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Before you read this, you might want to check out My Obligatory Manifesto for more context.
My History With Talk Radio
I grew up in a very small commuter town in Virginia about an hour outside of Washington, D.C. We lived in the middle of the woods. No hyperbole (No… cap?). Our driveway was three quarters of a mile long and surrounded by trees. It was a 20 minute drive to civilization and my parents didn’t like driving. I was a lonely kid who liked to isolate himself anyway.
So in lieu of hanging out with real life friends, I chatted online in IRC channels while I listened to every talk radio show on DC 101 and 106.7 out of Washington, D.C. because they were the only two radio stations in my dinky little hometown that weren’t full of static, other than 92.5 WINC FM, a top 40 station out of Warrenton, VA.
My talk radio obsession started with The Greaseman, who replaced Howard Stern after he was fired from DC 101. He did voices, he talked about sex, and he did skits — he was a hack but I didn’t care. I listened to Howard Stern and Opie & Anthony sporadically but I never had consistent access to those shows. I was mostly reliant on Internet downloads for those shows and at that time, it wasn’t easy to find recordings.
I religiously listened to The Don & Mike Show, The Sports Junkies, and The Ron & Fez Show. These shows went late into the night, and I never missed a show for several years.
I was so hard up for one-sided human contact that I even listened to the weekend radio shows. If you know radio, then you know those are the dead hours where they’d stick brand new, or experimental shows, and interns looking for anything to put on their demo reel. Weekend shows had little to no standards, and often just sucked.
The Time I Made Friends With Radio Hosts
106.7 had a weekend show called Tech Radio. I don’t know how long it was on the air. I may have legitimately been one of ten listeners, and that might be being generous. It was on late on Saturday nights and it was a show hosted by nerds that talked about video games and computer technology. This was before being a nerd was cool. They were as uncool as I was, and I loved that they were talking about my interests on the radio when nobody else was.
I don’t remember the circumstances, but I somehow found my way into their studio one night — one time. This was like 25 years ago. I think that I was maybe 16 years old, maybe 15. I don’t remember much, other than I know that my older brother dropped me off. He was living 10 minutes outside of D.C. in Northern Virginia and I was visiting him, probably for a LAN gaming party with his roomates. I think I must have been the only one e-mailing this radio show.
I do not remember how much I e-mailed them, or how many conversations we had. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I do remember that I was a little hacker punk and I knew my shit, and I think I wrote some stuff for them to talk about on the air. I probably made them laugh and maybe impressed them with my above average knowledge of tech. Something convinced them it was a good idea to invite me to sit in on a show, and I was such a fanboy of talk radio that I wasn’t going to miss that opportunity.
That studio was in the same building as all of my favorite talk shows, and it felt surreal when my brother dropped me out front. It felt weird walking in. It didn’t look anything like I thought it would. I met the show’s producer in the lobby — a guy named Thom — and he walked me into an incredibly small studio. I only remember his name because I’d never seen it spelled that way.
There were 5 dudes packed in there. Three behind microphones, producer Thom, and me in a corner next to a whiteboard. It honestly felt like I was just hanging out with friends, but they were all way older than me by at least 10 years. That didn’t intimidate me because I had always acted older than I was, and I think I honestly knew more about technology than any of them.
I definitely tried to laugh louder so the mics would pick me up because I told my brother to record the show for me. Didn’t work. They talked about sending me to E3 with a journalist badge and as I type this, I’m now positive they had no clue how old I was. And also, that’s so weird. I can’t believe I forgot about it until now. Their show got canceled not too long after that. I never spoke with any of them again.
Hundreds of Hours of Loveline
I used to level World of Warcraft characters for money. It was hours and hours of mindless grinding, and I was well suited for it. Repetition like that has never bothered me. In my professional life, I still volunteer for the shit jobs that nobody else wants to do. I’m able to go into a kind of flow state and forget where I am and what I’m doing. It’s kind of a superpower.
