Counter Culture


Counter Culture Home Edition Ep. 6

Joe Brooks, Executive Director, Veterans Multi-Service Center which provides services, programs, opportunity and advancement to Veterans, Philadelphia; Maryellen Hooper, Comedian who appeared on the Tonight Show, Comedy Central and other TV networks; Daralyse Lyons, Author of “Yoga Cocaine ” and more than a dozen other books and articles, and host of the “Transformational Storyteller” podcast

AIRED: May 26, 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, I welcome the executive director

of the Veterans Multi-service Center in Philadelphia,

Joe Brooks.

-We're doing our darndest to take care

of all of our veterans

whether they served in the '60s, up until the past half decade.

-The very funny Maryellen Hooper.

-In my acceptance speech

I actually got to say, "I beat you. I beat you."

-And the author of "Yoga Cocaine," Daralyse Lyons.

-I believe that dedication and persistence

is what yields results in the long run,

so I just write every day.

-All right here on "Counter Culture, the Home Edition."


-Hi, folks at home. I'm your host, Grover Silcox,

coming to you virtually with coffee in hand

and a great menu of guests.

My first guest is the executive director

of the Veterans Multi-service Center based in Philly.

Founded in 1980, the VMC helps more than 6,500 vets

and their families each year in terms of housing,

job training, counseling, and more.

-Please welcome the executive director Joe Brooks,

to "Counter Culture, the Home Edition."

Hi, Joe. Welcome.

-Hey! Thanks for having me

at your kitchen counter today, Grover.

-It's always a pleasure to be able

to interact with other people than those folks

that I happen to be living with.

-I know. I know.

I'm desperate for human contact and connection,

so thanks for inviting me to be part of the show.

-Sure. So tell us a little bit

about the Veterans Multi-service Center.

-VMC is the nonprofit that takes care

of the most disadvantaged of our veterans population,

those veterans at or near homelessness.

These are a group of individuals and their family members

who have sacrificed all for the very thing you

and I are enjoying today -- an opportunity to sit,

talk, and exchange free ideas.

So it's our job to house them, feed them, job train them,

and get them back on -- on the right path.

-I think people would be surprised to learn

how many homeless vets there are or veterans

who are threatened with homelessness.

-Yeah, it's scary. Most folks would imagine

that it would take many catastrophic things to occur

in one's life before they found themselves homeless.

But that's the exact opposite of the situation.

You're one financial moment away,

whether it's a transmission going on your car,

a hot water heater going in your house,

or a simple loss of a part-time job.

Our veterans can quickly go from home

and apartment living to their car

and then ultimately on the streets.

Today, when I arrived at the office,

there was over 122 veterans

waiting to get meals for the day.

So simple math, Grover, is we're providing

about 120,000 meals a year

to homeless veterans and their family members.

-Wow. How big is your staff, Joe?

-We're blessed to have a lot of folks willing to make

not a lot of money to want to take care of this population.

So our staff numbers about 130 folks.

Again, we're operational in three states --

P.A., New Jersey, and Delaware.

So we've got a far reach.

And thankfully, we've got a team of social workers

that are committed to serving this population.

-And the center was started by Vietnam veterans, right?

Is that how it began? -Correct.

Correct. It was a group of Vietnam veterans

from the Kensington section of Philadelphia

that came back and said they've got to do more.

They've got to figure out a way

to help the Vietnam veterans that were returning to the city

and were struggling to assimilate

back into the populations.

If you look at the Vietnam era veteran,

I mean, they returned to an America that was much,

much different than our post-9/11 cohort,

and their challenges were much greater.

It was not necessarily

a population supportive of the conflict they were in

A different dynamic with our post-9/11 cohort.

By and large, it was an American population

that was supportive of the conflict and welcoming.

We don't have to stretch our memories too hard to remember,

you know, yellow ribbons on poles and ticker tape parades

in downtown cities for these warriors coming home.

The veterans that we're serving now,

you know, you don't see their wounds, you know.

Yes, some have prosthetics.

Yes, some have obvious physical wounds.

The veterans that we're dealing with have invisible wounds

that require a whole different level of services and support.

But the programs and services that we offer have evolved

over the years, incorporate best-in-class practices.

So we're doing our darndest to take care of all of our veterans

whether they served in the '60s, up until the past half decade.

-So I have to ask given the pandemic

that we're living through right now,

how it has impacted the center?

