The Generosity of Resilience
She left major network TV to create a charitable podcast sharing stories about people who survive terrible ordeals, and what they learned by not giving up.
We are fortunate to live in a time where
technology enables us to hear directly from someone who has an important and
interesting story to tell.
Our latest guest, Kimi Culp, has dedicated her work to capturing such stories. And her own personal story is pretty extraordinary, too.
Kimi is the producer and host of the All the Wiser podcast. Her show takes on difficult topics most people might want to turn away from.
Each episode features someone who's been put through a seemingly impossible physical or emotional challenge.
Kimi's past guests on the podcast include Amanda Knox, who was famously and falsely accused of murdering her roommate while studying abroad, and Sue Klebold, mother of the Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold.
With compassion and steadiness, Kimi allows them to open up about what happened in their own words, and enables them to share powerful lessons from their experiences.
Before launching the podcast, Kimi had a successful career working at several major broadcast networks. She was a producer for The Today Show, Good Morning America and the Oprah Winfrey Show. She also was an executive in charge of talent and development for Oprah's network.
Kimi also helped bring about the excellent documentary Gleason, which captures the experience of an NFL player battling against Lou Gehrig's disease — an outstanding tribute to human courage and faith.
During our interview today, Kimi will share the mountaintop realization she had that made her leave TV behind and set her on her path today. She discusses…
- What makes a great story — and how to tell it well
- The overarching lessons Kimi has learned from her
guests on the show
- The toughest story Kimi has ever told on her podcast
- Why her podcast donates to charities chosen by guests
- A special surprise we have for her
You Can Help Others Doing Great Work
When I reflect on the work Kimi does to
chronicle the lives of others, I see that the world is full of stories about
people learning and growing after tragedy, who inspire others by their
If you know of a great story - someone who's doing incredible work to help others - the team at Crazy Good Turns and I want to hear from you.
Go to crazygoodturns.org/award-2023. You can nominate a person or organization that matters to you on that page.
Selected causes will get the chance to be featured in an upcoming episode of our podcast. And they'll receive a $10,000 donation.
- What makes a great story — and how to tell it well (5:25)
- The overarching lessons Kimi has learned from her guests on the show (6:56)
- Her work on the excellent documentary Gleason, which captures the experience of an NFL player battling against Lou Gehrig's disease — an outstanding tribute to human courage and faith (15:34)
- The toughest story Kimi has ever told on her podcast (17:45)
- The charitable act that makes All the Wiser podcast unique - and why it was almost scrapped (20:34)
- And lastly, a special surprise we have for Kimi (27:29)
FRANK BLAKE: Kimi, this is such a delight to have you on the
I'm such a fan of your podcast, so welcome to Crazy Good Turns.
I'm thrilled to be here. Thank you for having me.
BLAKE: Since 2019, you've been creating and hosting just a terrific podcast.
I hope all of our listeners take the time and listen to the podcast is called All The Wiser.
I think it's fair to describe the theme of your shows, and I've heard this from others, is you tell compelling stories about the hope and possibility that's at the other end of pain.
Is that a fair, general description?
Yes. Well said.
BLAKE: My first question to you is: Why that theme?
Why did you start a podcast with that as a theme?
I was a journalist for decades before and have always been just deeply
passionate and to some extent obsessed with the notion that stories of human
beings transforming can really compel us to think differently about ourselves.
It was the stories of people who had been through really difficult things and come out the other end.
They had a sense of wisdom, of perspective of what matters most, and those were the stories that stuck with me.
All the Wiser was very intentional about finding and sharing those stories in a really thoughtful way.
It was from my career in journalism, and then I also lived with bipolar disorder and had hid it for two and a half decades.
I think understanding suffering and how other people endure, and learn, and grow was an impetus that I hadn't really acknowledged until deep into the show and realizing I had my own story.
BLAKE: What impresses me most about your podcast is not only do you tell great
stories, you are a great storyteller, but also the stories that you choose to
tell are such interesting and sometimes difficult stories.
I wonder, in your view, what makes a great story?
How do you choose the stories that you tell?