This is relevant because I was always looking for something to listen to while I was grinding levels for 13-14 hours straight. Podcasts weren’t really big yet, so most of the time, I would just listen to music or stand-up comedy.
But then I found Loveline, hosted by Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew Pinski. On paper, it was a nightly call-in show for teenagers to get advice from adults on subjects they didn’t want to talk to their parents about, like sex or drugs. But it turned out to actually be a call-in show for drunk, high, or broken adults to get destroyed by a filter-free Adam Carolla in front of whatever popular band or celebrity was cackling in the studio.
When I found Loveline, Adam and Drew had already done hundreds of shows already, and I downloaded them all from a site called Loveline Tapes, which is still active.
Here’s a link to their 9/11 show. This is a good listen just for the historic nature of it. Even if you don’t like the hosts, it’s interesting to listen the calls, and hear about the fear and uncertainty surrounding that day on the night of the attack. Everyone was still so confused and getting bombarded with misinformation.
This Is Relevant For Two Reasons
The Loveline Tapes site was run by a fan of the show named Giovanni, who became known on the show as Super Fan Giovanni. He eventually was a guest on the show, and I think is still involved with Adam Carolla on some level. He might work for him? I didn’t really follow Adam Carolla’s career after he left the show in the early 2000’s. It was lightning in a bottle, and his politics took a steep turn away from my own.
I thought it was cool that a fan of the show turned into a contributor on the show. I didn’t have any real desire to do that sort of a thing, though. E-mail the show, maybe call in, or interact in some other way — sure. I would have loved to participate in those ways, because that was the show’s format. Even though I thought it was cool that Giovanni became a part of the show through his hard work, it was clearly rare and also made him sound a little weird.
While I was listening to hundreds of hours of archived Loveline shows, at the same time, I was listening to thousands of callers. Listening to that many different people talk about their lives, or gush over the hosts to the hosts themselves, really made me appreciate just how fucking strange people can be. And sometimes it’s subtle. People can hide their weird, so as a host of a popular show, you basically have little choice but to try and wall them all off.
Adam Carolla, when he started Loveline, was a nobody. He became a celebrity through that show. I listened to that evolution unfold, and I heard how the callers changed with his fame. It gave me an education on parasocial relationships, and it made me feel a lot of empathy for talk show hosts. People get fake in a hurry when you’ve built up even a little bit of fame.
And Then I Found YouTube
Sometime in the 2010’s, I found a YouTube channel called SourceFed, and its sister channel SourceFed Nerd. They had a show called Table Talk, which was essentially a podcast in the form of a video. The channels’ hosts, and sometimes a low-level celebrity guest, sat around a table talking. I found myself gravitating to the episodes that had Steve Zaragoza in them.
I laughed at almost everything he said or did. I’d been listening to talk radio my entire life, but I’d never found any host that completely matched my sense of humor. Like completely matched it. And he wasn’t just funny — he was a legitimate nerd, too, for not just video games, but also films and television. Funny, personable nerds were — and are — incredibly rare. And then on top of that, he was also a musician, and so was I.
Then Another Host Joined The Table
I watched Table Talks with Steve, and re-watched them. I like to have some kind of sound in the background no matter what I’m doing. SourceFed had a podcast and I listened to those as well. SourceFed had its own super fans, but I wouldn’t count myself among them. I was a casual listener and watcher. I looked forward to any new content I could get my hands on, and I’d hit them up on Twitter every now and again when prompted, but that was it. I didn’t really follow Steve’s work outside of SourceFed.
There was a lot of “host churn” on SourceFed — a kind of revolving door of talent. Steve stuck around, but others left, others joined, others left, and so on. This eventually led up to a guy named Mike Falzone joining the SourceFed stable of hosts. He was from Connecticut — an east coaster like me — he was a musician, made references to obscure bands that I loved, and he was a big fan of stand-up comedy too. We both loved Mitch Hedberg. Mike had moved to L.A. to chase down a dream of becoming a successful comedian.