-Very dramatically.

As a nonprofit, we're reliant on donor dollars.

And, you know, as folks have been furloughed

or been out of work or concerned about,

you know, how long they're going to have a paycheck,

those donations have been impacted.

So the revenue side is impacted.

But more importantly, the impact that it's had

on our veteran community.

More folks are on the streets now because

they're losing their jobs. They're being let go.

They're being furloughed.

Since March 19th, we've had to, you know, we've --

up to 600 room nights in hotels that we're funding ourselves

to keep our veterans off the street.

The social distancing dynamic, the adherence of protocols.

So we would start the day saying,

"Hey, 50 people can be in a room together."

And within any hour, it was dropped to 10

and then it was dropped to 6. And then, so...

So, yeah, this nonprofit has been very agile

and thankfully, a workforce that is dedicated enough to roll

with the punches to continue to serve the mission.

-Right. Now, a lot of your staff are veterans.

And how about yourself?

-I am absolutely not a veteran.

I was struggling at Temple University.

I came home -- and this is the '80s.

I came home and told my dad,

who's a United States Navy veteran.

I said, "Hey, Pop, you know, the Navy seemed to work for you.

I'm considering joining the Navy."

And his response was, "Boy, if you join my armed forces,

we'll all be speaking Russian.

I don't want you to weaken our country."

Start -- "Study harder." Right.

So I went back, studied harder at Temple,

and got on my journey into nonprofit leadership.

But you're right, the majority of our staff are veterans.

And, you know, there is that connection that occurs,

that peer-to-peer connection

when a veteran is sitting across the table from another veteran.

And we're walking through that warrior,

how to access their V.A. benefits,

how to work through that morass of bureaucratic --

bureaucratic red tape.

And when there's that connection of one soldier

to another soldier or one Sailor to Sailor,

Marine to Marine, Airman to Airman,

when you have that warrior connection,

that peer-to-peer connection, that solves

lots of communication problems in a hurry.

-You actually worked with the USO, correct?

-Yeah, I was blessed to lead that organization

in P.A., New Jersey, and Delaware for 10 years.

You know, the USO for lots of folks of a certain age

was Bob Hope and show troops overseas.

To go from working 10 years

taking care of those folks currently in uniform,

to now on my journey, taking care of those folks

that have served the nation seems a logical progression.

It seems natural,

and I'm blessed to be doing this right now.

And again, Grover, I have to continue to say this,

while I'm chatting with you here today,

I'm standing on the shoulders of giants

because my team is amazing.

-And how can folks help?

-Get involved, take action.

And "take action," Grover, could be something as simple --

offer to volunteer.

Come to our website --

and work alongside of us.

Serve some meals. Prepare some care packages.

Volunteer on phones.

We're always looking for folks that want to help out.

-Well, Joe, I'm going to leave it right there.

Thanks so much to you and your staff.

It's a really important job.

-Grover, thanks for the invite to the counter,

and thanks for allowing us to tell our story.

I appreciate it.

-Joe Brooks, who with his staff

helps serve those who serve their nation.

-He bought a nail gun because I asked him to hang a picture.

-It's really a treat to welcome my next guest.

I shared a few stages with her doing standup back in the day

before she moved on to bigger and better things.

-Your day's so booked up, you don't have time to hit a nail.


Yo, busy guy.

Oh, yeah.

-She performed on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno,

got rave reviews for her Comedy Central special,

and received the funniest female standup comedian

from the American Comedy Awards.

It's a pleasure to welcome my old friend, Maryellen Hooper.

Welcome, Maryellen.

-Oh, my gosh. Old friend. Oh, it's so good to see you.

Are our boxes 6 inches apart? Is that the rule?

-I guess so.

This is a virtual world where we, you know,

we just have to work in it somehow.

A far cry from the old grungy stages

we started out working on back in the early '80s or mid-'80s.

-I miss Philly so much.

I've never felt more of a home than Philly.

It was really -- we were such a tight band of comics, right.

Like, we just really supported each other and hung out

and had so much fun hanging in the diners

and in the green rooms, and oh, my gosh,

just the best time ever. -I remember you starting

and then suddenly you had left Philadelphia

to pursue comedy out in the big world.

-Well, I left Philly and I went out to Los Angeles.

I'd gotten my first show,

which was "Evening at the Improv."

And so I went out there.

