Interview: Podcasts, Cons and Chicago–A Q&A with Travis McElroy
Travis McElroy is the middle brother of the podcasting powerhouse that is the McElroy brother trio. He’s the co-host and co-creator of the comedic My Brother, My Brother, And Me (MBMBaM) podcast, where he and his brothers Griffin and Justin field a variety of questions on nearly every topic imaginable and dole out advice. He’s also the co-host and co-creator of The Adventure Zone podcast, where he, his brother, and their father, Clint, record their sessions of Dungeons & Dragons with equally chaotic results. My Brother, My Brother, and Me has been going strong since 2011 and recently reached 400 episodes, while The Adventure Zone is much newer, beginning in December of 2014. While newer, The Adventure Zone seems to have really taken off, with its success far surpassing even the expectations of its creators.
During the hustle and bustle of the C2E2 convention, I had the chance to sit down with Travis McElroy and talk about the success of his podcasts as well as potential future projects, and to pick his brain on visiting Chicago.
First off, thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
Thank you for talking to me! Always a pleasure.
Let’s talk about the podcasts. How are MBMBaM and The Adventure Zone faring these days?
MBMBAM just hit episode 401. We’ve been doing it for about 8 years now. It ebbs and flows because we’ll hit certain points where we’re like, “What are we even doing?” And then you hit other points and we’re like, “and we’re finally figuring it out.” I think we finally figured out how to do the show?
I remember we made jokes about it in the first 100 about how far we thought we’d actually be able to go and now to have done 400 feels silly.
For The Adventure Zone, this week we’ll be starting our second season’s full extended arc with Amnesty. The Adventure Zone: Balance was more like high fantasy. You know, wizards and kings and stuff. Amnesty is a lot more like Buffy or Supernatural. It takes place in a fictional town called Kepler, West Virginia. It’s like a resort town, but there’s also a gate that opens to a different plane where there are werewolves and vampires and stuff. So they cross over, and most of them are totally nice, and some of them are big jerks. It’s going to be a really fun kind of story to play. I think it gives us a lot more opportunities to be silly, because if everything’s silly, nothing is. But if everything’s grounded, it doesn’t take much to be silly, and that’s nice.
How have the C2E2 panels been for you?
We did one Friday night–An Evening With Travis and Friends, and it was very silly. A panel seems to imply that you might learn something from this, and instead we just asked a bunch of weird hypothetical questions. Like, what superhero would you want to cuddle with and what’s the funniest thing that could come out of Wolverine’s hand instead of claws…Like, could Thor stop the Earth if he set down his hammer and willed it to stop the Earth. I think he could.
I just love coming to these things and getting to meet people, and I’ve gotten to do a couple of things on the SyFy stage. I just love coming to conventions and getting to nerd out over stuff. There was a period in my life from 14 to 24 where I was trying so hard to be cool and I wish I could just go back in time… and say “Hey, let’s go do that stuff, you love doing that stuff. Don’t worry about being cool, you’re never going to be cool, and that’s okay because eventually that’ll be cooler than trying to be cool.” Yes, all that makes sense to me as I’ve said it out loud.
Is there anyone at C2E2 you’re personally looking forward to seeing?
Alan Tudyk. I’m a big fan of his work and his sense of humor. I met him once, when I was like 14. He was in Spamalot and we waited by the stage door. He came out and he was so nice and I remember he talked to us for like, 45 minutes. It might not have been that long, but it felt like it, which I think is a credit to his engagement with us. We talked about his different projects and this is just before Serenity, the Firefly movie, came out, and I was like, “I’m so excited to see you in the movie!” And he was like, “Oh I’m sorry.” I was like, “Why?” And he was like, “You’ll see.”
But he was so nice, and we talked to him forever, so I’d love to run into him if I could, but if I did I would probably just geek out really really hard.
Did you attend any conventions before you started podcasting?
You know, I’d been to some when I was a kid. When I was a kid my dad would take us to comic conventions, we’d go to Star Trek conventions and that kind of thing, and then there was just a period where conventions seemed inaccessible to me. It seemed like “Yes. I don’t go to them because I don’t go to them.” I’d see conventions pop up that were near enough to me that I could get to them and then have amazing guests but it just seemed like ‘Oh but I don’t know how to get tickets to it, I don’t know what I would do when I was there. I don’t know how they work.’
