The wildly popular podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me is finally coming to Phoenix for a live taping, and a small chunk of the Valley is stoked.
The show is self-described as “an advicecast for the modern era featuring three real-life brothers: Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy.” The fun part? Questions are either sent in from fans or picked from the dystopian Wild West that is Yahoo Answers.
The West Virginia brothers have innumerable podcasts (and one TV show), two of which will be recording live at Symphony Hall on Saturday, June 16 – The Adventure Zone (a live-play D&D podcast) and MBMBAM.
We chatted with oldest brother Justin McElroy via phone from the McElroy hometown of Huntington, West Virginia, to talk about the early days, the Maximum Fun network, touring a podcast, and never-ending goofing.
MBMBAM was created in April 2010 more for self-entertainment, says McElroy. “I think the thing that worked for us is that MBMBAM is really just a version of what we have been doing around our dining room table like, since Griffin could talk,” McElroy says, explaining how their dad (radio host Clint McElroy and frequent contributor to McElroy shows) was heavily into comedy, and from that example, the brothers grew up regularly goofing on each other.
“We would just constantly be giving each other a hard time,” McElroy says, “And [MBMBAM] was really just a permutation of that. It almost felt like cheating.” McElroy says the three had no illusions about the amount of success they would see, “especially before we got picked up by MaxFun,” he says, when they were still trying to figure out what the show would actually be like.
It was less than a year before MBMBAM was added to the Maximum Fun network — a gathering of independent comedy and culture podcasts founded by radio host and podcaster Jesse Thorn. The show was added in January 2011, which McElroy describes as being a surreal moment.
“In the grand scheme of things, [MBMBAM] was a pretty early podcast, like in the history of podcasting, but we were hugely influenced by Jordan, Jesse, Go! and Uhh Yeah Dude and You Look Nice Today,” he says. “So, when Jesse reached out, we were kind of flipping out. That was a real podcast to us — not a ding-dong podcast like we had been making.”
McElroy says MaxFun exposed the show to a completely new audience, legitimizing MBMBAM, and connecting them with the show’s celebrity guests like Elizabeth Gilbert, John Hodgeman, Dan Savage, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and eventually, Jimmy Buffet.
Now after eight years, the brothers are all married, have had a kid or two, and were able to quit their day jobs. McElroy continues to reside in Huntington, while “middlest brother” Travis McElroy relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio, and “sweet baby brother” Griffin McElroy to Austin, Texas. The brothers create MBMBAM remotely, along with a slew of other shows.
In counting, the McElroys are involved — either as co-host or producer — in roughly 13 podcasts, and again, one TV show. To demonstrate how deep McElroy content runs, each brother’s wife is co-hosting her own MaxFun podcast, including Sawbones, Schmanners, and Wonderful! Other family members have joined in with shows like Still Buffering and the independent Court Appointed.
With all this going on, not to mention parenthood, guest appearances, and only hiring someone to help with the business just recently, we had to ask: Do you guys feel like you're at capacity?
“I wish we were. I wish I could say yes,” McElroy says, laughing but without a trace of joking. “But right now, I can think of three other things that we’re like, ‘Let’s start pitching it and scoping it out.’ And we haven’t even started yet.”
McElroy explains that he and his family are trying to capitalize on this success as much as they can, and achieve as much as possible while people still care about this medium. “So, there’s definitely an internal pressure that I think helps us move forward,” he says, “but it can be pretty stressful.” That stress comes from a nagging worry that he’ll wake up the next day to the following news:
"'Nation Decides That Three Goofballs Are Not Worth Caring About Anymore,' like that’s the headline. ‘Ding Dongs Go Back to Best Buy,'" he says, laughing. “I fear this every day.”
Live show audience members probably wouldn’t understand this, as touring has become an incredibly successful endeavor.
Tours started in 2015 with shows in Cincinnati, Austin, and other cities, plus at a 115-seat venue in New York that sold out twice – forcing them to add two shows that same day. They worked their way up to the 3,500-seat Kings Theatre in Brooklyn. But even with this response and frequently sold-out shows, touring hasn’t become a constant thing.
“We all have little kids, and it can be stressful to travel with or without them in different ways. So, we’ve never done the long bus tour,” McElroy says, “It’s also because we make the show up every time. Doing that five or six times in a row can seem absolutely daunting.”
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Probably why MBMBAM is stopping in Phoenix for the first time now.
“We don’t do a lot of these, so we want to try to see as many people as we can, and if you are interested in seeing us, we want to try and make that possible,” McElroy says, explaining how touring also gives them a chance to thank and appreciate their fans.
“Of course, we also charge for tickets so it’s not like, altruistic,” McElroy says of their inaugural tour stop in Phoenix. “Also, it’s a place we haven’t seen. So, we’re getting to take a trip to a place we’ve never been before with our families.”
My Brother, My Brother and Me is scheduled to perform on Saturday, June 16, at Phoenix Symphony Hall. Tickets are $39.50 at the Phoenix Symphony Hall website.