Counter Culture


Counter Culture Season 5 Ep. 13

Host Grover Silcox talks with Bo-Dean Sanders, author of " Race Against Race," Saranne Rothberg, CEO, Comedy Cures Foundation, and Tug Rice, Artist.

AIRED: May 04, 2021 | 0:27:19

Welcome to Counter Culture,

a talk show normally in a diner.

- Your body temperature is normal.

- Tonight, I am joined by author and motivational speaker

Bo-Dean Sanders.

- You cannot have

a difficult, uncomfortable conversation

with someone you don't know.

- The founder of Comedy Cures, Saranne Rothberg.

- I looked around and I just went, oh, my gosh,

I just disrupted cancer.

- And amazing magazine illustrator

and artist Tug Rice.

- If we're listening and we're open to it,

the world has a way of telling us what we should be doing.

- All right here on Counter Culture.

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

Tonight, we'll discuss building relationships

that lead to diversity and inclusion,

the healing power of laughter,

and the world of magazine illustration and art.

- It's more important that you really enjoy your journey.

And I don't think fear serves your journey.

- My first guest laughed in the face of doom and gloom.

She chuckled at adversity.

She had been diagnosed with terminal cancer,

but rather than surrender to it,

she fought back with fun and comedy.

She spoke with researchers

and pored over studies that prove the efficacy of laughter

in fighting disease.

From her chemo chair in 1999,

she created the Comedy Cures Foundation.

She ultimately beat cancer

and continued to help others deal with and overcome

the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to

with help from the best comics and comedians around the world.

It's a pleasure to welcome Saranne Rothberg

to the counter.

Saranne, how are you?

- I'm excited to be back home now.

This is amazing.

- First of all, tell us a little about the foundation.

Go back to how it all began.

- I think the most cool part about my story

is that when I was in college at USC,

I had read a magazine excerpt

from the life of Norman Cousins.

It was a book he had written called Anatomy of an Illness.

Do you know that?

- I do. Yes.

- So it was a Friday night in 1999

and I was in the hospital,

which I will not name the cancer center.

And they literally said to me on a Friday night,

I'm sorry, the cancer team has gone home for the night.

Can you come back on Monday?

You have really aggressive cancer.

- Oh, my!

- That was how I found out.

That's how I found out.

That man's magazine article, Norman Cousins,

popped into my head

and I literally left this hospital

and I went to the video store in two towns

and I got every stand up comedy tape

that they would let me take out.

And the reason why is because Norman Cousins was known

as the man who laughed himself well.

He didn't have cancer, but he had a rare nerve disease.

And that story stuck with me.

So I was like, if Norman Cousins can do it,

I can do this with breast cancer. Let's go.

- And this was fourth stage breast cancer, right?

- Actually, I was misdiagnosed in 1993.

So I went from being told for six years

that I didn't have cancer

to being told that I had stage two

and then early stage four cancer.

- And you talk about Norman Cousins,

but you yourself did some research,

called researchers and were surprised

that you could even get them on the phone.

- My first chemo treatment at the end of April 1999,

I decided to throw a chemo comedy party in New York City.

So I had six hours of comedy. I had party favors.

I had sparkling cider and little sandwiches, dessert.

And I invited everyone,

whether they were a patient, caregiver, a doctor,

a nurse, a phlebotomist, a pharmaceutical rep,

to come to my celebration of life party,

which centered around my chemo infusion area.

And by the end of the six hours,

it was a full blown party.

And I looked around and I just went,

my gosh, I just disrupted cancer.

Like, I just changed everything

about the cancer experience,

not only for myself, but for everyone within,

you know, several feet and a room of me.

So that epiphany happened

about two thirds of the way through

to start a charity, because I was given this drug

called the Red Devil.

And that's the one that just singes your hair right off.

And when they gave me that,

in that experience, I realized that,

wow, what I was doing was needed way beyond the confines

of my own chemo chair,

that I needed to do this for people all over

and show them that there was this really cool way

to go through cancer treatment

that broke down isolation,

that reduced nausea,

that reduced pain, that reduced fear.

And that was 1999.

So we're in 2021.

I have no visible disease

and I actually book these researchers all the time

to speak with me and come along with the comedians

to show why, from an intellectual point of view,

this experience of laughing and a comic perspective

is so powerful.

- How did it go from your own personal crusade, we'll say,

to a full blown foundation, an organization dedicated to this?

- I was at a shower

in New York,

and I was bald and 98 pounds.

And I'm at this bridal shower,

and it was obvious that I was on cancer treatment.

And somebody walked over to a woman there

who happened to be a news director at WB 11 in New York

and said, you have to talk to this lady.

So she came over and then they asked me to go...

...if they could follow me with a camera and do my story.

So that just catapulted everything that I was doing.

