Talk Shows that Talk Bros: the McElroys, the Greens, and the Appeal of the Advicecast

What is it about brothers giving dubious advice that the Internet loves so much?

Enter John and Hank Green, and Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy, prominent artists in their own right and all-around digital renaissance men. Of the latter label, Michele Hilmes writes in On a Screen Near You: The New Soundwork Industry that “a Media Industries approach [to digital content] directs attention to the ways media function…as an interlinked, hybrid economy of activities, representations, and uses that spreads across technological platforms, media professions, textual forms, and audience experiences.” (Hilmes 177). Indeed, both the Greens and the McElroys typify this kind of digital creator; after all, each set of siblings have created their own online content ecosystems that spread across a host of digital platforms, from YouTube to iTunes and beyond.

Within these ecosystems lie two comedy podcasts, My Brother, My Brother and Me and Dear Hank and John, respectively. These podcasts—classified as “advicecasts” since they are both based in addressing audience questions on-air—have both appeared on the top iTunes charts and boast millions of streams each month. In turn, each series plays a major role in boosting the content ecosystems of each set of brothers, whether through funding, community engagement, or otherwise.

 

My Brother, My Brother and Me

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MBMBaM effectively launched the McElroy’s online brand. The podcast originated in April 2010 as an independently produced project by the McElroys, which quickly went viral. Soon after, the brothers joined the “Maximum Fun” network of podcasts in 2011 and still continue to produce through them today, with new episodes released every Monday.

MBMBaM’s main revenue stream can be traced to their sponsors, which the brothers directly refer to on-air in a weekly segment called “The Money Zone”. Fans can also support the show by donating to Maximum Fun network on the series website.

The podcast has also brought some considerable mainstream attention to the McElroys. Most notably, Griffin McElroy was named as one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” media luminaries this year. MBMBaM is also often referenced by Certified Genius Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has not only parodied the brothers’ signature variation of the improv comedy law “yes, and” in the lyrics to his hit musical Hamilton, but has also created a small movement based on a recurring bit from the show, which he sneaks into a number of his public appearances.

In turn, the success of MBMBaM has allowed the brothers to establish a larger digital media franchise around their content. Primarily, their affiliation with the “Maximum Fun” network has allowed them to produce a number of spinoff podcasts; popular entries include the medical history podcast Sawbones and their D&D campaign series The Adventure Zone. Justin and Griffin McElroy are also founding members of Polygon, Vox’s media gaming brand. This connection has lead to other popular soundwork and online video projects, such as their let’s-play series Monster Factory. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, the MBMBaM podcast itself was adapted into a miniseries this past February, produced by the online streaming network Seeso.

 

Dear Hank and John

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Unlike the McElroys, the Greens’ podcast stemmed from their already-established content ecosystem, that being, the content surrounding their landmark YouTube channel Vlogbrothers.

Dear Hank and John specifically originated in 2015, when the brothers asked fans in a video what they should make a podcast about if they were to do a podcast together. They basically came up with the concept of the series on-camera, and uploaded their first episode to SoundCloud soon after.

Coincidentally, Dear Hank and John also releases new episodes every Monday, although this show is principally funded not by sponsors, but through a Patreon page. Rather than directly supporting the creators, however, the profits generated by the podcast are more supplementary towards the Greens’ other online projects, which they jointly produce through their digital media company “Complexly”.

 

Why does this all matter?

On the whole, MBMBaM and Dear Hank and John exemplify how podcasting has become a viable avenue for digital creators to further curate their online portfolios and proffer stronger connections with their audiences, either pre-established or otherwise.

Specifically regarding the connectivity of the podcasting medium, Richard Berry writes that “podcasts engender a sense of hyper-intimacy, where listeners feel deeply engaged with both the process of listening and the material to which they listen.” (14). Indeed, we see that hyper-intimacy at play particularly in this advicecast subgenre, since audience members are often directly addressed by the creators during the show and are an integral part of dictating the content of each episode.

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As a result, it’s no surprise that strong communities have formed around both podcasts; one can particularly see these communities at work during live tapings of each show. In terms of the Greens, an episode of Dear Hank and John was recorded at a Vlogbrothers fan convention this past February. Over 4,000 fans were in attendance, and were each offered nametags that harken back to an ongoing joke from the show.

And as for the McElroys, the brothers have taken MBMBaM on tour this year. A friend of mine actually went to their show in Boston a few weeks ago, and told me about her experience there:

“The live show was so cool and I’m super glad I was able to go. I listen to MBMBAM basically every day, so I’m so used to hearing them talk and make all their goofs. But witnessing that process happen live was kind of surreal? Like I felt like I was kind of a part of it, in a way?

It was such a cool experience and I got to meet a bunch of other fans of the show, even when we just walked around Boston after. They were pretty easy to spot and they were all so friendly. It was such an awesome community thing.”

Overall, Megan’s comment gets to the core of why these advicecasts matter to our discussion of the media industries. As digital affordances push media content further down the long tail, a greater number of artists have found success by building and maintaining their appeal to niche communities. Podcasting projects, in turn, are a proven way to strengthen these communities, since they allow creators to take advantage of the intimacy of the medium and connect with their audiences, while also building their respective brands in the process. In any case, it’s easy to see why MBMBaM and Dear Hank and John have so much appeal; really, there’s nothing like getting advice from a band of brothers who understand the value of hard-hitting topics, from British football leagues, to Jimmy Buffett, to the planet Mars.

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