BY MELISSA WISTEHUFF
This story is taken from the debut issue of our sister publication, Triangle Family.
Raleigh’s Kim and Penn Holderness first charmed parody-loving fans in 2013 with “Christmas Jammies,” a year-end wrap-up holiday greeting video to family and friends—which they performed in matching PJs with children Lola (then 6) and Penn Charles (then 3). “Christmas Jammies” was so popular, “Saturday Night Live” spoofed it in 2014.
Nine years and several hundred videos later, Penn and Kim own Holderness Family Productions—Kim is chief executive officer and Penn is chief creative officer. Their videos have garnered over a billion views, they produce a weekly podcast titled, “The Holderness Family” and they have written a book titled, “Everybody Fights—So Why Not Get Better at It?” They have also created a “Family Faceoff” board game and witty merch featuring T-shirt slogans such as “Doing the best I can,” “Currently Adulting,” “Pickleball Y’all” and “ADHD is awesome.” Lola (now 16) and Penn Charles (now 13) are active teens who love making video appearances when their schedule permits.
In 2021, life took a rather amazing turn for Kim and Penn. They made the cut to embark on a 22,000-mile race around the globe against 10 other teams of two on CBS’s “The Amazing Race.” Despite a year-and-a-half COVID production delay, Kim and Penn were first to cross the final finish line. With several million social media followers, the Holderness duo certainly had plenty of supporters. Understandably, their win was a huge hit—not only in North Carolina, but around the world.
Triangle Family’s January photo shoot and interview with this entertaining couple revealed fun surprises and also confirmed what we already knew. Kim and Penn are exactly as they seem online: welcoming, funny and real. Getting to know them is like spending time with a good friend. Simply put, what you see is what you get.
How did your very first viral video, “Christmas Jammies,” come about?
Kim: We were not organized enough to send out Christmas cards that year (2013), and I had been working to build a social media management and video production company for other companies to hire. Penn was a news anchor; but after work, he would sit and edit the videos that I made for these companies. We had just gotten to
the point that we were doing well enough for Penn to be able to quit his news job, and this “Christmas Jammies” video was a way to announce that to our friends and family. We never expected it to go viral!
Penn: It was an announcement about me quitting my job, but it was also, ‘Hey, if you want our services, this is what our videos look like!” We were hoping that local companies in the Triangle would see it and call us to do work for them. This was at the beginning of the world of “content creators,” but we only intended to be behind the scenes.
Kim: We had no idea that YouTube could be monetized … It was very much a happy accident that we went viral. It wasn’t until a few years later that we decided to stop doing work for other people and focus on building our own brand.
Do you have a favorite video?
Kim: Penn just did a video based on “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” because we love that movie so much. I thought that one turned out great.
Penn: Well, because you chose one of mine, I’ll say my favorite of yours is “90s Music vs. Today,” where she talks about how all the songs from the 1990s mean something different than what we thought as kids.
Kim: Oh yeah, that was a good one.
Penn, you’re a Durham native and were in “Show Choir.” Kim, you’re a Florida native and were a competitive dancer. What would young, creative Penn and Kim think of you now?
Penn: I’d be pretty psyched! I was pretty busy with my synthesizers and laying down hot tracks as a kid, so young Penn would be proud. I’ve always been creative and always loved music. I’d love to tell my younger self, “Wait till you see how you get there. It doesn’t make any sense! And you married a woman who supports your creative side.”
Kim: I always wanted to tell funny, uplifting stories on TV, like Jeanne Moos from CNN. I’m generally a risk-averse person, but I’m incapable of doing something that doesn’t make me feel good. I never knew that we would be successful, but I knew that it would feel right.
Kim, you made a video recently about being an introvert. Are you really an introvert?
Kim: Being an introvert, for me, means that I recharge by being home alone, on my couch—or with my family—in sweatpants, reading a book. At the end of a long day, I want to collapse into the couch. At the end of a long day for Penn—being an extrovert—he wants to go play tennis until midnight with his friends. He went to a hockey game recently with 20 friends, and that was recharging for him. But I would need a day to recover from that.
Penn: Here’s the thing, though. I think people just think that an extrovert is someone who is always fun and outgoing in public, and an introvert is shy and quiet. Kim’s not shy. She’s a ton of fun at parties, but it’s not how she recharges.
Kim: I sometimes get messages on Instagram from people saying that they saw me at the store but didn’t want to talk to me because they think I don’t like it when people come up to talk to me, and I’m like “No, that’s not the case!” I love going out. I love having girls’ nights with my friends. I just need a chill day after that to re-center.
Penn: I like peace and quiet, but if I get too much of it,
I need to go find someone to talk to.
Kim: We went to the beach in December, which is such a nice, quiet time to go because there are no crowds. We were on a walk with one other person on the entire stretch of the beach, and I’m loving the peace and quiet, but Penn sees that one other person and goes over to start a 45-minute conversation with him, because he loves talking to people.