And then I got a call from Oprah's team

and they wanted to follow me for ten hours.

And then Good Morning America

and Dr Oz and PBS and ABC and NBC.

And as people just told my story,

more and more companies called,

more and more organizations called,

more and more patients called.

Meanwhile, I'm running this thing out of a chemo chair

with my cellphone and a laptop.

And although I had this huge energy and this joy

and was making all these programs,

my body, the cancer didn't respond

to what they were doing.

So at that point, they basically said,

you need to get your affairs in order.

I just kept doing my programs

and I researched worldwide.

How did people change their immune system

centuries ago?

I put together a strategy of over 20 plus ways

to improve my immune system.

And somewhere along the way, between all the comedians

and the shows and the laughter,

my body responded to what I was doing

and I have no visible disease, thank God.

- Wow. So you followed

the conventional medicine and treatment.

- Yes. Everything. - And then complemented it.

But ultimately really boosted it with comedy and humor.

- Everyone says, do you really think comedy cures?

Because that's the name of my organization -

Comedy Cures Foundation.

And basically what I say is that, yes,

I mean, there is research that shows what it does

to your cancer-fighting blood cells

and what it does to your hormones.

It lowers stress hormones

and raises the good hormones.

It's cardiovascular.

It's really good for reducing stress,

giving you a mental vacation

so that your mind can get clear and be more creative.

I really got that fighter underdog spirit,

that Rocky spirit.

So no matter what happened in my chemo treatment,

I heard that Rocky theme in my head.

A lot of times when I speak live,

they play that music when I come on stage,

and I credit my Philly upbringing,

eating steak sandwiches, soft pretzels

and going to all those victory parades.

That upbringing that when they said,

you know, there's a 99% chance that you're going to die,

my first response was, somebody has to be the 1%.

- Wow.

- That's the underdog spirit of Philly.

That's that street spirit.

- You never know what is going to give you that resilience.

- Yeah. Can I tell you about some of the great programs

that we have coming up?

- So give us some highlights.

- You can go to our website

and you can find a link to a project we did online,

creating a virtual world of laughter.

You can go record your laugh

with people from all over the world.

And we did that with The Laughing Cow.

So just join me, laugh with me,

visit me, hang out with me.

Hundreds of comedians,

ranging from Amy Schumer, Zach Galifianakis,

Brian Regan, Dena Blizzard from Jersey,

Keith Robinson from Philly,

like everyone. Everyone.

Call 1 888 Hahahaha

24 hours a day.

Get a free comedy laugh

with one of these great comedians I mentioned.

Or 2 is an amateur comedian if you press 2.

And 3, you tell me a joke.

I get to laugh with you.

You tell me a joke on that live reporting line

and then I put it back on 2

and you share your joy with the world.

- We're going to leave it right there.

You're spreading not only the joy, but the fun.

And I'm so glad you could share specifically with us tonight.

Thanks so much.

Saranne Rothberg,

a woman who used comedy to laugh herself to health

and went on to help thousands of others do the same.

- Athletes on a diverse team,

whatever type of sport it is,

if they have diversity on their team,

Mother Nature makes it where

you're going to have that race conversation.

- My next guest's autobiography,

Race Against Against Race, takes us with him

from his childhood in Jacksonville, Florida,

north to Cheyney University

and finally to Philly and the home of the Wildcats,

Villanova University.

By graduation, he'd learned more than football,

or even academics,

he learned how to build relationships and break down

the barriers that separate people by color or ethnicity.

His book is a primer on how to move in the direction

of greater diversity and inclusion

till you reach the goal.

Please welcome, very honored to have him,

author and inspirational speaker Bo-Dean Sanders.

Bo-Dean, how are you?

- I'm wonderful, Grover.

Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.

- Well, I loved your book. You really wrote it very well.

One could feel every step, every leg of that journey.

So let's start with now

and what you're doing in terms of inclusion and diversity.

- I try to be an example

for diversity and inclusion in everything that I do.

And, you know, I consider myself a advocate

for diversity and inclusion.

So that is my mission.

And that's why I wrote the book.

I have two other books planned after this,

and they'll all be along the same the same lines

of diversity and inclusion,

because it's a conversation we need to have.

And we're having that conversation and a lot of ways.

But based on my experience,

I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church

and we were taught you can catch more flies with honey

than you can with vinegar.

So what do I mean by that?

I'm not trying to beat up or push back on the folks

who like to have an uncomfortable conversation.

I just feel you don't have

to have an uncomfortable conversation

the first time you meet someone.

You build a relationship. You get to know each other.

You find common ground,

and then you build and grow from there.

And that was the of the reasons

that I wrote the book.

- I really enjoyed your book. And I learned a lot

just from your sharing your experiences,

your personal experiences.

- So I had two foundations.

The foundation of being a Christian, going to church.