Mike also seemed more mature and like he’d seen some shit. I connected on that level; especially at that particular time in my life. Those Table Talks were kind of turning into therapy sessions. Mike and Steve didn’t know it, or me, but they were helping me to deal with a storm of chaos in my personal life. The Universe had somehow conspired to smash two very different people together on a weird little YouTube channel that, together, formed the soul of something special — something that felt like it was made for me.
At some point, I saw Mike tweet something about another podcast he did with his wife Zoja called Welcome to Our Podcast. I started listening to those, and I loved it, and connected with Zoja too. We were both products of particularly fucked up childhoods, she was quick witted, didn’t take any shit, and overflowed with empathy. Their relationship reminded me of the relationship I share with my wife. This podcast humanized Mike even more for me, showed me more sides that I identified with, and Welcome To Our Podcast became very a important weekly listen for me.
Now Comes The Dilemma
Steve perfectly matched my sense of humor and my nerd interests. Mike and I had a very similar sense of humor, he perfectly matched my music and stand-up interests. Steve was a quick-witted troll that could also be consumed by empathy, which is a weird duality that we share. Mike was a subdued personality, kind of sitting quietly, who always seemed to be analyzing what people were saying. He was more calculating. I could very easily see myself being friends with either of them.
If we met in school, we would have been best friends.
This is the clarion call of the parasocial weirdo. I knew it then and I know it now. It’s a hypothetical that just isn’t ever going to be true. Friendships are built slowly, and almost never with people who perfectly match with your interests. There’s more to friendship than the stuff you like, and friends have flaws — sometimes big flaws. You can’t really see those flaws when you’re only seeing someone whose essentially acting for an hour at a time.
I understand how deeply weird it is to think a celebrity is your friend — to even think it’s a possibility. For that to happen, they would have to drop their guard for you — and there are thousands, or hundreds of thousands of you. As the celebrity, who do you drop your guard for, and who don’t you? The safest play is to keep a barrier between you and all of your fans.
Those Loveline callers were always in the back of my mind when I interacted with any of the creators I liked online. I didn’t ever want anyone to think I was trying to break that fourth wall. I didn’t ever want to make anyone feel unsafe or even weirded out. At the same time, I wanted to be supportive of their art because it was helping me to feel less alone at a time in my life when loneliness was eating away at me.
Mike and Steve Started A Podcast
SourceFed was on its way to dying when Mike and Steve started a podcast called Cloverfeels together. It was based on the movie Cloverfield and its alternate reality game, which Mike and Steve geeked out about together. That was their connecting fiber and kind of what led to their own friendship outside of work.
I didn’t really care about Cloverfield, but I listened to Cloverfeels because Mike and Steve had insanely fun chemistry, and they kind of melded together to form two the halves of my own personality. I was instantly hooked. I just kind of sifted through the pan of Cloverfield stuff I didn’t care about, picking out the random comedy gold.
As Cloverfeels went on, and they Started to run out of Cloverfield stuff to talk about, it became apparent that there was something special happening and I think they probably realized the theme was holding the show back. They decided to relaunch their podcast, and renamed it from Cloverfeels to Dynamic Banter.
From episode one, the show felt like it was made for me. For the first time, Steve had a green light to be as weird as he wanted to be and it was magical. I’d never heard anything like it, and literally everything they did made me laugh. Every single bit. While I wouldn’t say I was a super fan of SourceFed, I would definitely say that from episode one, I was a super fan of Dynamic Banter.
Brett and Owen Started A Podcast
After episode 8 of Dynamic Banter, one of my favorites titled “The Small Gentleman”, I saw something called AFTERSHOW: Episode 8 - The Small Gentleman show up on the Dynamic Banter feed.
The joke immediately landed. I lost my shit. It was so fucking stupid for a show like Dynamic Banter to have an aftershow, which were in vogue because of The Walking Dead. Dynamic Banter is free-flowing and unscripted. It’s two friends bullshitting with eachother. When you listen to Dynamic Banter, nothing is promised.