As far as the model of storytelling, the goal on the other end is to inspire
people, to educate people about something they didn't know, which may be as
simple as standing in someone's shoes.
The vehicle to do that is by keeping them entertained and engaged.
The model that I know works when executed and done well is a high stakes story, high stakes narrative.
Somebody is transformed in the process.
In our podcast, the high stakes middle, the sort of dark night of the soul are really stories that some are incredibly harrowing, unbelievable, unthinkable, but the growth that happens in that process and perseverance and resilience and is really powerful.
I think it's that high stakes narrative, an engaging story with a clear intention of how the story is ultimately of service to others.
BLAKE: Again, when our listeners look at the range of topics that you've
tackled on your podcast from Amanda Knox, who was one of your guests, to
someone who was in the Nexium cult as a guest, a wide range of guests, are
there some common learnings that you get from all of these different, as you
say, found and difficult stories?
People matter most.
Your relationships, so nurturing those because unexpected things come our way.
Everybody goes back to that.
I interviewed somebody yesterday who had been in prison for 26 years for crimes he committed as a 16-year-old boy.
I also had one of the great privileges of my career, to interview Edith Eger, who's a 94-year-old Holocaust survivor who published her first memoir at 90.
So, Fernando, this 41 year old man who was incarcerated his entire life, and Edith Eger said the exact same thing of how one endured Auschwitz, one endured living in a cement existence, hellish.
What they both said is all they could control was their mind and their attention, so they would close their eyes.
Edith Eger would go to recipes and memories in the kitchen with her mom.
Fernando would go to visions of his siblings, children, and trees.
The only thing they could control was their mind and their thoughts, and they both described the exact same experience.
BLAKE: Wow, that's really interesting.
Are there other common themes that come through?
That one is pretty consistent. People say it in different ways.
I just found it remarkable that they said the exact same thing, that they would close their eyes and go there.
I think it's that relationships matter most, and everybody who's on the podcast is standing in their truth and they're honoring it, and they're sharing it.
On the other end of that is, I believe it's cathartic for them.
Their story all of a sudden becomes of service to others who are going through their own suffering.
That, the bravery to share, I think is really cathartic.
I think the idea of our thoughts and how powerful they are and in being conscientious of the people we care about most and making time, because it really matters.
BLAKE: You have had just an extraordinary career in journalism in lots of
different media, TV, films, you've written a book, you're a speaker, and you
obviously have the podcast.
Are there differences in the media that you've observed as you basically go forward in your journalistic career?
Is there something that you think is particularly good or particularly problematic about podcasts?
I love podcasts because I don't believe that there is a more intimate format to
share stories that exists today.
The idea that you are with somebody in their ears as they're walking, as they're folding their laundry, as they're waiting for their kids in carpool, is that type of story.
When you think about short form content on YouTube or Instagram, some of these new ways of emerging media, the intimacy and human connection to me don't really exist.
I loved television and film, but television, at the end of the day, often is driven by advertising.
You're sort of selling cereal boxes, "How many viewers can we get?"
Things can get sensational.
I think that can be an issue that television journalists are wanting to do stories of integrity, and you're bumping up against that.
I'm all in podcasts because of the power, and intimacy, and engagement that they provide the listener.
BLAKE: Looking at your career, and again for the listeners, you've worked for
major broadcast networks, you've worked for Oprah Winfrey, you've had your own
firm going out and working with others.
Was there a turning point in your own career in saying, "What I want to do is tell longer stories and if I can do more documentaries or do more podcasts, that's what I want to do," versus continuing to pursue maybe what might be a more typical career in broadcasting and journalism?
A hundred percent. Yes. That was sort of what I just spoke to.
The cost of working for these big media companies is massive amount of hours of travel, and when you don't feel great, or the benefit of the stories you're telling or moving the world forward in a better place, that cost is too high.
I left places where we had a baked-in audience of 5 million people we could distribute to a day, and I went and started doing cause content.
We were working for the Gates Foundation, interviewing teachers in inner city schools.
BLAKE: Stop right there just for a second, because before you slide, that
sounds like, "Oh yeah, logical decision to move."
