With ‘Doughboys’, Comedy and Chain Restaurants Finally Meet

Much like a great cheeseburger, an exceptional podcast has many layers but not too many as to drown out the best bits. Some of the most well-known comedy podcasts, like Comedy Bang Bang or How Did This Get Made, develop rabid cult followings in part because listeners who have been with them every week for long periods of time feel like they are right there in the room with them as they’re talking to guests and they’ve been there for the developments as it grows. Perhaps something that sets Doughboys apart is that most of their guests appear to also be the rabid fans who’ve been there since the beginning.

Created by hosts Nick “The Burger Boy” Wiger (Party Over Here) and Mike “Spoonman” Mitchell (The Birthday Boys) over a meal at The Cheesecake Factory in 2015, Doughboys reviews a different chain restaurant with a new guest each week. The “layers” of the show include Wiger’s indelible opening remarks each week that sound like they could be written for a Ken Burns documentary but are instead reserved for the likes of Taco Bell and Arby’s, Mike’s oft-too-long sound drops, the Five Fork Rating, and segments such as “Drank or Stank?” and “Pie In This Guy.” But while “The Doughboys can’t be bought,” as Wiger will remind Mitch from time to time, they can certainly be persuaded. Not just on how well they’ll review a restaurant, but on how ethical the American fast food industry really is.

I read a fan quote online that had a good summation of your relationship: “Nick and Mitch have an incredible antagonistic chemistry.” Is that how you guys normally act with one another or do you turn up the insults for the show?

Mitch: I am way more of an asshole to Nick on the show. There’s a part of me that knows if I get riled up, it’s fun. I like to play into that a little bit.

Nick: And just in real life, you are a very fun person to rile up.

Mitch: I am.

Nick: That’s part of the energy. I’m pretty good at knowing how to push your buttons.

Mitch: I can get riled up and I am passionate about some stuff. I can go off and get flustered and angry and debate stuff. But with Nick – unlike Jack Allison [Writer for Jimmy Kimmel and Mitch’s former roommate] who can actually get under my skin – it’s that sort of thing, I will just leave it on the table and I know that when I’m calling Nick a “cuck,” it’s a joke. Needling him on stuff like not going to parties or being a robot, it comes from a place of love. It never feels really hurtful to me. I think we’re both on the same wavelength in that we both know what we’re getting from each other. I think that’s sad for people who listen to the show to hear, but it’s true.

Nick: But it’s not a performance. I genuinely get mad at things you say and I think some of the positions you hold are insane. Even we’ll be texting and I’ll get mad at you because you’re saying insane things I disagree with. It’s a little more adversarial and combative, but we’re not projecting anything false about ourselves or our opinions.

Mitch: Yeah, those are my feelings, but I turn it up and I’m also a little meaner to you. I don’t think I’m that mean.

So when did you two first meet?

Nick: That’s a good question. I remember a conversation with Mitch – I don’t remember initially meeting honestly – I remember a conversation when I came to see The Birthday Boys during an Aspen showcase or maybe Montreal.

Mitch: Oh yeah. It was probably Montreal in like 2007.

Nick: Yeah, I saw some showcase and we had met before but one of the first conversations I remember was I had seen The Birthday Boys and you made a point to come out and were just the nicest guy. Like “Oh Nick! Oh thanks so much for coming!” just tripping over yourself thanking me for coming to the show even though I was just one audience member and I was thinking “What an earnest, sweet-hearted man.”

Mitch: And now you’ve grown to hate me.

Nick: [Laughing] No, no.

Mitch: From my perspective, I first started coming to the UCB theater in late 2005, early 2006, watching shows and taking classes. Nick was on an improv team at the theater called Last Day of School and he was an established guy and they were one of the funniest teams in my eyes. So eventually from doing sketch, because Nick was also doing sketch on a team called A Kiss From Daddy, that’s where we really got to know each other. We did a monthly show together, A Kiss from Daddy and The Birthday Boys.

Nick: Those were some of the funniest shows. The most I laughed was watching The Birthday Boys from the wings.

Then how did you guys eventually decide to branch off and team up for this?

Mitch: Well, we were definitely friendly and I always thought Nick was really friendly. I would say Nick is not a guy who would hang around the theater as much – is that insulting to say?

Nick: No. I’m not a guy who hangs out, in general. I spend a lot of time with my wife and we sort of keep to ourselves.

Mitch: A lot of people at UCB it turns into a thing where you go to shows and then go do something. I always did it because I would like to get drinks and I had no friends and no wife. But I mean, we knew each other from doing those shows and at the theater, we knew each other pretty well. And we were both interested in doing a podcast.

Nick: Mitch and I didn’t necessarily hang out, but I’m just not a guy who hangs out. Jack Allison once asked me if I’ve ever been to a party. But Mitch and I, we used to text each other for years back and forth, just really vicious personal insults as a running bit. As far as how the podcast began, we were both kind of thinking of doing one and we’ve known each other for a long time and I think it was just an interesting way we could work together.