You don’t know if you’re going to laugh harder than you ever have, or watch Mike not react at all to something Steve’s trying to show him, which is also amazing. The idea that this dumb show had an aftershow was hilarious to me.
It was hosted by Brett Register and Owen Carter. I had no clue who Brett was. I knew Owen from Dynamic Banter. He was Steve’s roommate and you could hear him on the background in the early episodes chiming in, always off mic. You could hear him going out to smoke. It added something to the show — some kind of texture — that helped to make it what it was. It wasn’t until later that I found out that he was a SourceFed editor. Brett was a director. I looked him up and I liked his style.
I Started A Podcast
Talkin’ Banter is relevant to this story because it prompted me to start my own podcast called Talkin’ Talkin’ Banter. It was the unofficial after show to the official aftershow.
Here is a dropbox link to all of the episodes of it.
If the original idea was hilariously dumb, I thought why not make it even dumber? I exerted no effort and made it sound as shitty as I could on purpose. I posted it to the Dynamic Banter subreddit and told myself that I’d keep doing them as long as Talkin’ Banter posted episodes.
A Guy Named Abe Started A Podcast
Someone on the Dynamic Banter subreddit started a podcast called Talkin’ Talkin’ Talkin Banter. It was the unofficial aftershow for my aftershow, which was itself an unofficial aftershow for the official aftershow of Dynamic Banter.
I Started Another Podcast
In response to Abe’s ripoff bullshit, I started Talkin’ Talkin’ Talkin’ Talkin’ Banter, which was the unofficial aftershow for the unofficial aftershow for the unofficial aftershow for the official aftershow of Dynamic Banter.
When I started Talkin’ Talkin’ Talkin’ Talkin’ Banter, I decided to make it sound like I was stuck inside of some kind of cavernous void, where I was slowly dying. My only connection to the outside world was Brett Register’s content that I found on archive.org. There was a music video and a podcast with his friend. I think maybe his first podcast.
I knew Brett was listening to my podcasts, so I was trying to fuck with him. I put clips from the music video and podcast he’d done like 10 years prior into these shows in the echo void. I have no idea if he ever put two and two together. I was trying to make him laugh by weirding him out, because I doubted he even knew that stuff was on archive.org. The clip I used was his then girlfriend, now wife, walking into the room while they were recording and saying, “Sorry!” and then Brett responding, “Girlfriends.”
Bantering About Banter
Talkin’ Banter kept going, and so did I. I made 15 episodes of Talkin’ Talkin’ Banter in total, one for each episode of Talkin’ Banter. It was the first time I’d ever done anything like it and it kind of scratched a creative itch I didn’t know could be scratched.
I made a skit called Bantering About Banter and sent it in to Dynamic Banter. I think it was my first direct interaction with the show. It got played in the History Road segment of Episode of 18 - The Mayor of Earth, which was co-hosted by Chelsea Dunaway instead of Mike. To this day, I have no idea if Mike ever heard it. It begins at 01:08:18.
I cut up the first episode of Dynamic Banter into sound bites of Mike & Steve and I pretended to be a talk show host, responding to my own questions with the clips of Mike & Steve out of context, and making them sound like complete diva assholes. I was unemployed at the time and it was a really fun time killer. It was like pruning a little audio bonzai tree.
Brett and Owen Talked About My Skit
On the next Talkin Banter episode about The Mayor of Earth, Brett and Owen talked about the episode I’d sent my skit into. They talk about the skit itself at 01:17:00.
Also, they’re following show notes about Dynamic Banter that they credit me for providing, that I 100% do not remember writing. Like I said, I was unemployed and had TOO MUCH FREE TIME. I guess when I get free time, I start getting stir crazy and my creative drive to do weird shit gets turned up to 11. I suppose I was making show notes for them from Dynamic Banter and e-mailing them in to Talkin’ Banter. They were elaborate, time coded, and colorized. That’s actually batshit insane, given what Talkin’ Banter was. They could have, and should have, assumed that I was an absolute crazy weirdo.
