The McElroy brothers – Justin, Travis, and Griffin – started their first family podcast in 2010 as a way of keeping in touch while living in different states. My Brother, My Brother and Me is a comedy advice podcast which skews heavily towards the comedy. “The McElroy Brothers are not experts, and their advice should never be followed,” as the official-sounding announcer intones at the beginning of every episode. The boys’ advice is so outlandish, though, the disclaimer could probably go without saying.
The brothers answer questions from listeners and Yahoo! Answers, but they’re really a jumping-off point for riffing. It’s a kind of relaxed and supportive improv that can only come from knowing someone literally your entire life.
Since that first podcast episode, the McElroys have created 15 podcasts, 7 YouTube series, and a television show on Seeso. What started as a way to keep the family together became a secondary family for thousands of people online. The MBMBaM Appreciation Group on Facebook has 30,488 members at the time of writing. Members include their daddy Clint, members of the extended family who regularly post embarrassing childhood photos of the brothers, and America’s favorite Broadway baby Lin-Manuel Miranda. Lin actually came to the fan-orchestrated screening for the brothers’ Seeso TV show in Los Angeles. He stayed after and sang “Ignition” at karaoke, a reference to the boys’ live show prep.
Many anthropologists argue that the purpose of humor, on an evolutionary level, is in-group/out-group definition. Jokes are designed to identify an Us and a Them. At its worst, this impulse manifests in ridiculing Them. But at its best, comedy can not only celebrate Us, it can make who “Us” is bigger. That’s what the McElroys do. “Us” is anyone who wonders about ghosts/the afterlife, anyone who thinks horses are majestic, anyone who is aware of basketball. That’s a pretty big tent.
Early on in the MBMBaM canon, the brothers made some jokes at the expense of furries. After lots of emails from the furry community, the boys changed their stance and became a much more yif-inclusive show. MBMBaM now has a pretty extensive following in the furry community because they’re some of the few people on the internet who don’t make fun of them. The number of in-jokes and references are a huge part of this tent-building. On a recent episode of NPR’s Bullseye, Griffin mentioned that fans have taken to calling the brothers by their childhood nicknames (Juice, Travvy, and Ditto). You literally feel like a part of the family. But the amount of repeated goofs goes beyond memes; it’s a whole new vocabulary.
It’s a common complaint among MBMBaMbinos (the term for fans of the McElroy family of podcasts) that the show changes the way you talk on a daily basis. I can say from experience that my use of the words “boy,” “goof,” and “wet and wild stunts” have gone up exponentially since I got inoculated to McElroy-speak. (“Inoculated” is a TAZ reference, incidentally.) Nothing is funnier to me than insistent terminology. It changes the way you think. Every time I refer to someone’s mouth as their “gummy works,” I’m transported to the Blade & Soul episode of Monster Factory, and the creation of Rat Baby. I have become happier and able to take delight in more things since my introduction to these sweet, soft boys. And with each new intellectual property, a whole new world of associations opens up. Here’s a smattering of the best.
MBMBaM TV Show: Seeso made six episodes of a MBMBaM TV series, shot in the boys’ hometown of Huntington, West Virginia. One listener-submitted question is given half an hour of attention. As per usual, the advice is less than useful. A question about whether it’s OK to pad one’s resume somehow ended in Griffin arriving for a job interview in a smoking jacket and LED-display resume. Each episode ends with the boys having dinner with their dad, a nod to the compulsory family dinners the brothers shared for most of their lives.
The Adventure Zone: The brothers play D&D with their daddy. The Adventure Zone has a hyperactive fanart community, as well as a dedicated queer following due to the boys’ LGBTQ-inclusive storytelling. Justin’s character, a gay elf wizard named Taako, is especially beloved.
Till Death Do Us Blart: A joint venture with The Worst Idea of All Time’s Guy Montgomery and Tim Batt, every American Thanksgiving, these five men will watch and discuss Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. For the rest of human existence. Contingency plans have been made so that when a member of this brotherhood dies, another will take their place.
Besides their podcasting duties, Justin and Griffin are also video game journalists at Vox’s gaming vertical, Polygon. Both brothers do serious games journalism, but most of their time is spent making very special YouTube content.
Monster Factory: Griffin and Justin make the most hideous video game characters imaginable. Monster Factory is about figuring out how to love the unloveable, the unknowable. It’s a wallow in the uncanny valley. Monster Factory might have the most uses of the word “boy” in a McElroy property, which is truly saying something.
Cool Games Inc.: Griffin’s podcast with Polygon video producer Nick Robinson. Griffin and Nick develop games based on suggestions from Twitter (and later, Reddit). Some of the games they’ve developed include Grandma Wants It Al Dente: Grandma Needs It Al Dente, Dr. Robotnik’s Dinner Blasterz, and Tim McGraw’s What If? Trucks: Fates.
Griffin’s Amiibo Corner: Must be experienced to be understood.
Each of the brothers does a podcast with their respective wives (it’d be weird if they did podcasts with each other’s wives, but I digress). Each show takes on a topic close to the wife’s heart. Sydnee, Teresa, and Rachel all take on an “expert” role that pairs nicely with their husbands’ “goober” persona. If The Dollop’s Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds were married, you’d have these shows.
Sawbones: Justin and Dr. Sydnee McElroy examine medical history and all the dumb things we thought bloodletting could cure. If you like listicles about trepaning and/or that guy in Russia who had a tree growing in his lung, you’ll like Sawbones.
Shmanners: Travis and Teresa McElroy talk about etiquette, both its history and current applications. Teresa apparently was instrumental in transforming Travis from partially-shaved Bigfoot to contributing member of society, so we know her information is good. They just finished a two-part series about social media etiquette, which is something about which we all need more hard and fast rules to follow.
Rose Buddies: A podcast hosted by Rachel and Griffin McElroy and dedicated to The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Bacherlor in Paradise, The Bachelorette Canada, Are You the One?, Terrace House: Boys & Girls in the City, and many other reality dating shows. I cannot watch most of these shows because they remind me too much of the Manson Family, but I listen to this show religiously. Rose Buddies introduced a perfect categorization system for awful men during Jojo’s season of The Bachelorette. Dudes you don’t want to date get sorted into either Rat Bags or Piss Kids. A Rat Bag is a toxicly masculine bro, and a Piss Kid is what most of the internet would call a softboy. Piss Kids whine about the unfair treatment they receive from everyone; Rat Bags punch walls. It’s a complete system.
There is more SO MUCH MORE McElroy content to be had. Middlest brother Travis has podcasts about survivalism, trends, and the ineffable. Justin has a podcast with his baby daughter and a video series about the things he bought at the gas station/convenience store Sheetz, and Griffin recently concluded an extremely horny “Let’s Play” of Skyrim. Travis and Teresa have also just launched a new podcast in which they’re rewatching all their old favorite movies and TV shows. Currently they’re watching season 1 of Buffy. And even then we are only scratching the surface. No aspect of life is free of their appraisal. The McElroys are like some sort of mutant pop culture homunculus, a mix of half-remembered cartoons from the ‘90s and psychosexual nightmares. Like Garfield the cat, with Pamela Anderson’s body.