You have both been so open about ADHD, anxiety and other mental health issues. Why is it important to you to share this with your audience?
Kim: When I started talking about postpartum depression and anxiety—and I still have anxiety today—I got so many messages from people who said, “Oh my gosh, I thought it was just me.” It would have been so helpful to me, when I was suffering from postpartum issues, to see people openly talking about it, because I felt so broken in the beginning—like life was so easy for everyone else, and I was the only one struggling as a mother. I feel that the more people talk about it, the more we realize that life is hard for everybody.
Penn: As far as ADHD, the number of people diagnosed with a learning difference has gone up and up over the last few years. The main reason I want to talk about it is, for lack of a better word, it needs to be rebranded. The name itself is awful—it’s three bad words in a row. Imagine being a kid and someone tells you that you have a deficit, that you’re hyperactive and you have a disorder. To me, there are so many good things that come from a brain with ADHD … I do believe that adding humor to the topic of mental health reaches more people.
A hot topic for many parents of teens is social media. Since much of your life is centered around social media and YouTube, how do you manage parenting teens in such a social media-driven world?
Kim: First of all, every kid is different, and what every child is capable of processing is different. We waited until whatever the rules of each platform is, so age 13 for Instagram, for example. Our son has a gaming channel on YouTube, but we don’t allow comments. I think because they see us on social media, they don’t really have a desire to participate actively on it—they see it as a job. They don’t seem to view it as something new and exciting, because we’re doing it all day long.
Penn: I’m always worried that I’m going to screw up my kids, and things like social media are definitely a part of that. I was worried I was screwing up as a parent even before we started making videos. We can give advice to people on social media—or any other parenting advice—but we don’t know how, long-term, things will end up affecting them … We are the first generation of parents having to navigate the social media world with our kids, so we don’t have all the knowledge of how it will affect them.
Kim: We tell our kids all the time that we are doing the best we can with the resources we have. We may find out later that we were wrong about certain things, but they know that everything we do is out of love. They show us a lot of grace.
Penn: We’re a work in progress.
You’ve published a book called “Everybody Fights: So Why Not Get Better at It?” What made you want to write this particular book, and what makes you qualified to write it?
Kim: It was written in connection with our marriage counselor, Christopher Edmonston. It’s not meant for marriages in crisis, but for couples in a good marriage who want better communication. We did some marriage work—not because we were struggling in our marriage, but because there were conversations and fights we kept on having. When we worked through those, we learned that there were these magic words, and ways to get out of the common fight cycles. We also learned so much about each other while writing the book.
Penn: There are fights and arguments that couples have over and over that just don’t get fixed. The can just gets kicked down the road a little bit. There’s a respectful way to validate what the other person is saying about their needs while expressing your needs. Now we can argue, but leave it understanding each other better.
Where is your favorite spot in the Triangle for a date night?
Kim: Ooh! Probably Jolie.
Penn: I’d go back to Durham for that. M Sushi and Viceroy, for sure.
How did parenting life change for you all after “The Amazing Race?”
Penn: I think the most fun we had was during the six months leading up to the show—when we had to lie to our kids about the outcome. We couldn’t tell anyone about anything having to do with the show—particularly that we won—so we had fun making up stories. They’d try to get information out of us, so we made it fun.
Kim: The show started airing in January, and in February, we went to Disney World. It was not the
Disney experience we all hoped for, because we were expecting family time. I felt bad because people were wanting pictures with us, but at Disney, you’re on a schedule and have to go, go, go. It was certainly more
of a struggle.
Now that you’ve both traveled the world on “The Amazing Race,” what countries do you want to take your kids to?
Kim: We do have a dream to take them to some of our favorite locations from the race. We’re going to go to France and Switzerland first. I hope we get to see some of the places we went. It was a really special time.
Penn: When we were not actively racing, we were in a hotel room, so we weren’t able to venture out and sightsee.
Kim: We were in Lugano during one stop of the race, and it was probably the most beautiful city I’ve ever been in. We were doing a challenge where we had to carry wine bottles up these impossible stairs. I’m trucking up the stairs, sweaty, and I look over at these smartly-dressed women sharing a plate of ravioli and a bottle of wine. I was so jealous, but I also had a moment where I wondered what in the world I was doing.
What is the one thing that you can never leave home without when packing for a trip?
Penn: Noise-canceling headphones for an airplane trip; but for a car trip, definitely our own pillows. PC (Penn Charles) likes to bring 14 pairs of shorts, and then just wear one the entire trip.
Kim: Lola is into skin care, so she always brings her skin care routine with her.
Where do you see yourselves in 10-20 years?
Kim: Hopefully, on a beach somewhere! But I love creating, so I think we’ll still be doing something creative. I want to travel, so maybe we’ll be travel bloggers.
Penn: We’re getting close to the age that we can make some sort of “Fun Over 50” series.
Kim: You’re way closer than I am!
Learn more about the Holderness family and all of their adventures at theholdernessfamily.com.
Check out more stories from around Raleigh at midtownmag.com.