They had the opposite reaction. They kind of welcomed my insanity, which checks out, because we were all just fans of Dynamic Banter, which is a weekly celebration of unhinged friendship.
Then I Got A New Job
Talkin’ Banter ended after a relatively small number of shows, which sucked because I loved it. But I understood.
I got a new job, and I mostly just became a loyal listener again. I was a moderator on the Dynamic Banter subreddit, and helped construct its bit glossary by taking a list of time codes provided by another moderator named James, and reformatting them into markdown to make them more readable. That was the last big project I had time for.
So I would then just write in e-mails for history roads, or tweet at the boys until they got a P.O. Box. This was a huge development because through the magic of capitalism, I was able to use the money I’d earned from the time I’d poured into work and contribute to the show by buying and sending in some of the the stupidest shit I could find. I didn’t really have a lot of time to be creative, but I still understood the show and Mike and Steve, so I’d send things in I thought they’d have fun with.
Mike and Steve had started a YouTube channel for the show, so I thought it’d be cool to send in things that people would want to engage with visually to drive them to the channel, not realizing that none of their episodes could ever be monetized because of how frequently Steve would play the most copyrighted music.
Most of the time, I would just order and ship the stuff from Amazon, and they’d forget to look for the piece of paper that said it was from me. I’d estimate 80% of the shit that they received anonymously was from me. I sent in a keyboard that played meow cat sounds. I sent in a little spider that moved faster the louder you screamed at it. I sent in musical instruments. I sent in a bunch of shit I’ve now forgotten about.
The Cardboard Cutouts
But then for whatever reason, I looked down one day while I was shopping on Amazon, and they’d recommended a cardboard cutout of Tom Hanks for something like $49. I don’t know why it got recommended. But I did know Dynamic Banter had a history of talking about Tom Hanks for various reasons, so I bought it up quick and shipped it to the P.O. Box, and then forgot about it.
When they opened it on the show, I’d completely forgotten about it, and I laughed so hard. It was very stupid and it took Steve a long time to put it together and reveal what it actually was. I felt kind of bad for wasting their time, but I also selfishly loved being able to interact with the show physically like that. I don’t get to touch the physical world very much, so it felt like I was participating in it without participating in it. It was fun and they looked like they were having fun. Win win.
I didn’t plan on making it an ongoing bit, but then Amazon.com recommended another goddamn cardboard cutout to me, because why wouldn’t it? This time it was a taco. I knew that Steve had a long-standing love of Taco Bell, so I said fuck it and ordered it, and shipped it off. What I didn’t realize was how large this dumb cardboard taco was. I actively felt bad for this one. It was so big that it was a burden.
And then I lost my absolute shit when I saw the Dynamic Banter behind the scenes video where Steve showed the Taco to The Valley Folk, which was another of my favorite YouTube channels and podcasts. They circled it like an art installation, discussing its absurdity, and how best to be rid of it.
At that point, I decided to have a custom cardboard cutout made. This time, it was of one Malcolm Barrett, who was a guest on the show and a friend of Mike and Steve’s. I don’t want to talk about how much it cost me. I had that new job money and I wanted to just do dumb shit with it.
Here is a Dynamic Banter behind the scenes video that not only opens with the kitty cat keyboard I sent in, and another musical instrument I sent, but also most of the cardboard cutouts, including Malcolm’s.
Then Came The Pandemic of 2020
I was very close to sending in another set of cardboard cutouts, this time 4 sets of 4 Baby Yoda standees that hadn’t been released yet. I was just waiting for them to come out, and then I was going to spend way too much money to send 16 Baby Yodas to The Valleyfolk P.O. Box care of Dynamic Banter.