Mitch: We met at The Cheesecake Factory at The Grove. Nick initially had the idea to do something about food because we both love food, and I think that’s something we knew about each other. He said “Let’s do something about chains” and the idea grew from there. I knew Dustin Marshall from Feral Audio and he was excited about it too. It kind of spitballed from there. The idea kind of emerged. We knew we wanted a ranking system, something out of five forks or something like that.

Nick: On our very first episode with Eva Anderson we come up with the fork system on the fly.

Mitch: Oh wow. Did we really? We should have prepared more.

Nick: There’s a lot of arbitrary moments that happen on the show that we then treat as canon that cannot be touched.

Mitch: Well, we always knew that we wanted to rank restaurants and give them the score, but the five forks, that’s good. That’s some nice improv, I guess.

Nick: In the podcast, there’s a running joke of Mitch not putting any work into the show or preparing for the show, but it’s not really true. Mitch does contribute a lot to what we do on the show, what the segments and restaurants are. I actually remember in the beginning – there’s a thing at the top of every podcast where I do a summation or cold open of the place we’re going to discuss and that was a thing that I was sort of tentative on and I asked Mitch and he said “Oh you should do that. That’s great, I like that!” So he has a lot of input on what the content of the podcast is.

Mitch: I am also lazy. Nick does a lot of it. I gotta give him credit.

Your guests often seem to be huge fans of the show, which can be rare these days when every comedian seems to have a podcast and there’s only so many you can listen to.

Mitch: On the show I can be kind of play an asshole character but in real life it’s nice and humbling to have people like the show and reach out. There was a thing for a while where people were like “I want to be on the show!” and that was nice to hear. I think our response was “You do?!” That was sort of a hint that people are listening to it and our peers and people we respect are listening to it and enjoying it. There are a lot of people who have been interested or we’ve been like “Hey we’d love to have you on.” We just had Jeff Sloniker on and I initially told him like a year ago to come on. It’s a weird schedule where we want to have people on but we try to mix it up every episode. We want to have different guests from different areas and different restaurants.

Nick: Yeah, the way we do the podcast is nine times out of ten we have the guest tell us what restaurant they want to do. The other times we may say, “Hey this is some place we were thinking of doing, would this appeal to you?” or “This happens to be a relevant place right now, would you be cool with talking about it?” But most of the time the guest is telling us where they want to do it so we don’t want to have the exact same type of guests or places over and over. It’s balancing those factors. Also, with one episode a week, if you’ve got ten people waiting to do the podcast, it takes three months to get through everybody and then the list grows.

Mitch: Also, every guest we’ve had on we’re big fans of and enjoy, and there will be times where we’ll be like “That will be a great guest, we’re gonna wait to have that person on at the right time!” and then a year will just go by. Booking just ends up being chaotic and sometimes people can’t do it and it will be the last minute and we’ll grab a friend or someone who is available. We did a good job of pacing that stuff out. I think it’s important to pace it out, the restaurant and the person, you’ve got to make it flow well. There are so many funny people.

One of the things that I think is fun about listening to the podcast is that it harkens back to memories of a shared childhood experience, when you razzed your friends and hung out at chain restaurants.

Nick: I think you speak to something, which is that we have a lot of memories associated with food and eating out. Going to restaurants, having meals, that’s just a thing that’s dense in our memory space. Those are always things that tend to happen with friends and family so it triggers that within a lot of people.

Mitch: We also like that style of joking around. Nick and I both like that kind of like not too prepared, but also not completely meandering – a focused but fun free-flowing conversation. That was why we wanted to do the podcast, was to have an outlet to do something like that. To feel like being in your basement after school and talking about stuff and riffing on it and that stuff being food specifically. We’ve done some segments where we’ve built up stuff and written it out, but I think the most fun of the podcast is whatever tangent we’re on.

You also use the restaurants as a device to talk about your guests lives and interview them in that way.

Nick: Well, there’s nothing more universal than eating, right? Sleeping and breathing if you want to be pedantic, but everyone eats multiple times a day if you’re lucky to be in an area where there’s easy access to food. And so we all just have a lot of opinions on it. Whether it’s something you care about a lot or don’t, if you’re picky or open-minded, we just all have a perspective on it. Whereas if you had a hockey podcast, not every person on Earth is going to have an opinion on hockey. But food is universal.

You also talk quite passionately about chain restaurants and give it a lot more respect than people might expect.

Nick: This might sound grandiose and maybe it is, I have a tendency to maybe be a little histrionic, but I believe chain food is American food. People talk about how American food doesn’t really have its own identity and I think it does: it’s chain restaurants. I think it’s fast food chains and sit-down chains, and I think that’s what the American identity of food is and I think that’s what gets projected around the world. I think when people think about American food they think of McDonald’s, KFC, Chili’s, or T.G.I Fridays. They think of Outback Steakhouse, which is appropriating Australian culture, but is an American chain through and through. That’s why we want to treat it with respect because it is a unique, relatable thing that is a part of a lot of Americans’ lives.