But I also had a foundation from sports.

So I had lots of folks,

some coaches, some teachers

that guided me to keep me out of trouble

so I could stay focused on my goal,

which was to get to college and play football.

Because, as you read in the book,

I did not get a scholarship. I wasn't heavily recruited.

I was playing out of position.

What happened was I was asked by my high school coach

to switch positions,

and I knew doing that was going to hurt my chances

to get a college scholarship.

I was playing out of position.

And so I had to stay focused,

I had to stay committed.

And I also had to pray that something was going to happen

after I graduated high school to get me into college,

and I was throwing a Hail Mary. It happened.

I got an opportunity to attend Cheyney University.

But the biggest adjustment, which you read, Grover,

is, and a good example for people to understand.

I grew up being coached by all black men,

playing with all black team-mates.

And then I transferred to Villanova.

There was one black coach

and I was one of a total

of five African-American players on the team.

That was something I had to adjust to.

And my team-mates helped me do that,

because in their experiences,

they grew up in a diverse environment.

They grew up playing on diverse teams.

So I leaned on them to help me

understand and learn

and get to the point where

my coach pulling my face mask and yelling at me

is no different than my black coach

who pulled my face mask and yelled at me.

So once I learn to adjust

and give him again the same level of respect,

it helped me become a better football player.

- And then you describe how, as fate would have it,

you didn't have a dorm room or a place to stay

and you were like sleeping in the hallway somewhere.

And two classmates,

two team-mates said, hey, I heard you're sleeping

in the hallway, Bo-Dean. What's going on?

And then what happened?

- Well, what happened was I wasn't on scholarship.

I was a walk on.

I made the team.

I had some hurdles and some hardships

and I fell on the sword because it was my fault.

So when I earned my way back on the team, that was great.

But I didn't earn a scholarship.

Right? So...

I had enough money and I worked.

Right? Work, study.

I had enough money, student loans and Pell Grants

and all those things,

where I was able to pay for my education,

but not my room and board.

The last room I slept in was Jeff Dingel, God rest his soul.

He passed away on 9/11

and Xavier Hargrove,

and next door to them

was Rich Liege, AKA Big Country,

and Perry Hodge.

So one day for something...

...just compelled me to walk next door,

knock on the door, see how those guys were doing.

And Big Country says,

I heard you...

You've been sleeping in everybody's room.

And I said, yeah, I'm going to work it out.

I'm just trying to work with the campus to figure out

what I'm going to do.

And out of the blue, Big Country says, I don't care.

You can sleep here the entire year.

And then Perry Hodge, who was a freshman,

which was my year, a junior,

Perry was like, yeah, come on, Bo-Dean,

you can stay in our room the whole year.

So all of a sudden, I had two team-mates who understood

the hardship that I was in,

and they happened to be white,

and they said, hey, you can stay here the entire year.

Let's make this work for you.

And we began to build a better relationship

beyond sports, beyond team-mates.

- Right.

- And we became family for life.

And we communicate...

You talk about a 30 year relationship

where it's like...'re being a blood brother,

being a family member,

so we were able to build and go through and build

a relationship because of that opportunity.

- Right. And based on that

and other relationships that you forged,

you talk about how, you know,

first you build the relationship,

then you can talk, you can have difficult conversations,

those things that people shy away from and never talk about.

- When you have that race conversation

and you already have an established relationship,

you can accomplish more.

You cannot have a difficult,

uncomfortable conversation with someone you don't know.

It's all about building relationships.

- And you do a beautiful job

of using the metaphor of football

for how to build relations between the races,

between anybody.

I think it's a great book and I recommend it

to just about everybody, and continued success

on all the good work that you're doing,

trying to bring people together.

- I thank you. I really appreciate it. Absolutely.

- All right. Take care, Bo-Dean.

- Thanks, Grover. Thank you for having me.

- You're welcome. Bo-Dean Sanders,

a man who loved football but found that the real goal

was learning to love his team-mates and, by extension,

everyone, no matter what their color or background.

My next guest grew up in Nazareth, PA,

in the area, with a sketch pad in hand,

yet he never took an art course.

He studied acting in theater at Carnegie Mellon University,

but that sketch pad served as a portent of things to come.

Based in New York City,

he became a sought after illustrator

for his sophisticated drawings,

which demonstrate the keen observations

of a studied people watcher.

His work has appeared in Harper's Bazaar,

The Wall Street Journal

and Travel and Leisure, to name a few.

His clients include the Carlyle Hotel,

and Harry Winston.

Please welcome illustrator Tug Rice.

Tug, how are you?

- Hi. I'm great. How are you, Grover.

- I'm terrific. Are you in the Lehigh Valley area right now

or back in New York?

- I'm back In New York. I've been in New York

for several months now, so I came to Nazareth to stay

with my parents for the first five months of the pandemic.