Literally the week I was going to do that, the nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19 began. I knew nobody was going to be able to retrieve the Baby Yodas from the P.O. Box, so I didn’t pull the trigger. Now we’ll never know.
Sometime in the early pandemic, Mike decided to start a Discord server as a perk for the Welcome To Our Podcast Patreon. I knew Mike wasn’t technologically illiterate, but I also knew that I’d already been using Discord for a few years, and I probably knew my way around it more than he or Zoja would. I offered to help him set it up via Twitter. He responded, must have recognized me as a fan, and surprisingly, was kind of enthusiastic about it.
So I became the administrator of the Welcome To Our Podcast Discord. I built it up, set up bots, and set the tone. I’d been a member of online communities essentially since 1993, so I knew what was poisonous and tried to head it off at the pass. Not much was needed, because it became quickly apparent that the WTOP audience was mature and kind of amazing.
They’re all still in there, chatting away, and doing real life hangs.
I did try to convey the importance of discouraging cliques forming early on though, because nobody likes to show up to a server and immediately feel like they don’t belong there.
I Became A Part of A Clique
I had initially intended for there to be no moderators on the WTOP Discord, but a situation arose where advice was needed, so Zoja and I made some of of the first people on the Discord moderators. They weren’t going to have a traditional role where they needed to kick or ban anyone. It was more of a board of trustees.
The pandemic was raging on and the lockdown was being extended. People started being more desperate for human contact. Zoja and I got closer and connected over our pasts. That friendship formed fast. It didn’t seem weird at all, because I knew a lot more about Mike and Steve than I knew about Zoja. I’d listened to WTOP for awhile, and I was a fan of Zoja’s, but it felt different. The transition to friendship felt natural and smooth — she actually felt like family. Don’t get me wrong, Mike felt that way, too. He was warm and welcoming, but I created distance on purpose. More on this later.
We all played Jackbox games in the voice channels, and it was very fun. It was filling a human contact void a lot of people were feeling in the pandemic. It felt incredibly cool when Mike would laugh at my dumb jokes. However, the voice chats in Discord, especially when Mike or Zoja would show up, began to have like 15+ people in them. My brain couldn’t process that many people talking at the same time. I had to bail on them most of the time.
I started talking more to the moderators in private, and hosting smaller voice chats, games, or I’d stream a movie or something we could all watch. I knew this was clique-forming shit, but I kind of needed to do it out of necessity. I liked having people to talk to every night, but the larger voice chats drained my social batteries quick. I’m not built for it, and I’m also not able to bulldoze my way through conversations and talk over people. So I’d mostly just end up sitting there quietly. It felt weird after awhile.
I also just naturally connected with some of the moderators, and became close friends with them. I played D&D with Rob and Dev. I played Overwatch and nerded out over music with Lexi and Tatiana. I joked around and watched shit with Felicia, who is now the co-host of a podcast we do together called Two Idiots Talking Over Stuff and someone I consider to be one of my best friends.
It turns out when you’re a fan of the same kinds of people, and the same kinds of shows, you tend to have a lot of shit in common — and the same senses of humor.
Fortnite Fortnite Fortnite Fortnite
Another one of those WTOP moderator friends was Heather from Michigan. She was funny and awkward, and we connected over music and comedy. We became friends pretty quickly. We also liked to play games together. That usually meant Jackbox, or cards, but then as the pandemic kept escalating, she became closer friends with Mike and Zoja, too.
Heather got closer and closer to Mike & Zoja, to the point that as it stands now, they might consider her to be their sister. Heather moved to Los Angeles, finished up her graduate degree, and does open mics now. Mike & Zoja’s apartment is like her second home. But before all of that, she was still in Michigan, everyone was still locked down, and Heather was used to being able to go out and do stuff for fun. Of all of my Internet friends, I think the pandemic was affecting her the most.