Mitch: Also, I just feel like it’s in Nick and I’s blood. Maybe it comes from that place when we would make fun of each other and reference some sort of fast food restaurant, or Mario Kart, but I think we had those similar beginnings where we loved Domino’s Pizza growing up, we loved N64, we loved Wendy’s. We genuinely loved them. And I did. To an extent I still do. I know what they are now and how bad they are for you and I’m getting older. I know that they aren’t great things to eat all the time; I especially know that from doing this podcast. We’ve both gotten fatter.

Nick: Mitch and I both struggled with our weight over the course of our lives and it’s an ongoing thing. I was lucky enough to find some success with diet and exercise a few years ago and I’ve mostly been able to maintain homeostasis at a lower weight but it’s tough. And that’s a big part of our relation to food too.

Mitch: Yeah, I’ve been up and down. I’m up right now. Not at my peak weight but close to it and I go back and forth all the time. I’m ready to take another dive at the moment.

Speaking of which, Mitch, you actually talked about starting a diet right in the very beginning stages of this podcast about chain restaurants and fast food.

Mitch: Yeah, it’s tough to do this podcast and try to lose weight. That first time – I don’t even think I did get into the dieting until a few weeks later. I was doing well with it and I just fell apart at the holidays. It’s hard. I’ve been eating nothing but salads for the past week and then tonight I was like “I’m gonna eat at the restaurant” (for an upcoming episode) and maybe it is like a thing where I want to cheat. But I think it’s my duty to eat at this place and have a real meal. We were talking about it and I was like “Should I get a salad?” and I don’t think so. I think I should get a thing I would want to eat at this place.

Nick: Yeah, that’s a thing where if you’re trying to eat healthy, you feel a sense of duty of getting a real assessment of the restaurant you’re at.

Mitch: Honestly, it’s that thing that if you eat one bad meal a week, you’ll be okay. You just gotta stick to it. “I can’t be going to Wendy’s again this week.”

Nick: It’s the only way to stay sane too, right? It’s tough to just eat very strictly and exercise strictly and not have the occasional indulgence. Also it’s just part of life. You go to a wedding or a social occasion after work, there’s all sorts of social pressures to eat unhealthy.

Mitch: And drink. The other thing is, my one issue with it is that the part that’s hard for me is to not indulge at other times. When I do it for Doughboys I’m like “Well, here we go, I’m gonna eat this meal.” and sometimes I don’t really like the place but that’s where I’m going to indulge, I wish I had done this on my own.

Nick: Yeah, that’s shitty. That’s probably like the worst part about doing the podcast. When you’re eating something super unhealthy at a place that sucks. The punishment of eating a calorically-dense unhealthy food but none of the pleasure of “Well, at least this is like scratching that itch.”

Mitch: Which has probably only happened like 10 or so times.

Nick: That’s a pretty good percentage of the episodes.

Mitch: That’s true.

Do you guys have a sweet tooth?

Nick: I definitely had one growing up. I’ve mentioned this on the podcast but my family just had dessert as a meal. We had ice cream literally every night. I did that basically every night of my life growing up. We always had brownies, cookies, cakes, and pie at the ready at home. It was a very unhealthy living style.

Mitch: You lived with those giant Gorg people from Fraggle Rock.

You’ve also had special months dedicated to certain items like Rockdoughberfest and Munch Madness. Anything else in the works?

Nick: We have an upcoming month that Mitch is very mad about.

Speaking of which Nick, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I saw you do a Sammy Hagar impression on YouTube that was never mentioned when you reviewed Cabo Wabo.

Nick: I used to do a Sammy Hagar character bit. I’m not a very good performer. I honestly didn’t know there was a video on YouTube, someone must have shot it off of a phone five years ago.

Mitch: He’s going to go home and take it down tonight.

Nick: I wanted to cover Sammy Hagar’s restaurant because I’m fascinated with him as a man, which is why I did an impression of him several years ago. Certainly a lot of the guests we have on really care about the restaurants we’re reviewing. Michael Carlson loves and is obsessed with Jimmy Buffett, so we went to Margaritaville. Scott Gairdner loves the Beach Boys and rock culture and he reviewed the Hard Rock cafe. Our opinions and backgrounds and that of our guests will affect what we do on the podcast.

Mitch: You don’t have to be passionate about the restaurant, but I think it’s always great when a guest comes in and they’re super passionate about the place. Whether it’s for good or bad. Some people are passionate about a place because they hate it and that’s always fun too. That alone, it hits something with Nick and I in that we’re passionate about food and we’re talking about this place and it means something to them for whatever reason.

With ‘Doughboys’, Comedy and Chain Restaurants Finally […]