And it's such a funny thing

because I did a lot of northeastern Philly,

New York and Jersey and things like that.

So when I went out to L.A., I was onstage at the Icehouse,

which is this amazing club that's been around forever.

And I delivered my first joke, and it got such a big laugh

that I literally went...

because I thought somebody was behind me doing something.

Like, that joke had never gotten such a big laugh before.

So then I realized that that was more of my sensibility was

to be out on the West Coast because New York and Philly

sometimes had a tendency a little bit,

especially New York, to be a little more edgy with comedy.

So, yeah, I kind of found my niche when I went out there,

you know, so I stayed.

I packed my Philly bags, and I left.

-And how would you describe your stage personality?

-Well, it takes a while to figure it out, right.

In the beginning, you're just throwing stuff,

and you have no idea what you're doing.

You're pretty much juggling. And I tried that, too.

But I was pulling stuff out of a hat box and wearing wigs.

But one night I had been broken up by my boyfriend,

who you knew at the time. -Oh, really?

And I went on stage, though somebody in the front row said,

"It looks like you've been crying,"

like that's the kind of heckles I get, right.

So I stopped what I was doing, my act,

and I just started talking about it.

And I said, "I have been crying because he broke up with me

and I found out he was cheating," blah, blah, blah.

And I got a standing ovation as the M.C.,

and I realized that that was my real self.

That was my persona. It was me to the tenth power.

So... -Right.

-...from that point on, I just really started talking

about what was going on in my life,

and people can relate.

And so my act has kind of been like,

I don't know, like a reality show on stage.

So whatever it is I'm going through,

that's kinda what I'm talking about.

So now I have kids

and a husband and a house that's falling down around me,

so I talk about that.

In fact, I'm hiding from my kids right now.

They don't know where I am.

They're downstairs doing schooling.

-So what was it like your first night

on "The Tonight Show?" -So what next? Kids soon?

You're going to have kids, does that look like it's...

-Oh, my gosh. All the sudden,

my mother-in-law's head's on your body.

-Really? -So the first time,

it's kind of like an out-of-body experience

because you walk out -- the curtains

that are so infamous, and you walk out

and you look over and there's Jay Leno.

And now all of a sudden, there's all the cameras and --

and you're just kind of floating above yourself,

just like, "I can't believe I'm here."

And then there's one of the jokes I did --

I did it a million times on stage,

and I actually transposed it -- the punchline.

And I'm like --

because you're so out of your body.

But now the second time, which was really funny,

my husband gets way more nervous than I do.

And so we're backstage literally with my hand on the curtain

and they're introducing me, and he's standing next to me.

And I go, "You know, after this we should go out because, look,

they professionally put my makeup on,

so we don't want to waste this."

And he's like, "Will you focus! He's introducing you!"

And I'm like, "Let's go out later."

Well, he calls it a fixer upper,

I call it the end of our marriage.

-You received the funniest female standup comedian

from the American Comedy Awards.

-Yeah, I grew up watching those award shows,

you know, the Emmys, the Oscars, whatever.

And I kinda had a bet with my brother, who's a musician,

that I would win an Emmy or an Oscar

before he won a Grammy.

You know, that was like our -- a running joke.

So when they had the comedy awards the year that I won,

it was still on ABC, and it was pretty amazing

because they also were giving awards

to the funniest person in a sitcom,

you know, the funniest person in a movie.

So when they called my name...

So you go up and again, that's one of those moments

that you dream about.

And I'm like, I'm standing here and I look out

and there's the cast of "Frasier"

and the cast of "Friends."

I actually brought you a visual thing,

and I've never told anybody this story, so --

so you see my -- this is the night.

It's a little dusty. -Yeah.

-So I decided -- I decided to wear these satin gloves.

So when they handed me the Lucite award

that's like 10 pounds or whatever it is,

it slipped through my hands, and I caught just the top of it

before it smashed down onto my feet.

It was one of those moments. But you know what,

here's -- the thing is, is that in comedy,

I would have just played it off as slapstick if it had happened.

But I was trying to be so glamorous.

But in my acceptance speech,

I actually got to say the story about my brother and I.

So I got to turn to him and go, "I beat you. I beat you."

-I saw on your website

you have all these dates booked. -Had.

-I guess we have to wait. -Had. Had.

-Had. Well, I would recommend to anyone they go to see you

when things lighten up again, and we can all get out

and go see one of your shows.

