Justin told me, “I think we’ve always tried to be [inclusive], it’s just early on we didn’t necessarily have the tools or the understanding of how to be that way. I think mainly that’s because we grew up around people like us. So that was our default. But that expanded. ‘People like us’ has gotten a lot broader since we’ve had a much broader audience.”
The turning point was furries. It was around episode 30, not even in response to a listener’s letter, but to a Yahoo Answers question from a thirteen-year-old furry wondering about coming out to his family. The brothers’ comedy comes from escalation, each taking the previous joke farther and to sillier lengths. In this case, the joke—the “joke”—was about how freaked out and disturbed they were by furries.
The next episode, in the middle of answering another question—from a listener afraid of being made fun of for being in their school play—Justin segued into an apology. “Like, if you look at us. Last week we talked a lot of yay about furries, but to cover up the fact that we are all right now, as we record the show, wearing furry costumes.” Griffin said, “I’m a lynx.” Travis: “I’m a sexy cow.” And Justin? “I’m an apologetic tiger, because I feel bad to our furry friends.” Griffin chimed in, “I feel wicked bad!” He continued, “Let’s put this question on pause, cause we need to address this. I think that hatred comes from fear, and fear comes from misunderstanding.” And the brothers owned up to misunderstanding furries, and thanked the listeners who’d written in to set them straight.
As Justin told me, “Afterwards, we got these tweets from people who were like, ‘Hey, I’m a furry, and I like your show, and that sucked.’ I don’t know who we thought was listening, but we certainly didn’t think furries were, ‘cause we didn’t know any growing up. Once we realized that we hurt these people, we felt like garbage about it. So we were like, let’s make the decision to learn, and talk to these people, and celebrate them and become wildly pro-furry. What we realized is, isn’t it also a lot funnier to be wildly pro-furry. I think it’s funnier to be really into everything, permissive of everything.”
It’s not that they’re pretending to be pro-furry because being pro-furry is silly. The McElroys decided—and the success of MBMBaM proves—that actually being enthusiastic about everything opens the door to better comedy. Justin: “We realized it was a lot funnier than saying no all the time. It dovetails with basic improv rules. So we just started saying yes to fucking everything. You cannot trip us out any more!”
You know what the McElroys remind me of?
There’s a character in Community, Dean Pelton, who is a side/recurring character in the show. He’s rather effeminate, gets great enjoyment out of extravagant costumes and outfits, regularly crossdresses, and eschews the term “gay” because it’s not an expansive enough term. (Pansexual and genderqueer are most apt for him.)
And during an AMA, someone told show creator Dan Harmon that as a genderqueer person, they loved Pelton and how open and positive the character was.
Harmon’s response was gracious, and pointed out that with Pelton, often the joke was not that he was a weirdo or an outcast or anything like that. The joke was… happiness. That this person was performatively queer, and that the joke wasn’t at his expense, but that he was happy and people like that could be happy.
And that feeling is a close relative to what I feel with the McElroy content. It’s the same thing we say about jokes about race or gender or sex; make sure the joke is with the group, not against them. Comedy used to put down the downtrodden is bad; comedy used to uplift is one of the great goods.
I dunno. They just make me happy in a world where, right now, a lot of forces want to hurt me. And that’s important.
MBMBaM is almost never explicitly political, but—sad as this may be—in late 2016, inclusive compassion became a political act.