Have you ever wondered how much fart can fit inside a medium-sized jar? Do you feel like an adult teen baby, and don’t know who to turn to? Maybe you just need a bunch of names for warrior cats? The McElroy Brothers are here to help.
My Brother, My Brother, and Me is a weekly advice podcast starring brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy. Each week they take listener submitted questions – as well as questions from the often desperately troubling Yahoo! Answers – and “turn them, alchemy like, into wisdom.” Their words.
The show started in 2010 after several hours of talking over Skype about a hypothetical podcast they’d like to start. That night they recorded and released their first episode.
“Travis and I had just moved to Cincinnati, so we saw it as an opportunity for the tree of us to stay in touch, and stay informed about each other on a regular basis,” says Griffin. “It turns out it was a great way.”
Since podcasting as a medium was still in its infancy in 2010, the brothers did what they could to get episodes up.
“I think I recorded the first 20 episodes on a Rock Band microphone,” says Griffin. “I had four books stacked up, wedged the mic in, and that was my mic stand.”
Despite their lack of equipment, it wasn’t long before the show became a hit. A fan following started to spring from three men in their 20s trawling Yahoo! Answers for questions about horse birthdays; something they would have been doing anyways.
“People ask me how to start a podcast, and I tell them just do the thing that you would be doing anyways, but record it,” says Travis. “We didn’t do the show because we thought people would be crazy about three nobodies from West Virginia giving advice. We just thought we’d be talking anyways, so why not record it?”
While much of their early audience followed Justin and Griffin from a previous show – a podcast for the now-defunct video game website Joystiq – what fans they did have were intensely loyal from the start.
“I think because we feature audience questions and audience submitted stuff, even when our audience wasn’t very big, everybody was super engaged,” says Travis. “People started getting MBMBaM tattoos, and it was incredibly weird. Very flattering, but still like ‘Oh no, why are you doing that? That’s so permanent, we’ve only put out 20 episodes, what are you thinking?’”
They must have been doing something right. Less than a year later the show was acquired by the Maximum Fun Podcast Network, under which dozens of different shows are distributed, including Vancouver’s own Stop Podcasting Yourself. The results were almost instantaneous.
“The show was smaller than the Joystiq podcast was up to that point, so at first it was hard to tell if it was just a subset, or if other people had been brought in,” says Justin. “When we got onto the Maximum Fun Network there was no gaming connection there, it was just people listening to the show and recommending it. At that point our listenership pretty much doubled over night.”
Even under their new banner, the brothers were still free to do whatever it was they wanted to do, something they might not have gotten in another medium.
“That’s the good thing about Max Fun, and podcasts in general. You’re not really dealing with like producers, or people giving you notes, or studio heads being like ‘I don’t like all the ghost jokes!’” says Travis. “A lot of the time Max Fun was just like ‘No, you’re people like it so, go for it.’”
Five years later, and with thousands and thousands of fans hungry for more McElroy, the brothers have spread their comedy wings, building a veritable podcast-empire-within-a-podcast-empire. Griffin plays Dungeon Master on The Adventure Zone, where the brothers play Dungeons & Dragons with their dad. Justin co-hosts medical history podcast Sawbones with his wife Sydnee, a medical doctor. Travis is involved with three shows outside of MBMBaM: Post-apocalyptic podcast Bunker Buddies, pop-culture show Trends Like These, and he’s a producer on dog-centric Can I Pet Your Dog? and educational comedy podcast Baby Geniuses. The popularity of each podcast has shown that fans are ready for just about anything the McElroys want to do.
“Our audience is amazing. I have no words to describe them,” says Griffin. “The fact that they exist is just bonkers to me. They’ve actually spoiled me to a point where I was fairly confident The Adventure Zone was going to do well, because this audience is down for anything.”
Once you’ve sown your podcasting field and reaped the sweet, sweet audio reward, what next? Frankly, the brothers don’t know. While podcasters like Marc Maron of WTF and Pete Holmes of The Pete Holmes Podcast have built media careers around the popularity gained through their shows, what path the McElroys want to take is still unclear.
“There’s not a super obvious trajectory for expansion,” says Griffin. “There are people out there doing it, but they’re doing it right now. The show has been growing a lot in the last year, exponentially faster than it did the first four years. Talking about what to do next when the thing that we’re doing now is doing really, really well, and makes us really happy is a tough prospect.”
Despite their popularity, according to Justin, being a professional podcaster can leave you with a strange feeling, since the format stays the same, even as their popularity grows. Live shows, merchandise, meet-and-greets – it all from three brothers talking into microphones.
“It’s really weird that I don’t have more of an impostor syndrome,” says Justin. “When you’re making a podcast there’s a very weird flip where it goes from ‘hey, we’re just people talking into microphones’ to ‘we’re saying this is a thing now’. It’s the democratization that the internet has provided, but it’s weird that I can say ‘I make a show, this is a show that I make. Here’s the art for it, and I’m talking like someone on a show talks. I’m your host.’”
“It’s insane that anyone is listening at all,” says Justin. “I’m still not convinced it isn’t an elaborate prank.”
When: Sunday, August 30
Where: Chan Centre for the Performing Arts –6265 Crescent Road, Vancouver