Podcasts are a terrible medium for completionists. There are countless informative, hilarious, or just generally great podcasts out there, but for brains wired like mine, it’s hard to just jump straight into a podcast at the newest episode, and try to pick up on the format and the running jokes. My instinct is always to start from the beginning, and when I find a new channel on YouTube, for example, I can’t just watch the newest episodes: I have to work my way through the back catalogue before I can truly feel like I “get it.” Now multiply that by 10 weekly podcasts, and throw in some video series, and you can see why I’ve put off dipping my toe into the vast entertainment empire the McElroy brothers have created.
Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy are hard to avoid (at least in my nerdy corner of the internet), with a wide range of oddball comedy podcasts and shows, all featuring a running through-line of positivity and absurdity. I knew they were funny, and from clips I’d seen posted on Twitter, I knew I’d probably enjoy their work, but the sheer volume of it scared me away for years. If I started, would I ever be able to catch up, or would I have that nagging imposter syndrome telling me I was missing out on the full experience?
I finally decided to take the plunge, starting with the brothers’ flagship podcast, My Brother, My Brother and Me. The podcast has a staggering 361 hour-long episodes, having run weekly since 2010. A quasi-advice podcast, each episode features the brothers taking questions from listeners, either offering strange, generally unhelpful advice, or using the topics as a jumping off point for tangents and improv comedy bits with little relation.
I started with episode 361: “Gelsey Krammer,” and followed that with a random semi-recent episode, 325: “Caveman Tears.” I’m sure a diehard fan would be able to tell me if these were good choices or not, but from what I can tell, they seemed to be a decent representation of the podcast as a whole. From the first 30 seconds, it was clear that the comedy could make me laugh, simply with the opening disclaimer, followed by a thoroughly entertaining discussion on custom license plates. The tone is casual, like you’d expect from a goofy conversation between brothers, with a generous helping of Tim-&-Eric-styled delivery.
Throughout the nearly two hours of content, I definitely laughed more than I have at any podcast in quite a while, and while not every segment landed, the McElroy’s kept the flow moving fast enough that they never lingered on a dud. My fear of feeling out of place soon passed, too. There were definitely references to past episodes I didn’t get and people I didn’t know, but by and large, I could probably listen to any random episode and enjoy myself.
At the end of the second episode, though, I can’t say that I remembered anything that stood out about what I’d just experienced — sure, I can tell you what topics they discussed, but there are no moments that I think back on and crack up at. It’s very fleeting entertainment, and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, it doesn’t instill in me that sense of drive I normally get from a podcast or show that I love and need to consume in its entirety. I can absolutely understand the fan base it has, and I could see myself listening to another episode late at night when I’m bored and just want something to pass the time, but I’m not expecting any archive binges.
At the end of the second episode, however, the brothers went over some of the other podcasts they work on, which gives some perspective to just how busy these three are, with all of them regularly hosting a variety of podcasts, some all together, some with others. You get the sense that it’d be easy to fall in love with these goofy guys, hearing stories about their lives multiple times a week — or even a day. I certainly enjoyed my time with My Brother, My Brother and Me enough to consider trying one of their other shows (the Dungeons and Dragons focused The Adventure Zone may be more up my alley), and if you have a long drive or flight, and need some light, passive entertainment to keep you going, you could certainly do worse than dipping your toe into the vast expanded universe of the McElroys.