And now I'm back and it's, you know,

there's still people watching here.

And it looks a little different,

but it's a really interesting time to be in the city

because, you know, most of the things

that people move to New York for are on pause.

So there's other things happening

and slowly things are coming back to normal.

So it's, you know, no shortage of inspiration

since I've been back.

- And your artwork, your illustrations

have been described as nostalgic, whimsical.

How would you describe it?

- That sounds like a good assessment.

I mean, to be honest, I don't think too much about it.

Having a background in theater,

you know, Is think of illustration as storytelling.

So when I'm creating a piece, you know, I have a protagonist,

maybe two protagonists. Sometimes there's a villain,

sometimes there's background characters.

There's a setting, there's props, there's costumes.

So it's always a little bit like putting on a play.

But I'm using my pen and paint or digitally.

It is very narrative. It's very theatrical.

And that's the most fun for me, is creating these scenarios

that didn't exist before.

I just decided to create them.

- You went to the Lehigh Valley

Charter Art School... High School, right?

- Yes, I did.

- And then Carnegie Mellon for acting and theater,

thinking that's the track you're on, right?

- Oh, yeah. I mean, I had such a clear track in my mind,

and that's what I did when I moved to New York.

I had no intention of doing anything different.

But now, looking back

and I think about when I was at school

and thinking about being in class and taking notes,

but most of the time I was drawing.

So it just it now makes perfect sense.

And it was sort of like as soon as I that clicked for me

and I had the realization, this is the thing, you know,

I do think that if we're listening and we're open to it,

the world has a way of telling us what we should be doing.

And I sort of started hearing people saying, you know,

this is really good, this is unique.

And I didn't necessarily think

that my point of view was unique.

I just... This is always how I drew.

This is just what... This is how I draw a flower.

This is how I draw a person.

But I started to hear the feedback

and it was really good.

And all of a sudden people are saying,

well, you know, do you sell your work?

Like, sure. You know... So it's been...

And then taking it seriously, of course,

is a whole other thing.

And now I'm very proud of it and I take it very seriously.

- And you always had this interest, this talent.

Your grandfather sort of had that same experience.

- I wish I had really gotten to know him as a grandfather,

of course, but also as a painter.

- What was your grandfather's name?

- Don Johnson, like the actor,

= OK, and worked at Bethlehem Steel

in the first place.

And that's pretty much where he thought

he was going to stay.

- Luckily, he had the support with his family,

from his family

and from Andrew Wyeth, who saw his work and encouraged him

to quit his job. And he did. And he made a great living.

He painted President Ford's portrait.

I'm so proud, you know...

I say that as a grand symbol.

I also say it as an artist who looks at art all day long.

He's just, I think, as great as anything you see

in a museum. Really, really exceptional.

- Right. Is there one project or one piece

that is the piece that you hold up

as, you know, this is the what I love the most?

- You know, I've been really lucky

that all the projects I've worked on

have been really fulfilling.

and I really do feel like are great representations

of how I see the world.

My favorite thing to do is actually -

and I'm starting to do more of it now - is work on products

and applying artwork to actual...

Household products.

I'm working with a company now in England that produces

fine bone China.

So I'm designing a collection of that, which I think

is going to be really fun. So, you know, I've done coffee cups

and I've done chocolate boxes.

And I mean, I love having artwork in a frame in galleries

and things like that.

And, you know, that probably

falls into the fine art category.

But in terms of illustration, it's a great challenge

and really rewarding to see art out in the world

and see people using these things.

I would say that's probably what I'm proudest of.

- What is the best way that folks can see

some of your work?

- I use Instagram quite a lot, and my handle is @Tugrice.

And my website, which is


Yeah, and I try to share things regularly.

And the pandemic has been hard for a lot of artists.

But I think for illustrators, one of the nice things

is that we work alone.

But, yeah, it's been a real adventure

and it's always, always interesting

and always challenging.

And I just love that it happened

and that it's come together the way it has.

- Well, I love the fact

that you're sharing your art and your experiences

on Counter Culture this evening. Thanks so much, Tug.

- Thanks for having me.

- My pleasure. Our pleasure.

Tug Rice, a boy with a sketch pad

turned into a man with an amazing career,

illustrating his astute observations of everyday people

passing him by in the city that never sleeps.

Well, that's all for this episode.

I want to thank my guests...

The author of Race Against Against Race,

Bo-Dean Sanders.

The creator of the Comedy Cures Foundation,

Saranne Rothberg.

And the New York based illustrator who hails

from the Lehigh Valley, Tug Rice.

Thank you for spending your time with us tonight.

Don't forget to stop by next week

for more fascinating guests

and great conversation right here on Counter Culture.

Now stay tuned for More The Money with Gene Dickison -

next up.


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