That's got to be a big decision.
Because at the time you were with Oprah's network?
BLAKE: That as you say, that's huge. Was that a scary decision or no?
BLAKE: It was just so obvious. Okay.
What got you over the fright?
I went on a very rare vacation because I needed time off by myself, and I hiked
to the top of the mountain and I-
BLAKE: Is that literally a top of a mountain or psychologically?
Literally. It was a hike.
It was a hike in San Diego...and I had got...you know, I was exhausted.
I had young kids, and I went away to be by myself and take care of myself.
It just became so clear to me when I had time to be still and be in nature and be away, that I was felt like I was hovering above my life and looking down.
I just said, "I think I can go out and do this on my own in a different way," so I did.
BLAKE: Then was it pretty straightforward progress from that point on?
BLAKE: Yeah, exactly. All right.
Some of the bumps in the road.
Well, first of all, identity, access, when you have this - at the time, it was one of the most powerful, well-resourced television shows in the country, if not the world.
We had access to pursue these stories, to produce them at the highest level, to have the finances and the distribution in place.
All of a sudden I'm like, "Well, I can do this on my own. Wow. Well, where am I going to find the 5 million people and the budget?"
The loss of identity, I think that I identified with my work.
BLAKE: That's such an interesting point. Yeah.
You kind of wake up and you go think, "Okay, who am I? What's next?"
That can be hard.
BLAKE: At what point did you go, "Yeah, I've turned this corner now. I'm
comfortable where my identity is. This is going well,"?
If at all, it might still be an issue.
Yeah, I think I've evolved.
I've tried different mediums, as you said, but I started freelancing and that work was here or there, so it would go weeks and then there would be a project, and there's some uncertainty around that.
When I started working telling short form stories for causes, I think at some point it clicked to me that there can be an intersection of story and cause.
Yes, you can in fact do this in a different model that feels aligned with my values.
I don't even think I had taken a step back to say, "Is my work aligned with my values?"
I think once that clicked for me, then I felt like, "Okay, this is a new identity and this feels more true to who I am."
BLAKE: Where in the process was your documentary Gleason, where you were one of
Which again, I recommend for all of our listeners, it's such a wonderful documentary.
You might give some of the background to that.
Steve Gleason is a former NFL football player who was diagnosed with ALS, Lou
Gehrig's disease, at 32.
Then two weeks later, found out him and his wife Michel were pregnant with their first child.
He loved time-lapse photography, they started filming the deterioration of his body and the growth of their son.
Two film students in New Orleans moved in.
Michel is my college roommate, and of in this freelance zone of "What's next," and flew out to be with them, saw all this footage, and we decided to...
They had set up in a garage to screen the footage, which was going to be a short film.
We brought it to LA to start a very small production company whose only job was to make that film.
BLAKE: You showed it at Sundance and it was nominated.
You're very underplaying the impact of the documentary.
Even if our listeners don't watch the actual documentary, which I think they should, just read the reviews, just the reviews of it are inspiring.
Incredibly well done.
Yeah, I think they gave us the percentage chance that we would get in Sundance.
I was like, "Well, yeah, that sounds like not happening."
Then we got the call to Sundance and we went, and Amazon bought the film.
The whole thing was unbelievable that any of it happened, but it did.
Steve's story was able to reach far and wide and make people think and understand the illness and think about fatherhood.
It was an insane amount of work and deeply fulfilling.
BLAKE: Back to the podcast, so in 2019, you decide, "I'm going to launch
this podcast," and as you've gone through this, are there some...
I know it's always hard to pick out the episode that you liked the most.
I'll ask a different question.
Instead of the episode that you liked the most, was there one that was particularly difficult and you just said, "This is tough, it's an important story, but boy is it a tough story to tell,"?
Sue Klebold, Dylan Klebold's mom, the mother of the Columbine shooter, one of
I feel a sense of ease going into these conversations.
It was a really hard conversation to have, and she was unbelievable.
It was a hard podcast episode to publish because we knew that not everyone believes that her voice should be heard or that her story is part of the narrative, so that was really difficult.
