience right now is captivated,

because you're paying attention.

You're engaged in that moment.

And that, as a speaker right now,

as somebody who's a guest on your show,

makes me want to lean in and talk to you more.

-I would recommend your book "Everyday Celebrity"

for all those folks out there. And many of them, they go,

"Oh, well, I don't -- I'm not really a speaker."

Well, everyone has a story to tell.

And it helps to know how to do it the right way

so that, again,

you control the message.

-Absolutely. Well, thank you very much.

I appreciate it.

And I look forward to having coffee in person.

-Thanks for joining us, Jess. We appreciate it.

Jess Ponce, a celebrity coach

who makes everyone feel like a celebrity.

-And you can see how big these bad boys are.

-My next guest has been the longtime host

of "You Bet Your Garden,"

which you can find right here at WLVT PBS39

on Lehigh Valley Public Media.

If you want to know about beefsteak tomatoes,

honeybees, mulch, or Spider-Man, he's the guy to call.

It is a pleasure to welcome one of my colleagues,

Mr. Mike McGrath. How are you, Michael?

-I'm terrible. I look so short next to you.

I'm taller!

If I get closer to the counter, people can see me better.

I'm moving back.

-Hey, have you been out gardening

during this pandemic?

-I have been so lucky.

Last year, I decided that my raised beds,

which I built, geez, 30 years ago

with stone framing,

had really shrunk down too far.

And my handyman and I

designed a new-raised bed kind of concept.

Then I got a call from this guy who's trying to form a company

Mid-Atlantic Pine Straw.

And he drops off three bales of the stuff.

And after we rebuilt the raised beds,

we put this pine straw on it.

My goodness. It not only has been tremendously effective

in preventing weeds from getting a foot in the beds,

but it is absolutely beautiful.

We used to mulch the beds with shredded fall leaves.

And now all of those are probably going to go

to making compost.

I am a pine straw devotee.

-Now, when did you plant your first, you know, flower?

When did you start?

When did this passion begin?

-This passion began, as all good things do, with a woman.

I was at a party in -- Philly in the late '70s,

and there was this 22-year-old girl.

And so I sat down next to her. And as we're talking that night,

ignoring everybody else in the room,

she tells me that what she really wants

is to move out to the country... -Don't tell me.

-...with a guy who --

-I thought you were going to say pine straw.

-Yeah, pine straw!

No, we didn't know from pine straw then.

But raspberries were going to be the key that unlocked the lock.

And so, of course, having gone to Temple,

I said, "I can do that."

And then I called the only guy I knew who gardened,

and he said, "You're so lucky. Raspberries grow themselves."

As soon as we were able to move out to the country,

first year I planted tomatoes.

Second year, I started putting in the raspberry canes.

That raspberry patch is now close to 35 years old

and still produces brilliantly...

-Wow. -...every year.

Once you get tomatoes and raspberries down,

then you find out about garlic.

Then you find out about peppers and "herbs."

And along the way, all these flowers start to show up.

I got more roses somehow than I got raspberry canes.

And I'm not quite sure how that happened,

but it's really nice in late June and early July

when you can give everybody you know

a bouquet of fresh-grown roses, and you're just cutting them

to get more airflow to the thousands of others, you know?

-You didn't go to Temple for agriculture?

-No, I went to Temple for the same thing as you --

radio, TV, films, so that we could dupe people

into thinking we knew what we were talking about.

And the brilliant Bob Bradley, our performance instructor,

said, "You don't have to pick a topic now.

Learn to communicate."

-Did you then land a job with Prevention magazine?

-Kind of. We wanted to move to the country.

And I was very interested in working for Rodale Press.

I was working for the Inquirer in Philly, the Daily News.

I applied to Rodale Press and pretty much immediately

got hired by the book division of Prevention

to write health books. And they liked my work,

so then I got my own newsletter of allergy relief

for people with allergies,

and I really made an impression on the medical field.

My newsletter was both provocative

and scientifically correct.

After three years at that,

I had to take over Men's Health newsletter,

as they were getting ready

to launch that juggernaut of a magazine.

