Maximum Fun: An Ode

I’ve been a fan of the Maximum Fun network since 2011 and a donor since not long after that. I always get a bit reflective and nostalgic during the annual membership drive, when all my favorite hosts encourage their audiences to keep the listener-supported network afloat (and thriving, really). This particular year, I’ve been thinking about the moments that, to me, best exemplify why I listen to each show. Some came to me right away; others took some doing, because it can be hard to sort through a catalog of hundreds of bits you probably ruined by weeping (in laughter, naturally) over. I don’t think this is a complete list — Stop Podcasting Yourself alone could have a list of 25 moments — but it should give you an idea of why the network is so important to me, and why I won’t stop listening.

(I’m leaving out my favorite The Adventure Zone moment because it’s too spoiler-heavy.)

The Flop House: There was a time when I listened to a few episodes of the Flop House every day just to catch up on Dan McCoy, Stuart Wellington, and Elliott Kalan watching bad movies and talking about them. I’ve been a fan for nearly a couple years now thanks to a dear friend of mine, who tipped me off to the show’s greatness among film podcasts. The Original Peaches are able to make even the dullest source material funny, so when they’re covering something like The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure or Fateful Findings, it’s no wonder that they’ll have me in tears by episode’s end. Also, thanks to the personal nature of talking about something you love and the letters from listeners segment during each show, the hosts reveal parts of themselves that give them a certain relatability and charm. One such moment happened during episode 139, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. (Odd pull, I know, especially since it wasn’t a new movie at the time, but hey, I’m a loose cannon.) After discussing each movie, it’s customary for the hosts to provide their final judgments, whether the movie was a good bad movie, a bad bad movie, or a movie they kind of liked. In the case of Clones, all three have a difficult time saying it’s bad. After all, it’s part of the Star Wars franchise. And particularly endearing is Dan’s complete inability to do so. He sounds tormented as he struggles to explain why he can never label something Star Wars-adjacent as bad. It’s a great reminder of how much these boys truly love what they love, and how sometimes, comedy intersects with sincerity.

International Waters: A pop culture quiz show that pits Brits against Americans, IW is always funny, and it’s at its best when the individual contestants’ humor styles are a bit varied. It’s fun to hear comedians catch each other off guard, and all the best episodes have a healthy dose of that. There have been a number of standout moments for me, but I couldn’t settle on one, cheated, and picked an entire episode: number 44, “Discourse Is Dead.” My reasoning is simple: Jemaine Clement is in the mix, and host Dave Holmes’ affection for him throws the game in his favor, but no one seems to mind, given how likable the guy is. It’s always nice to hear from a Conchord, and this is no exception.

Jordan Jesse Go!: This is an easy one. Anytime Jordan Morris makes a joke that’s somehow both impossibly clever and incredibly dumb, Jesse Thorn’s reaction is the same: absolutely flabbergasted, reluctantly delighted, and unable to say anything positive or affirming. Their friendship is why the show is worth binge-listening every now and then, and I’ll just include the full text of my favorite joke here to illustrate the beauty of their partnership:

Jordan: “The lively man behind Twister should’ve helmed Foxcatcher. John DuPont needed a bon vivant like Jan DeBont.”

Jesse: [indistinct profane murmuring]

My Brother, My Brother and Me: What’s there to say about MBMBaM that hasn’t already been said? The McElroys have become ubiquitous in various corners of the Internet thanks to their staggering number of podcasts (plus Justin and Griffin’s involvement with the Vox Media video game site Polygon). Heck, they even have their own Seeso show. This does nothing to diminish my love for them, though. MBMBaM was the second Max Fun podcast I picked up, and as with the Flop House, I stormed through the back catalog as quickly as possible; this was much easier in 2012 than it would be now. At the time, I was working at the Meijer corporate offices in Grand Rapids, and it was fairly normal for me to listen to podcasts at my desk. So much of my job was essentially data entry; the brothers were ideal company during those long afternoons. A few months into 2012, the e-commerce pocket of Meijer got reorganized, and my position was eliminated. I found out when I was at my desk, idly clicking around Facebook between assignments, and had to pause episode 62, My Beautiful Twisted Pretzel Fantasy, to hear my boss tell me I would no longer be needed. As soon as he walked away, I started crying — till, that is, middlest brother Travis uttered the episode’s title and I couldn’t help laughing. I vaguetweeted about the rough moment the brothers had just pulled me through, and their official account informed me, “WE GOT YOUR BACK, C-AD!” Again with the sincerity. I can’t get enough of that stuff.

Rose Buddies: So this one is really recent, and I’ve (surprise) laugh-wept over Rose Buddies, Griffin and Rachel McElroy’s dating show-themed podcast, many times in its relatively short run. The most recent example (in episode 62, “After the Final Thigh Rub”) was perhaps the most intense, though, as I cried laughing while I heard the bit, then cried laughing again while recounting the bit to Scott. Every once in a while, Griffin takes off on a tangent that Rachel’s not sure will land, but she supports him regardless. (Griffin and Rachel’s romance forever warms my heart.) This bit was fairly far removed from the show’s typical content, concerning commercial breaks and faulty subtitles, but it was so perfectly Griffin and Rachel that I still haven’t really gotten over it. In sum: the cohosts watch everything wtih subtitles, the subtitles for a commercial by the Truth campaign went awry, and it thus appeared as though a mother was shouting “BACCO! TOBACCO! BAC!” at her son after he said something sweet to her. This YouTube clip made by a fellow fan illustrates what that would’ve looked like. I love the Rose Buddies combo of irreverance and genuine sentimentality, and here, both those things shine through beautifully.

Stop Podcasting Yourself: SPY is my favorite podcast and has been since the first time I heard it. It’s basically auditory comfort food: just a couple of Canadian comedians talking about what they’ve been up to, often with a guest, and recounting things they and their listeners have overheard lately. Simple formula, yes, and an endlessly familiar one if you know anything about podcasts — but it works, because the guys are friends and they’re effortlessly funny and charming, and it’s a treat to hear every week. There are many, many moments that help define the show’s appeal for me (every Paul F. Tompkins episode has one!), but there’s one bit I return to again and again. It has everything: a humorous list, Dave and Graham poking fun at their past selves, a guest who’s totally game, and oddly sly commentary on the absurdity of TV today. Go ahead and listen to this list of fake reality shows here, and I think you’ll get why I fell in love with this wonderfully silly show in the first place.