BLAKE: Did you know her previously?
Because if I'm right, didn't you start as a reporter covering Columbine?
Oh, I was in college. I started as an intern.
BLAKE: As an intern.
My first story was Columbine, so I was there.
Then 26 years later, I have a conversation with Dylan's mom.
BLAKE: Was there a prior-
No, I didn't know her.
BLAKE: No. Okay.
It took writing letters, sending follow up emails.
As you can imagine, not a huge amount of trust with the media.
It took time and effort to create a sense of trust that her story would be safe with us.
BLAKE: I'll ask the question.
You may not want to... Is there a show of yours that's your favorite that you say, "Boy, if you had to listen to one All the Wiser, listen to this show,"?
The one I did yesterday is one of my favorite in the past five years, and that'll be published on June 30th.
It's a man who was incarcerated as a boy, his name is Fernando.
He became a hospice worker within the prison, caring for the men that he had been incarcerated with, so walking through them with their final days.
That is one of my favorite conversations I've had in years.
A great episode is Gary Mendel, who lost his son to addiction.
There was something about that conversation and connection that was really impactful.
People actually are very taken by the Sue Klebold.
I would listen to Gary Mendel and Sue Klebold.
BLAKE: Well, they are all great.
You do something very unusual, which is you also, along with your podcast, you donate to a charity.
If you would, sort of your background, why did you decide to do that?
Have there been any positive or negative surprises from making that charitable donation a part of your podcast efforts?
Yeah, so I touched on it a little bit, but when I left Oprah, we realized that
nonprofits and large foundations needed to learn how to tell stories.
I realized that that was a thing, as I said, and that it lit me up in a new way.
That intersection of story and cause beyond the storytelling to identify nonprofits that are moving the needle on the issues we talk about was really appealing to me that one-for-one model.
I have always had a charitable heart and work with a family foundation.
Made the pitch that this was a new way to make a difference and have the financial contribution aligned with the story and the theme of the story.
Someone almost, I'm not going to name, but a very large company in the media space, almost bought the podcast, and was going to bring me on and fully resource going big, and finding these stories, and sharing them.
Why they ultimately didn't is because we had given to so many charities and they would have to strip the content and affiliation.
BLAKE: Seriously? Oh, that's tragic. No, that's-
BLAKE: Oh gosh.
Not because they have cold hearts, but their legal team.
No, I can understand exactly how it gets caught up in the propeller blade in a large company.
BLAKE: Oh, that's so sad.
We were so far with the creative and the marketing and then they called and said, "figure this piece out, and our team is saying no on that."
Well, amongst the charitable donations that you've made, or there are some that you just go, "Gosh, I'm so happy to have found this charity, or brought this charity to the light of a broader audience,"?
The first interview we ever did on the show, five years ago, was with the 9/11
It's a $2,000 one-for-one contribution per story.
He gave his money to a 13-year-old boy named Trey who had autism, who wanted to start a podcast called Trey Talks.
I don't know if it's still on, to talk about autism and have people understand him and his differences and how we were more alike than people would think.
The first $2,000 went to a 13-year-old boy with autism who started a podcast.
BLAKE: Wow. That is so very, very cool.
If you look out five years from now and think about your concept, what do you think it's going to look like?
I would love to tell stories in person.
There's podcasts that are doing that very thing, doing pop-ups and having conversations.
I would love to gather people around these stories and do live interviews and conversations after with the guests.
I think that could be really compelling and interesting.
I love visual media, so figuring out ways to have our stories be more dynamic and reach more people.
Those are both ambitions, and obviously, reaching and reaching more people so our impact grows.
BLAKE: Right. It strikes me that a lot of your shows deal with mental health.
That's a recurring theme of a lot of your shows. Is that a fair comment?
BLAKE: Do you see that as-
I don't know why.
BLAKE: Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Then you've been very straightforward about your own issues with bipolar disease, and has the show helped you with that?
Or is it, that's an element but not tied directly to the show?
The show is not about me.
The show has changed me.