Now, all this time I'm gardening at home, you know,

and that is my passion.

But I'm I'm doing very well at Rodale,

moving up the ladder.

And finally, the editor of Organic Gardening

at the time was let go.

And I went for it like a pit bull on a bone.

I really did. The president of the company was the best.

He said, "Mike, Mike, you're a health writer.

We expect you to be the editor of Prevention someday.

But Organic Gardening? Where's your résumé?"

So the next day, I went in with beautiful tomatoes,

beautiful peppers, a couple ears of sweet corn,

a pint of raspberries,

burst in his office unannounced

and said, "Here's my résumé."

And so I was editor of Organic Gardening

for seven wonderful years.

-Moving onto your longtime show, "You Bet Your Garden."

-WHYY in Philly called and asked

if I would like to develop a gardening show.

And I said, "Yeah."

So, it was live on Saturday mornings.

I'm thrilled that I was at HYY for the years that I was.

It really allowed me to redevelop myself,

because I had been a newspaper writer,

a magazine writer after college.

-After all those years at HYY, now you're here

at the Lehigh Valley Public Media Center,

WLVR on radio, PBS39 on television.

-None of my day lilies have bloomed at all

and they're, like, gone.

-Did you ever see the beginning of the flowers?

-No. -Okay.

-How important are the callers?

-Oh, they're the show!

Without them, I would just be yapping away

and be boring.

I am so blessed 100% of it

is, "Help us grow better in every way,

to have healthier plants and not to use chemicals."

Oh, look how black that is. Baby doll.

-You're such a multifaceted person.

You still had time to meet Stan Lee and become a friend.

-In 1970, Stan came to lecture at Temple University.

and I was a big Marvel Comics fan. Who wasn't?

And I had a cassette recorder.

And I got there early,

and I put the cassette recorder on the podium.

At the end of the talk, he got mobbed.

Kids had all these comics to be signed.

Everybody had questions. So I figured, "This is my chance."

I reach in to get my cassette recorder,

and this arm is on me.

And I look up at him, and he goes,

"Can I get a copy of that tape?"

And I go, "Oh, that's better than having me arrested.

Uh, yeah, sure.

I dubbed the tape on a reel-to-reel for me.

I sent him the original cassette,

and he sent me back a nice letter saying,

"What do I owe you?"

And I went, "Oh, my God. Your money's no good with me."

And here's what a fanb-- I sent him my want list.

I sent him the comics that were missing from my collection.

And he wrote back laughing.

"We don't keep copies of the old comics or anything like that.

Let me see what I can do for you."

And a week later, a piece of original art

arrives in the mail. It's "Daredevil #69,"

drawn by Marie Severin and the great Bill Everett.

And he's battling the Stilt-Man in Hudson Bay.

And it was just amazing.

And so I wrote back thanking him.

He writes back two pages.

And before you know it, we are pen pals.

And then he hired me to work on a special project at Marvel.

Years later, he tracked me down

to do another special project for him.

I used to go to New York every week,

and we would go out to lunch

or go out for a drink after work.

It really didn't occur to me

that this was a man who would be, you know, credited

with creating universes.

So, I would say we were in constant contact

for about 30 years.

-That's something you just hold onto forever.

-Oh, yeah, Stan -- -Mike, I want to thank you

for taking time out from the garden

to join us here on "Counter Culture: Home Edition."

-Hey, I'm not out of the garden.

Here you go, Grove.

Can you see? wait a minute,

-You are a marvel. I'll say that.

Thank you. Thank you, Mike. [ Laughs ]

Never far from something green.

Mike McGrath, a man who can cultivate a great tomato

and a bushel full of passionate fans all at the same time.


-Well, that's all for this episode

of "Counter Culture: The Home Edition."

I want to thank my guests, film producer, writer,

director Monique Impagliazzo,

coach to the stars Jess Ponce,

and host of "You Bet Your Garden," Mike McGrath.

And a special thanks to you folks for joining us tonight.

And don't forget to stop by next Tuesday

when I'm we'll have more great conversation right here

on "Counter Culture: The Home Edition."



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