HUNTINGTON — Dive into the comedy stream of Seeso TV on Thursday, Feb. 23, and you'll see a Huntington "that's familiar but not too familiar" — to snag a line from the theme song of "My Brother, My Brother and Me."
On Thursday, Seeso, the new online subscription-based streaming comedy channel launched by NBC/Universal, unleashes all six 30-minute episodes of the improv comedy show "My Brother, My Brother and Me," which was shot in Huntington back in September starring native sons Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy — the talented, stage-raised son of Tri-State radio personality Clint McElroy, and the late Leslie McElroy.
A monthly subscription to Seeso is $3.99. Visit www.seeso.com.
While the "MBMBaM" comedy show is bathed visually in the comfortable feel of Huntington, the McElroys' hometown — its brick and stone landmarks and well-worn places from the historic district at 14th Street West and the mayor's office to Safety Town — the content is millennial fresh.
It is all improv comedy baked funky, fast and fresh by the three brothers who've built a large fanbase through their faux advice podcast, which provides the funny bones and structure for the TV show.
Like in their weekly podcast (now up to episode #343), the McElroy Brothers' TV show has them answering sometimes odd, and often personal, questions from listeners and trying to solve their problems.
Although the brothers comically admit up front they are not actual experts in the therapeutic sense, they do happen to be good-hearted experts in the field of intelligent, rapid-fire, pop-culture-referencing, self-deprecating humor, which speaks to their generation as directly as a pie to the face did to 1950s fans of the late, great Huntington native comedian Soupy Sales.
Marshall University theater professor Jack Cirillo, a longtime friend of the family who has chalked up shows with all of the boys and their father, Clint, said the brothers have a sort of "Seinfeld" feel in that subject matter is secondary. Whatever the boys are talking about, they will find the funny.
"They have really created something that is really remarkable," Cirillo said.
"I, like everyone else here, am very proud of their achievements and what they have been able to do. They really got in on, if not the ground floor, the second or third floor of the podcasting world, and what kind of started off as a lark in some ways, has become so much bigger. The neat thing with them is that it is not really about the subject matter, although it is fairly well defined, but it is really in how they deliver it that is so special and so unique,"
For the brothers — Justin, 36, who lives in Huntington, Travis, 33, who lives in Cincinnati, and Griffin, 29, who lives in Austin, Texas — the embryo of the show started organically as a podcast (a computer-based radio show) back in April 2010.
In the wake of their mom's death from cancer, the brothers were graduating college, moving away and drifting apart as adult siblings do. They would not let it be so. They created "My Brother, My Brother and Me" as a way to stay in touch and to keep each other laughing through uncertain times.
Pretty much a hit from the get-go, "MBMBaM" soon landed in the Top 20 and then Top 10 of comedy podcasts on iTunes. Early on the show picked up David Hasselhoff's "Hofficial Seal of Approval," the first of the show's many celebrity fans, which now include such mega stars as Broadway sensation Lin-Manuel Miranda, who appeared multiple times on the podcast, namedropped the brothers backstage at the Tonys as an influence for "Hamilton," and who also appears on the TV show.
A couple years in the brothers got picked up by Maximum Fun network, the web home to such comedians as Judge John Hodgman of "The Daily Show."
That has led to a series of sold-out live shows — including three in Huntington — not to mention sold-out shows in Boston, New York and L.A. In fact, their first ever live show was a sold-out performance at the famed improv theater home of Second City in Chicago.
That popularity has led to more than 63 million downloads of "MBMBaM" since it debuted with an average that has grown to about five million downloads a month, as well as a wealth of other podcasts including their Dungeons and Dragons-themed fantasy podcast, "The Adventure Zone," with their dad Clint, which had six million downloads this past month. And Travis is now able to completely make his living from podcasting.
Justin, whose day job is still working with Griffin at Polygon, Vox's video game and pop culture website, said that when they talked about being one of the first podcasts to transform into a TV show, they wanted to make sure the show kept the good heart of the boys' collective humor, even when broaching odd subjects.
"I would say that when we knew we were going to be filming here the No. 1 thing we wanted it to be is for us to always be the butt of the joke," Justin said. "We couldn't make a show and take it to the outside world ... if it were like pranks. The show is that we're the joke, and so it is a nice show that doesn't have a mean bone in its body. That is kind of the overriding principle."
"I think a big thing too was making sure there wasn't any artifice to the show as well," Griffin added. "Once we took a firm line and were like, 'No scripted stuff, no narrative to the show, no fiction' — once we took off those restrictions of it, we could imagine it. A big thing for our podcast was that it is all improvised. If someone was writing down a word-for-word joke and were like, 'Hey, say this joke,' we didn't want to do that."
All three brothers said when Seeso approached them about a TV show, there was only one choice of where to tape — Huntington.