The show created the space where I would openly talk about something I'd spent my entire life hiding from everyone I knew.
That changes you as a person.
Once I worked through the shame, and secrecy, and fear of the telling of it, all of that weight is lifted.
Now, I am able... Moms call me, spouses call me.
It gives some meaning to the messier, harder parts of this disease, though on that note, it's changed my life.
BLAKE: That's a huge change.
I think I was listening to another podcast where basically someone had you on as an advice columnist, right?
That's a new thing people have...
That's only happened in the past six months.
I'm like, "Wow. I guess I'm an advice columnist."
BLAKE: Does that feel like a-
I do have a podcast about wisdom, so I guess it's a fair connection.
But it's been really fun.
But yeah, a few podcasts have had me on to give advice.
No, I thought that was very interesting.
Your advice was always very wise advice.
We always ask our guests on Crazy Good Turns who has done a crazy good turn for you in your life?
Who would you call out as someone who's just done something really wonderful for you, unexpected?
I was going to go with my dad, who's just shown up for me.
BLAKE: Well, your dad's okay, too. That works, too.
That works, too?
My first boss, her name is Santina Lucci, and I only worked for her for a year.
The way she believed in me, and I didn't believe in myself or what she was saying, but her belief in my potential and her enduring support for all the years I had nothing to do with her or her company.
That, I think, was really special.
It was almost as if that teacher in elementary school, Santina was that person for me professionally who saw something in me before I saw it in myself.
BLAKE: Yeah. That's terrific.
What did your dad do as long as you mentioned him?
My dad has bipolar disorder.
He was diagnosed at 50.
He was a serial business entrepreneur, and I don't even remember much of him being around.
When I was diagnosed, he showed up by my side to walk this illness that he understood with me and never left my side since.
My dad is really something special in my life.
I'm going to do what you do on your show.
We will contribute $2,000 to a charity of your choice. What's the charity and why are you choosing it?
This is unbelievable. Thank you.
I am going to go with-
BLAKE: Sorry for springing that on you.
I should have given you lots of time to think about it.
Team Gleason is now providing technology to people with ALS, which means they
can speak with their eyes and read books to their children.
If they need to share their hearts or say their goodbyes, they can.
They're also helping the caretakers.
They currently have more patients in line than they can provide for, and $2,000 will get technology to a person who needs it, so Team Gleason.
Kimi, I can't thank you enough again for being on the podcast.
Our purpose here is to celebrate and recognize people who do great things for others, and your story and what you do is the perfect emblem of that.
Thank you for that.
I think everybody who listens to your podcast will find an honesty, and a courage, and a wisdom that is really useful in life.
I'll make one other kind of editorial comment, which is I think we're blessed to live in a time where we have the technology that allows people to spend a half hour with you or an hour with you, talking to someone who has an important and interesting story to tell, because we didn't use to have that.
That wasn't something that was available to us.
Frank, I am grateful for the opportunity to be on the show and spend some time
reading about everything that you are doing in the world.
It's an honor to play a small part in the project, and really grateful to have met you.
BLAKE: Now, for the listeners who want to learn everything there is to know
about you and what you're doing, what should they do?
KIMI CULP: Allthewiserpodcast.com and all of our episodes are there.
We're on Instagram at AlltheWiserPodcast.
If you want to learn more about my story, kimiculp.com has a bunch on my past, and my present and the podcast.
Allthewiserpodcast.com would be the starting place.
Well, thank you Kimi, I really appreciate your time and I-
All right, take-
BLAKE: I hope all our listeners now download, and review, and give a great
comment to All the Wiser.
Secure a Major Gift for a Cause You Care About
Nominate yours here.
From Frank Blake
My Sincere Thanks
Your support has helped take our little idea to celebrate generosity and good deeds, and turn it into one of the most listened-to podcasts available.
Thank you for being part of a community that celebrates people who do good things for others.
Your giving of your time to listen to these interviews, and acknowledging those good deeds, is a crazy good turn of its own.
Please help us continue to grow by subscribing on your preferred podcast platform.
And please, help us spread the word by sharing our show and website with friends.