The McElroy McEmpire
From left to right: Justin, Griffin, and Travis McElroy
In 2014, Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy, titular brothers of hit indie podcast My Brother, My Brother and Me, took a vacation from their normal podcast to play a game of Dungeons and Dragons. The timing was no accident: Justin McElroy had just become a father, and parental constraints on his time meant that a regular podcast was impossible. The three brothers and their father Clint, despite having practically no idea how to play Dungeons and Dragons, stumbled onto podcast gold that become the 69-episode campaign The Adventure Zone, an under-the-radar hit which took the internet by storm.
The Adventure Zone and its first story arc, Balance, spawned a series of small-scale D&D campaigns: the superheroic Commitment, the horror-story Amnesty, and the paranormal western Dust. None achieved mainstream success, but all fed a legion of devoted online fans; Adventure Zone and My Brother, My Brother and Me have frequently ranked among iTunes’ most popular downloads. In fact, as far as the internet is concerned, it seems that everything “Thirty Under Thirty” media luminary Griffin McElroy touches has a tendency to turn to gold.
Hailing from the town of Huntington, West Virginia, from which his show is still based, Griffin McElroy first broke into the pages of Forbes as the founding editor of Polygon, the gaming-based offshoot of Vox Media. He and his brothers Justin and Travis - as well as their father and frequent enabler Clint, who himself has a long history in radio - have since become internet celebrities, voice actors, reviewers, and general content-producing internet-famous celebrity oddballs. As irritating as it is to hear “personality” used to mean “famous person with no discernable day job,” it is not an inaccurate term in this case: their four personalities are the product they sell, and the internet cannot get enough.
The McElroy flagship is podcast and TV series My Brother, My Brother and Me (MBMBAM, which fans affectionately pronounce “ma-bim-bam”), in which the three brothers take on absurd internet requests such as rebranding tarantulas as “Ranchos” to sound cooler or determining whether the toys of Toy Story are actually haunted. The brothers also have a YouTube presence, their most popular series being Monster Factory, in which the brothers abuse the character creation feature of popular video games to create the most horrifying characters imaginable and then playtest the games as their eldritch abominations of flesh. The three have numerous smaller topical podcasts and have voice-acted in cartoons such as Cartoon Network’s Clarence and Rooster Teeth’s Camp Camp.
So what gives the McElroys such strong internet stock? No doubt the trio’s sense of humor and improv-comedy chemistry is their foremost selling point. A typical episode of The Adventure Zone, like most D&D games, is one part plot and nine parts forgetting or avoiding the plot. A podcast of My Brother, My Brother and Me can include anything from how to best fight a home intruder while naked to Justin’s habit of finding possessed dolls on Craigslist. When MBMBAM made the leap to television, the antics only got weirder: one episode has the brothers delving into the world of secret societies by directly calling the Knights Templar and asking how to join.
The McElroy brand of humor may simultaneously explain why the brothers have achieved fairly little mainstream or offline recognition. The bits they do are largely improvised, with the trio relying on their natural synchronicity to carry the joke. In the same way that many old Marx Brothers scripts allegedly read simply “Then Groucho says something funny,” this formula provides the backbone for most of their comedy. Their off-topic, situational, and frequently absurdist style of humor appeals easily to the millennial funny bone, but can be hit-or-miss and highly dependant on individual taste.
Fans of podcast comedy should sample My Brother, My Brother and Me or one of the many other nice podcasts available from the McElroys. Fans of Dungeons and Dragons are encouraged to listen to The Adventure Zone and its spinoffs - bearing in mind that, owing to the off-topic humor and easily distracted hosts, the plot can be somewhat slow at first. Finally, fans of cruelty and abuse toward video game characters and their rendering engines should sample Monster Factory, which is available on YouTube. A comprehensive catalogue of the family’s bizarre and free oeuvre may be found at McElroyShows.com, or, for listeners wishing to donate, through the Maximum Fun Network website.