"Across the board, and Seeso was really easy to work with, but one of the first things we said was the only way that this makes sense was for us to be in Huntington," said Travis, a University of Oklahoma graduate who lives in Cincinnati after being based in L.A. for the past few years.
"They said, 'OK,' and that was as hard of a pitch as we had to make. They understood it in the way that we did that if you try to set something like this in New York or L.A., it would be like well, here is a set that is fake ... So going to our hometown of Huntington was the right choice as to where it should be and where it makes the most sense. The first day of filming we were at Hattie and Nan's, and that was our first real world test and testing the hypothesis of everything. Joanna (Sexton) was just incredible, and everything she said was incredible, and it was like, 'OK everything is going to be great.' When it came to interacting with people every single time the people were great and funnier than us."
Justin said with so many other unknown variables, having their hometown as the backdrop set an instant comfort level.
"We were so uncomfortable about a lot of the process since we had never done a show before, so for us we knew Huntington would give us the homecourt advantage going to a lot of places we knew," he said. "Also, we love Huntington and West Virginia, and there have been some media representations of it that were not only not showing it in the best light, but were not showing the place I know and that I grew up in. We wanted to do something where Huntington felt like the Huntington we knew."
Under the direction of J.D. Amato, who is also an executive producer of the show, the Embassy Row TV crew shot the Seeso show in September all over Huntington, from the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center and Camden Park to Marshall and Huntington's City Hall, where they interviewed Mayor Steve Williams.
One common place they taped was the old Wright's clothing store that was transformed into a funky set by Jill LaFear and Seth Cyfers, the husband and wife team that is Ackenpucky Creative.
For the show, Griffin said Ackenpucky was a bit like miracle workers taking completely unreasonable requests — like building a giant model spider for their Tarantula Parade — and making them happen in really tight time-frames.
"What I love about their style — and it comes through in the show really well, and in their designs and around town — is their embrace of Appalachian culture in a way that is very cool and unashamed in a way that growing up I didn't feel like I saw a lot of that pride and that feel," Justin said. "We wanted that vibe in the show, like a 'Peewee's Playhouse' in West Virginia with that authentic West Virginia vibe to it. Also half the crew was from West Virginia, so that was really cool too that we had local people working with the people from New York and L.A., and everyone getting along so well. That was really awesome to see."
Although near exhaustion from the taping schedule, the McElroy brothers triumphantly closed out the first season of taping in Huntington in the Jean Carlo Stephenson Auditorium at Huntington City Hall as a soldout crowd of 800 fans packed into the theater to celebrate a special live taping of "Candlenights," a holiday show.
Getting to make and now share a TV show birthed in their hometown has been a fun and surreal trip that has by all accounts, and to their own shock, turned out pretty darn good.
Seeso released the first episode, "Tarantulas and Travis Does a Hit," last Thursday in a livestream on its Facebook page. Since then, it's racked up a solid 9,077 thumbs up and only 29 thumbs down as of Tuesday afternoon. That episode also was uploaded to YouTube, where it's had 169,432 views.
In the pop culture sphere it has gotten big thumbs up from everyone from "Entertainment
"I really hope that people from Huntington — even if they don't dig our comedy — they will take the opportunity to watch the episodes on Seeso," Justin said. "I hope they take the chance to watch it. For us, one of the best things has been the experience of watching the show and seeing Huntington through other people's eyes. J.D. (director J.D. Amato) and the whole crew captured Huntington in such a beautiful way. It looks fantastic."
"And it's not just aesthetically, it's the people too," Griffin said. "It's a nice reminder of all the cool people and beautiful things in this town. The show is shot beautifully, and if you're from Huntington, you should be really proud of the city you see in the show."
GET READY FOR A McELROY BINGEWATCH
WHAT: The new comedy show "My Brother, My Brother and Me" features brothers Justin, Travis and Griffin McElroy and their dad Clint McElroy. The new show is a television version of the popular podcast and live show of the same name.
WHERE: Seeso is a new online subscription-based streaming comedy channel launched by NBC/Universal. Visit www.seeso.com.
WHEN: All six episodes will be launched Thursday, Feb. 23.
HOW MUCH: A monthly subscription to Seeso is $3.99, with a week's free trial. The McElroys' show can be viewed at https://www.seeso.com/view/series/my-brothermy-brother-and-me.
HOW TO WATCH: Seeso is available on iOS, Android, Xbox One, Windows devices, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and through Amazon Video.
GUEST APPEARANCES: Lin Manuel Miranda (the Tony Award-winning creator of the groundbreaking historical musical "Hamilton"), The Property Brothers and comedy legend Weird Al Yankovic, among others.
ON THE WEB: Go online at http://mcelroyshows.com/ to get linked into "My Brother, My Brother and Me" and all of the McElroy Brother creations.
• Get ready for a McElroy bingewatch