The first thing you need to know about the McElroy brothers is that they aren’t experts. The second thing you need to know is that they’re completely, inarguably hilarious. Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy, three natives of Huntington, West Virginia, started My Brother, My Brother and Me back in 2010, and their advice podcast for the modern era has only grown since then.
The brothers have created their own intricate universe of podcasts within the family over the past seven years. The Adventure Zone features Griffin acting as dungeon master for Justin, Travis, and their father Clint; Sawbones is a medical history podcast hosted by Justin and his wife, Sydnee; Shmanners with Travis and his wife Teresa covers etiquette; Rose Buddies has Griffin and his wife, Rachel, discussing episodes of The Bachelor franchise; and Sydnee and her sisters have Still Buffering, which is a guide to understanding teens across multiple generations. One could have weeks’ worth of podcast listening just based on what the McElroy family cranks out.
Now the McElroys have finally made the leap to a visual medium. The TV version of My Brother, My Brother and Me debuts on Seeso on February 23. It keeps all of the wonderful, hilarious things about the McElroy dynamic intact, and continues to offer advice that should never be followed. When the three brothers sat down to talk to us about their show, we found out it wasn’t such an easy leap from the ear to the eye, but once everything finally clicked, they were off and running.
What was the process of adapting My Brother, My Brother and Me like? Was there anything in between “Are we going to tape us just sitting around a microphone” and the eventual format that is the final product on Seeso?
Justin: There was one point where we were thinking that we would have some sort of audience, that it would be something akin to more of a talk show kind of vibe… Not like we’d have guests on, but every episode would be filmed in front of a live audience with the three of us. And we talked at one point about this thing we called Superdesk.
Travis: Aw, yes! Finally, Superdesk sees the light of day in the media.
Justin: Yeah, Superdesk was the thing we wanted to build that was a three-person late-night show style desk that we would then move from location to location, even if we were just out in the world, on the street or whatever, we would have Superdesk with us. And it would be kind of the fourth character on the show, I would say. It was just the three of us and Superdesk.
Travis: We wanted to do a late-night talk show sort of setup, but all three of us at a single Superdesk. I think we had talked about actually trying to pretend it was our dad’s basement or something like that, we would have a live audience. But Superdesk was the main… We thought we had it with Superdesk. We were so like, this is it. We fucking struck gold. Superdesk. We got it. Print it, cut it, print it. And thank God… It was a lovely idea. Superdesk was actually representative of our own insecurities. It was our security blanket guiding us through this process. And the last act of making this a reality was, we had to let Superdesk go.
Griffin: A really long time ago, we were approached, not by Seeso or anybody… The first time we were approached and sort of floated this possibility of doing a TV show, it was like, “What if it was like a sitcom and you guys were, you know, played yourselves and you all lived together,” and there was all of this weird artifice. It was going to be a scripted sitcom, and this idea lasted over the course of a two-hour conversation. We walked away from that going, “Well, guess we’ll never have a TV show.” If that’s what it’s going to take …
Justin: The people that we were talking to this about, which I think were agents, I think, trying to help us come up with an idea. I literally don’t remember the agency, it’s been that long ago. But I will never forget, one of the people on that call said, “Now if we got you guys a show after Ellen, what would that look like?” And it’s like, “You fucking tell me buddy, I don’t know.”
Travis: I believe Justin’s response was “It wouldn’t.”
I know that Huntington, WV is a big part of the podcast’s mythos, and your background, but how did you guys arrive at the decision to film the whole show in Huntington? Was that a point of contention at any point with Seeso? Because I know that normally that’s not the sort of place where TV shows are produced.
Justin: There were two reasons. I can speak to the practical one, and the practical reason was, I have a two-year-old daughter and I just had a really hard time conceiving of… Especially when we first started talking about this, she was less than a year old. It was really hard for me to see being away for the amount of time that I would need to be away to film a TV show. So that was one practical concern, but the boys can speak to more of the artistic considerations, which I think were a bigger factor.
Travis: I think as far as the artistic goes, it really just came down to home field advantage. We were starting on a process and we… Like we said, we had no idea what the process of making a TV show out of our podcast looked like, but we wanted as much… If you want to talk about locations, probably the area we know the most about is our hometown, and the place that it makes the most sense for us. Who do we want to talk to? What location will we go to? Where will we stage this? What’s the event that we could do this at? The place we know the most about and makes the most sense for us is Huntington.
I also think that there’s some element to it of, we fit the best there. It makes a lot of sense, everybody in town was really excited to do it. The first day of filming, we were so so very nervous because we were making a TV show and we didn’t know what we were doing, and our first on-location shoot, we went to this antique store, and the woman working the counter was just amazing.
