O Brothers, Where Art Thou?
Huntington natives Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy defy distance and define comedy for the modern era with their hit podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me.
By Mike Murdock
“There’s a podcast I love from three brothers from Huntington, West Virginia. It’s called My Brother, My Brother and Me. And they’re hilarious, and so one day I found myself writing ‘Unless, unless’ in their exact vocal cadence. So to Travis and Griffin and Justin – Great job!”
Those words were spoken in June at the Tony Awards by arguably the most famous person in the entertainment industry today – Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the beloved Broadway musical Hamilton. He was answering a question from a reporter about the “weirdest place” he drew inspiration from while writing the year’s hottest musical. (“Unless, unless” is a catchphrase from the McElroy brother’s podcast.) Not a bad shoutout, right? But don’t just take his word for it.
My Brother, My Brother and Me (MBMBaM), is a weekly comedy advice podcast, similar to a downloadable radio show, by Huntington natives Justin McElroy, Travis McElroy and Griffin McElroy, for the Maximum Fun network. MBMBaM started independently in April 2010 as a way for the brothers to keep in touch after Travis and Griffin moved away from Huntington. MBMBaM joined the Maximum Fun network of podcasts in January 2011 after consistently being ranked as one of the top comedies on iTunes.
“Travis and Griffin had just moved to Cincinnati, and we were worried about losing touch,” Justin says. “I had been hosting a podcast for a few years, and so we hit upon the idea of doing a show together, mainly just to stay connected. An advice show seemed like a general enough thing that we could all be on equal footing.”
Justin and Griffin both work for Polygon, a gaming website, and have worked in video game journalism for years. They both worked for the now-defunct Joystiq where they were featured on the Joystiq podcast.
On MBMBaM, the three siblings field questions either found on Yahoo! Answers or from listeners of the show. While some of the questions are serious, most are not:
“What is Batman’s position on marijuana?”
“Would it be acceptable to wear my karate uniform to court?”
“If I go to Italy and speak English with an Italian accent, will I offend the Italians?”
“What country is Queen Latifah the ruler of?”
“What is the difference between anorexic and balsamic?”
The advice they provide is typically poor, yet very funny, based on each of their “expertise.” While answering queries they often wander off subject and into an array of tangents that leave listeners, and the audience, in stitches. But be forewarned, the show it definitely R-rated.
“I was very new to the world of podcasts at the time,” Travis says. “Griffin had just told me about them two or three months before we started MBMBaM.” After that introduction, however, Travis took the dive headfirst and started listening to an array of podcasts.
“We were really into Uhh Yeah Dude, which shaped a lot of the show, I think,” Justin explains. “It was one that showed us you could blend comedy and sincerity.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda isn’t the only celebrity the brothers have won over and that has appeared on the show. Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert is a fan and has appeared as a Guestpert (guest expert), along with Dan Savage, John Hodgeman, Cameron Esposito, John Roderick and others. But there’s still one celebrity the brothers all agree they are gunning for: the star of Quantum Leap and Enterprise.
“Scott Bakula,” Travis says. “He is our white whale.”
“I don’t know why,” Justin adds. “We got fixated on this early. We all watched a ton of Quantum Leap and we reference it and him a ton. He actually filmed a video (at Lin-Manuel Miranda’s urging), congratulating Griffin and his wife, Rachel, on their pregnancy, but I still want him on the show.”
The podcast has become wildly popular with a weekly audience of 200,000 listeners. They have performed their show at theaters in front of live audiences of 500-1,000 in such cities as Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, Vancouver, Austin and San Francisco. If you Google “MBMBaM” you will get over 81,000 hits. To date, the podcast has been downloaded 43 million times!
In September, the brothers reunited in Huntington for the next step in their meteoric rise to fame. They’ve signed a television deal with Seeso, the comedy subscription streaming service from NBC Universal that debuted in January 2016. The show will be filmed in and around the Tri-State and is scheduled to be released in 2017.
“It will be like a lot like our podcast – built around abstract advice, delivered poorly but with good intentions, diverting into constant inscrutable sidetracks,” Griffin says. “I am so, so excited to be filming the television show in Huntington; even in the pre-production process, it’s been so great to bring people into town and hear them talk about what a weird, lovely, unique place Huntington is – something I’ve known forever, but hear too rarely.”
“It is important to us that watching the show feels like a natural extension of the podcast,” Travis says. “Also, it’s probably going to be funny.”
Last year the trio taped a show in Huntington before a crowd of 800 at The Big Sandy Superstore Arena. They were surprised to learn that audience members came from 30 different states and four different countries including the United Kingdom and Switzerland.
“I hope we weren’t the only reason they came to America, but it would great if it was,” Justin joked to a reporter from The Charleston Gazette. “I hope they stuck around and explored the area a little. West Virginia is such a huge part of us, and what we do. That they might get to know West Virginia like we do is just a really cool thing for us.”
“The mayor of Huntington even named the day in our honor, which was really, really cool,” Justin said. “We tried to play it off when he did it, but we were actually pretty stoked about it.”
The show’s fan base is diverse and growing exponentially all the time. Not only have the brothers found a way to bring laughs to people’s ears, their unaffected and genuine kindness to others have helped shape lives all across the country and even the world.
“The McElroys and their goofs brought a ton of positivity and laughter into my life when I was going through a tough transition,” longtime listener Rachel Rosing, 36, of Eugene, Oregon, said. “I’ve made some amazing new friends through my connection to MBMBaM. If it’s a cult, I never want to be rescued.”
Drew Davenport, 29, from Camarillo, California, is one of the biggest contributors of questions from Yahoo! Answers. “Currently, the brothers have read 159 questions I submitted. I encourage everyone to peruse Yahoo! Answers and find some good ones. The show has a fan base full of artists, creators and some of the nicest folks I’ve ever met. It really has changed my life.”
Tristan Llewellyn Morris, a United States Marine from Marlborough, Massachusetts, has even more reason to love the Brothers McElroy.
“I’m 25 and I’ve been listening since day one,” Morris says. “I wrote in and my question was answered in episode nine, and the brothers took it upon themselves to change my life over the next few years after that. They gave out my address when I was in boot camp and I was flooded with letters from fans. They raised money and donations when I deployed, and sent my six-man team and me over $3,500 worth of video games, systems and Magic: The Gathering cards. They’re really the kindest, most giving and incredible people I’ve ever known.”
To the brothers themselves, nothing is more important than their fans and making people happy.
“It’s been a real process making sense of it,” Justin says. “At first, I spent a lot of time denying how big it was getting, because that’s just my nature to downplay stuff like that. But I think when we started doing live shows in front of large crowds, it really started to sink in, and now I just find it all extremely humbling. I try to live in a state of perpetual gratitude. In terms of how it has changed my life, I’d say it’s given me a sense of purpose and fulfillment that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to properly thank our listeners for.”
New episodes of MBMBaM arrive on iTunes every Monday, and if you would like to know more about all of the other shows the family is involved in, many with their wives, parents, other siblings and friends, please visit http://mcelroyshows.com/.