And then once I started going to them I realized “This is so fun.” It seems overwhelming because when you first walk in, there’s just this sea of people and all these booths. It’s nice now though, because there’s more and more local cons and everybody seems to be starting them in their towns, which is great. Go to those. I think your New York Comic Cons, your San Diego Comic Cons, those are next level pro maneuvers. If that’s your first con, it’s going to be so overwhelming when you first walk in the door.
But C2E2 is a perfect big con to get started on if you want to, because it is just the right level of “there’s a ton of stuff here, there’s a lot of people too, get used to that” but it’s not so incredibly crowded that you’ll feel intimidated when you walk in. This is my wife’s first convention ever, and she’s having a great time. It’s my baby’s first convention ever, but that’s also less interesting because she’s only 17 months old. But she’s having a great time, both my wife and my baby. I love cons, everyone should go to cons. They’re great.
When you do a panel, what’s the one question you’re always asked?
Um… I get asked a lot how to cope, because I have ADD. So I get asked a lot from other people with ADD or other people who have similar things going on and are like, “How do you focus and sit down and create something?” That’s a question I get a lot.
That is hard. For me, I’ve just learned throughout life what my proper set-up is to be able to focus. I need some music playing or a TV show I’ve seen a bajillion times playing in the background, and it helps if some air is circulating through the room, so I have a fan or a window open or something. Basically, I have to give myself enough sensory distraction to distract the part of my brain that needs distraction. That way the part of my brain that needs to focus can focus.
On the opposite end, what is the one question you’d like someone to ask you at a panel?
‘Would you like a billion dollars?’ I think that’d be really nice. Especially if they had large bag with money signs on it with them. I think that would be really great.
I don’t know. I would love to get asked a question so insightful that even I haven’t thought about it before. I like getting asked questions that make me think about things I haven’t thought about before and make me realize stuff about the work that I do that even I didn’t realize. Sometimes people will post on Twitter or Reddit or Tumblr or something and ask,”Did you mean this when you were saying that?” And I’m like, “I didn’t know that I meant that, but now that you’ve said it, that is where that comes from.” So that kind of stuff blows my mind. An unexpected question.
Is this your first time coming to Chicago?
No, I would say… sixth or seventh time maybe? I don’t know that I’ve ever had a chance to come and just vacation. I think I’ve only come for work or convention stuff. That chunks that I’ve seen, love it, it’s great. I’ve been up Willis Tower, I walked out onto the thing where you can stand on the glass and look down and that scared the hell out of me. We’ve mostly been coming to do live shows here, and that’s really great.
You know I have to say Chicago audiences are the best audiences.
Until you get to the next audience.
Boston audiences are the best, or New York. Reference a local landmark, talk about a restaurant.
Speaking of Chicago, we’ve got a lightning round series of Chicago questions for you.
Deep dish or thin crust?
They’re two completely different things. I don’t mean to be so… I just got so defensive. HOW DARE YOU!
I think of them as two completely different things. It’s like spaghetti or lasagna. When I think of New York Style or thin crust pizza, I think of food on the go or food of convenience. But when I think about deep dish, which is great, I think “This is a meal that you’ve gotta engage with. It’s a challenge.”
Cubs or Sox?
Cubs. Entirely because of Rookie of the Year.
How are you enjoying the Chicago weather?
It’s really throwing me off. It’s incredibly sunny, not a cloud in the sky, it’s perfect and it looks like it should be 70 degrees. And then you walk outside and it’s like 20. It’s like a prank that all of the city is playing on me. Like, “Got you!”
And then walking out of the hotel, there were heaters right outside the door and I was like “oh this isn’t so bad” and then I walked five more feet and I was like “Oh, God.” I didn’t wear a warm enough coat. But that’s on me, that’s not Chicago’s fault. That’s mine. I should be an adult and I’m not.
Well thank you very much for your time, Travis.