And we're all very proud of you --

your fellow Philly comics.

-I love Philly so much. I miss the Comedy Works.

It was one of our favorite clubs,

and I actually was part of a juggling club

that was -- we'd meet on top of the art museum stairs.

I love Philly! -Well, it certainly helped

prepare you for your career that followed.

-Yes, it did. -Thanks so much, Maryellen,

for being with us.

it's a great reunion, even if it's virtual.

-Oh, I love you, Grover. I miss you guys so much.

-Thanks again. And good luck and stay safe.

Maryellen Hooper,

a comedian whose many fans love her downhome comedy

about marriage, motherhood, and life.

My next guest juggles quite a few rolls --

a yoga instructor,

podcast producer, blogger, and author of "Yoga Cocaine,"

whose protagonist takes readers on a wild ride through addiction

all the way through to recovery.

Please welcome my next guest.

It's a pleasure to have her on "Counter Culture, Home Edition,"

Daralyse Lyons. Hello, Daralyse. Welcome.

-Hi, Grover. Thank you so much for having me.

This is a wonderful, wonderful

and weird opportunity, so thank you so much.

-Well, I have to tell you, I read "Yoga Cocaine,"

and I'm thoroughly exhausted traveling

with Jess, the main character. Whoo, what a ride.

How much of it is based on your own experiences?

-I am many years in recovery,

not from drug and alcohol addiction,

but from an eating disorder.

And so I do have that in my experience.

You know, I know what it is to be subjected to,

like self-torture as cycles.

And so being able to access that part of my history

really helped me to write a more authentic,

drug-addicted character.

However, there's a lot about Jess' story

that is not my story. It is pure fiction.

I am also a trained yoga teacher.

So, you know, yoga informed a lot of the writing.

So yeah, I mean, I think I borrowed

from my own experiences,

but then made up a lot along the way.

-Certainly one gets the clear idea

of how difficult it is to go from addictive behavior

to recovery from reading your book.

-And that was part of my -- the impetus for me

in writing this book is that I wanted it

to be something that spoke to,

you know, anyone -- addict and non-addict alike

because really, you know, the recovery journey

is really the hero's journey. It's the human journey, right.

It's -- we move through pain, hopefully into purpose

and into being able to connect with other people.

So my goal is not -- wasn't just to write a book about addiction

for addicts, it was really to write a book

that is perhaps the microcosm of the macrocosm?

-I thought it was so fascinating the way you used yoga for her

to finally get to a stage

in which she could actually embrace recovery.

-Maybe 12 years ago now,

I went to my first ever yoga class,

and at the time I was working in finance

and I was having all these anxiety issues

and I was, like, knee deep in this eating disorder.

And I went to my first ever yoga class, and the teacher said,

"Take a deep breath and feel your feelings."

And I took a deep breath,

and I cried for the next hour and a half.

I cried for the entirety of the class.

But for me, like, that was a real eye-opening moment.

And I realized that there's something about yoga.

You know, the word itself means union.

It's about sort of connecting the mind

and the body, the brain and the spirit,

you know, whatever you want to call it,

it really culls us to be in the moment with ourselves.

And I think there's something about, you know,

for Jess' character, but also for, you know,

anyone, like, when we're in the moment with ourselves

and really like in our bodies

and in touch with what we want and need,

I think it's a lot harder to be self destructive.

-Now, I'm not an expert on yoga,

but it seems to me such a gentle and soft form of exercise,

and yet, your book has a real edge to it.

You know, your writing a strong edge.

You don't hold back.

-Yes! So I am, like, I tend

to be a kind of a blunt, straightforward person.

And I think that bleeds over into my writing.

Also, life is a mixture of feelings, right?

Like, it's funny. I think there's some humor in the book,

so it's supposed to be funny and tragic and deep and real

and, like, mindful and passionate and peaceful.

And so I tried to really just replicate the experience

of being in recovery,

which is -- like it is pretty gritty,

but it is also hopefully very like unifying, you know,

between the -- between the self and the soul.

And so I -- I tried to capture a lot of different elements

in the book because I wanted people to feel what --

a little bit, you know, a taste of what it is

to be a person who's trying to move into recovery

after this very dramatic up and down life.

-When did your struggle with bulimia,

when did that start?

-The first times I remember being bulimic,

I was 14 years old. I'm now 36.

So, you know, it started very early on in my life.