Griffin: So great, yeah.
Travis: She was so funny and on it, and she was so good at playing along with us and understood exactly what was going on and it was like, okay, yeah, we made the right call coming home to do this.
Justin: I never really thought about it that way, Trav, but we were I think subconsciously trying to compensate for how uncomfortable we were with TV. The TV people would be in Huntington, so they know how to make a TV show, but we know where all the good pizza places are. We used that thing we were bringing to the table.
Now, some of my favorite bits were you guys interacting with the mayor of Huntington, but at one point you guys did get shut down for causing some light mayhem. You guys did so much in Huntington. You did a parade for spiders and everything else, but was there anything that you wanted to do that the city just straight-up said “No, you can’t do that”?
Justin: No, the city was like, down. The city as an entity was like, down to clown. Okay, so the last show that was shot entirely in Huntington was called Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, and it was shot there because Huntington was the fattest city in America, so it was very much a lot of wide shots of overweight people walking through the city. I don’t know if there was actually trombone laden underneath it or if my memory has put it there. And [there was] another show called Big and Sassy or something, that wanted to shoot in Huntington just about people who were overweight and loving it. There was a definite hesitancy from some people. We didn’t get a lot of nos, but we did get people who were like “I don’t actually want to do this,” because TV does not have a great track record in Huntington, which is fair. I got it.
In our secret society episode, it was weird. That was the one that was the toughest for us, because nobody wanted to do it. Like, nobody. But the city itself was amazing. They really opened the doors. When we did a parade there and they actually had police escorts for our parade and crap like that. It was very surreal.
Griffin: We did get kicked out of Safety Town too, but that was…
Justin: We did get kicked out of Safety Town. That was legit as well. That was a weird kicking out, because … My worry with the show, and I’m probably overthinking it, but the things in the show aren’t lies. The things in the show pretty much happened the way they look, and I worry that people will think it’s fakey-fake stuff. Obviously we set up the locations we were going to go to, the people knew what they were doing, but the things that happened were real, so we really did get kicked out of Safety Town. It was legitimately pretty embarrassing.
Griffin: Travis moved the batteries around and he wasn’t supposed to and we got kicked out of Safety Town. That’s how it is. That’s just how it is. I don’t know if we’re…
Travis: That’s just what happened.
Griffin: I don’t know if we’re allowed back in Safety Town. I don’t know.
Travis: We’re persona non grata in Safety Town.
Well you guys will just have to make your own Danger Town, and then…
Travis: Build it right next door, it’s just a lot of glass shards and rebar.
Watching the episodes, I thought everything came across super genuine. I don’t know if that’s just a product of me having listened to you guys for so long and knowing when you guys are doing a bit or not.
Justin: It was one of the things, one of our very few absolute tenets was no artifice. And that was something that J.D. definitely helped us congeal, but we are not actors. Even though I have a degree in acting and directing, as does Travis, I believe, we’re not actors. We’re us. We just couldn’t have anything in the TV show that required us to act in a way that was not actually brought on by real-world scenarios. We just couldn’t act.
Travis: I think it was Justin, I think you put it this way, because we didn’t know what we were doing, we were like people making a car who had never seen a car before in their life. The way we made this TV show, I doubt anybody else would do it like [we did]. We’d be in the middle of doing something, and be like, oh, you know what we need to do? And redirect the course of the day to this new idea we just had in the middle of filming something else.
And because everybody was amazing, the whole crew would go “Okay!” And that would then become our day. That’s how we made the show, was just purely based on like, “Ooh ooh ooh, you know what we need? We need a bag full of necklaces, and some spider props, and a big chef hat!” And then someone would go and get it, and then 20 minutes later we’d be doing that shot. It was the weirdest… We shot something like 20 hours for each episode, and each episode was 24 minutes long.
What’s everyone’s favorite bit or moment from this first season?
Griffin: For me, it was Travis calling the Knights Templar, and us realizing that the Knights Templar is a thing that existed, that you can just call on the phone.
Travis: That made me so happy. That was a real turning point in that episode, too, where we were feeling very down about “No one will talk to us,” and the people that were very open with us were the Knights Templar! They were like “Yeah, what do you need to know?”
Griffin: That was probably the hardest I laughed doing the whole show. Because also we were in a hot van and we just had two cameramen jammed in there, and one of them was cracking up and getting hit by our DP for laughing, because we all were shocked that the Knights Templar existed. It was a very very very surreal moment.
Travis: [What] I loved the most, I think because it was for me a real culmination of “This is what our TV show looks like,” is when Griffin does the side-scrolling electronic resumé thing. Griffin went off by himself for like an hour to program that thing, and then came back and we didn’t see it before we started filming. So having us read it out and actually in the moment finding out what Griffin had typed out on it was so funny to me. And getting to honestly react to it in the moment made me so happy.
Griffin: Justin doesn’t have a favorite bit.
Travis: Justin didn’t like the show.
Justin: No, I think the funny stuff that I did, just the moments where I really shine and really bust everybody up, were I think some of the most effective moments in the show.
Griffin: Justin repeatedly trying to call Ellen DeGeneres was also the fucking funniest stuff.
Justin: I was trying to play it close to the vest so we wouldn’t spoil the entire fucking show, guys.
Griffin: Oh yeah, you’re right.
Justin: Come on, I’m trying to manage our media here.
Justin: The spider thing was the best. Travis’ fear of the spiders and having the spider guy there… Having the spider guy there was the time for me that it felt the most like a TV show. It felt like something that Jack Hanna, on the tonight show, that kind of vibe. It felt very TV to me. I really enjoyed doing that scene.
Travis, would you say that your fears of spiders are, if not conquered, at least a little bit abated after the results of that spider episode?
Travis: I will say specifically relating to tarantulas, yes. It is alleviated in some way, because I have now been touched by said spider. I would still never own one, but if I was in someone’s home and they had a pet tarantula in a container, it would not freak me out. That said, there are many other spiders in the world that are not big and easy to spot and are very poisonous and evil. So not as a general rule, I’m not okay with spiders now, but tarantulas, we’re on speaking terms.
Griffin: We gave Travis such shit about that, even going into that episode we knew it was going to be miserable for him. We gave him such shit, but honest to God, if the episode had been about mice, I would have fucking jumped out a window. I would have sooner eaten poison than touched a mouse. Not in a million bajillion trillion years would I have done what Travis did, if my particular flavor of phobia had been the subject of our television program.
Travis, if Teresa or your small child wanted to get a tarantula, would you allow that in your home?
Travis: Not my small child, she’s like three months old!
Well, when she’s six months old?
Travis: Well, maybe. You know, one of the main reasons I married my wife is because she didn’t want spiders in the house. That was the first question I asked on any date. But you know, it’s the kind of thing where I think that they are fascinating. I don’t know that I would want one in my home unless it was under constant supervision. I would need to know where it was at all times, so super-secure container. But I just wouldn’t go in the room it was in. I would lock it, like maybe it was a family member that passed away and I didn’t want anybody to touch their stuff, you know, and you just look in the peep-hole and see that there was a spider in there? Maybe that’s as far as I’d go.
How did all three of you all manage to make it through an entire season’s worth of shows without busting out your best impression, which is Tim Curry?
Griffin: I think it would’ve been illegal. I think we’d have to pay Tim Curry if we did that.
Justin: Yeah, I was worried that… My fear was that they would cut out the part that we said who the impression was of, and then nobody would be able to identify it, and I just couldn’t take that risk.
Travis: I also just know that the face I make when I do any impression, let alone Tim Curry, is horrifying, and I don’t want that captured on screen where people might accidentally have to see it and then just know that that face exists for the rest of their lives.
Justin: This reads a little bit, but not nearly as much as it should have: We were fucking terrified. I was lucky to do an impression of Justin McElroy in front of a camera, let alone explore other personalities.
Travis: It is one of my favorite thing about the show: We filmed sequentially, more or less. We worked on episode one and then we worked on episode two and so on, and so you can see us over the course of six episodes get more comfortable. I bet if you just sped up the film, you could watch our shoulders drop over time, and our heads raise up a little bit and us take deeper breaths.
Is there anything that you guys want people to know about the show or if they’re hesitant about tuning in?
Griffin: One of the big pieces of feedback we’ve seen from people is “I don’t know how this is a TV show” or “I don’t know what this would look like as a TV show.” I guess the thing I would say to folks is, I promise you we did it the only and best way we could do it while still remaining true to the spirit of the podcast. It is authentic and I feel comfortable saying that because again it took us a year and a half to figure out how to make it authentic, and I’m really proud of that.
Justin: Also, if it makes things any easier for people, we had actual people to help us. Actual, real people who do things. Adult people with vision and technical skills and craft.
Travis: Who knew where to get cameras.
Justin: Yeah, like any redeemable skill that actually helped us, so if it’s watchable, it’s thanks to them.