And looking back, you know, there were a lot of factors.

You know, there were -- there was some trauma in childhood,

you know, feeling out of control.

There was a -- my stepdad came into my life,

and we really hated each other,

and I think I felt very abandoned

and I felt very out of control

and I wanted to exert some control,

and I tried to do that with, you know, dieting and exercising

and, you know, and bingeing and purging

and like this inner world of restriction and rebellion,

I think, was a lot of my early eating disorder.

And then, like any addiction, you know,

I've heard it said that what's

fun in the beginning becomes a habit

and then habit becomes necessity,

and the struggle of the addict

as they -- is trying to get back from the necessity to the fun,

like it's trying to recapture

something that you can never recapture.

And I think that's a huge part of letting go

of whether it's an eating disorder

or drug and alcohol addiction or gambling or sexual addiction,

any -- you know, or even just anything

that is a self-destructive pattern.

It's like acknowledging that it served a purpose at one time,

but it no longer serves that purpose

and being willing to acknowledge that it never will again.

I think that is the beginning of healing for anyone who's,

you know, who's struggling.

-One of your ways of healing is through writing,

which you started from almost day one, right?

-Yeah, I did. And I talk about this a lot.

I'm so grateful that for the years that I was being

really self-destructive, I lost writing.

I couldn't be creative when I was in those places,

and so I'm so lucky

that I was never a person who was self-destructive

while creative because I think a lot of people

have to work to, like, figure out

how to still be creative without their drug of choice.

But for me, like, it was never --

both things never coincided.

So as soon as I gave up the eating disorder,

I was catapulted into creativity.

-I mean, how do you write so many books?

If you go on Amazon, and, man, it blows your mind

when you see all the books you've written.

-My goal is to write the equivalent of a book a year,

you know, by the time I'm 80.

I'm behind because like I said,

I'm 36 and I'm somewhere in the 20s

with books that I've written.

But people often think that you have to be inspired

to write and to be creative,

and that is not at all my philosophy.

I believe that dedication and persistence

is what yields results in the long run,

so I just write every day.

It's really just about practicing.

It's the discipline of practice,

which brings us back to the -- to the book,

"Yoga Cocaine," like yoga is all about discipline.

Can you just show up on your mat, and you know,

and over time you'll start to notice shifts or notice results?

-Where were you from originally?

-I was from Greenwich, Connecticut.

I moved to Philly as part of my own recovery journey.

In 2010, I moved down here for treatment,

and I thought I would be here for a year,

and I stayed, you know, until now,

and I have no plans of ever leaving.

I love this city.

-You have a podcast called

"The Transformational Storyteller"

in which you give people a chance to tell their stories.

-I'm sure you experience this being able to sit down

with guests like me and do these interviews,

but you know, so many people have been through things.

And their ability to be resilient,

I always feel honored when someone's willing to sit down

with me and talk about,

you know, some period of their life

and how it has changed them and shaped them in some way.

Like, it's just that in and of itself is such a gift.

And it has -- it's every time I sit down with someone,

I emerge having learned something from their experiences

and what they've taken away.

-What are you working on now?

Do you have another book in the works?

-So, right now I'm working on a project

that I'm really excited about.

This is the first time I'm speaking about it publicly.

I'm working on a second podcast about demystifying diversity,

where I'm interviewing over 100 people

from different walks of life.

And that is such a, like,

that feels like such a rich undertaking.

So I'm working on that.

And then I'm also editing a young adult novel that I wrote.

So, yeah, always, always something going on.

-Are you still teaching yoga?

-I'm seeing some people virtually,

but I'm sure I'll get back to it

when this pandemic is, you know, when it's safe to do so again.

-Daralyse, thank you so much for being

on "Counter Culture, the Home Edition."

Keep writing those books and telling those stories

and encouraging others to do the same.

-Thank you so much for having me.

It was such a wonderful experience.

-Same here. Daralyse Lyons, an author who transforms words

into a powerful and healing experience.

Well, that's all for this episode

of "Counter Culture, the Home Edition."

I want to thank my guests, the executive director

of the Veterans Multi-service Center in Philadelphia,

Joe Brooks.

The hilarious Maryellen Hooper.

And the author of "Yoga Cocaine," Daralyse Lyons.

And I want to thank you for stopping by.

Don't forget to check in next week

when we'll have more conversation,

great guests right here

on "Counter Culture, the Home Edition."



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