Then the video game Fortnite released Ghostbusters skins. This was a child’s game that wasn’t on anyone’s radar — mine especially. I’d only known the game’s studio, Epic Games, to have nearly failed catastrophically before completely ripping off the Battle Royale idea from PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Fortnite was abysmal trash and a huge flop before they reinvented it as a Battle Royale game.
When Fortnite released those Ghostbusters skins, Steve Zaragoza caught wind of it, and he was a gigantic Ghostbusters fanboy. He told Mike, who also loved the franchise, and the rest is history. They downloaded the game and started playing it together with Brett Register and Matt Raub, who I’ll talk about more below, and Nic Hamilton, who was a guest and fan of Dynamic Banter but also starred as Henry Bowers in the IT movies. I felt the least weird around Nic, odd as that is, because I think I just always thought as him as a fellow fan of Dynamic Banter more than as a famous actor.
Fortnite became the favorite Pandemic activity for their group of friends, all because of those dumb Ghostbusters skins. I had no intentions of ever asking to play, because I still really didn’t care about the game — I preferred Overwatch at the time — and also I was still trying to keep my distance. I cared a lot about not being seen as a clingy weird ass fan.
But then Heather asked me if I wanted to play with her and Mike, and I said sure, why not? I downloaded the game, loaded it up, and found it to be exactly what I thought it was. A really stupid game for children.
What I didn’t expect was how much fun it was going to be to play with Mike and Heather. The game was secondary to the voice chat. I suddenly understood what it was for adults. It was just something to do while you talked with your friends, and you got to dress up as characters from your favorite shit, and run over people with trucks. Dumb, simple fun, and a social experience.
Then I Met Steve
Not too long after I’d played with Mike and Heather, I got an invite to play with Mike, Heather, and Steve. I’d been interacting with Mike throughout the entire pandemic due to my involvement with his Discord server, and we’d gotten fairly close. I’d never directly interacted with Steve before.
That shit felt weird. I wasn’t star struck, but I also didn’t know how to interact with someone who I’d genuinely felt was the funniest person alive. That’s not hyperbole. Nobody alive makes me laugh like Steve does. His brain is programmed with some kind of cheat code that breaks me.
There were a couple of problems. One, I’m also funny, and I’m used to being among the funniest people in my friend groups. But that’s a far cry from trying to be funny around two professional comedians. It was intimidating as fuck. They would improv with one another effortlessly and I didn’t know if I was supposed to try to participate, or even how. That’s a skill that is honed over time. You can’t just jump in like double dutch without knowing how to double dutch.
Two, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Loveline callers. One of the first times I texted with Mike, I told him that I wasn’t sure we could ever really be friends. I felt the same way about Steve.
The Power Dynamic
I felt strongly that there was a power dynamic that was different than the one you normally hear about, which is the famous person taking advantage of the fan — milking the parasocial relationship to get stuff out of the fan. I knew that wouldn’t matter because you can’t actually take advantage of me. I’m an outwardly giving person — that’s just who I am. I just do nice shit for friends by default.
No, my fear was that I would have too much power at the beginning of the friendship, and that I would abuse it subconsciously. I had listened to literally hundreds of hours of Mike and Steve talking about their personal lives, because a lot of the times that’s what they had to fall back on when they were expected to produce those Table Talks every week.
I felt that because I had so much knowledge of their lives, I would subconsciously use it to get closer to them. I knew their interests, I knew shit about their families, I knew their fears and the most fucked up shit that had ever happened to them. To them, it was shit they probably didn’t remember saying — or how intimate it was — and to me, it was the shit that lodged in my soul and made me feel attached to their shows. All of that stuff landed squarely with me and I could reference any or all of that information.
If I tried to make friends with Steve, how much of our friendship would be because I knew exactly how to connect with him, and how much would it be about who I was as a person?
But the more we played Fortnite, the more I realized that Steve is so gregarious and loving that he considers everyone a friend. I was never going to need cheat codes or whatever. It didn’t matter how much I knew.
If we spent time together, we’d end up being friends anyway. We’re exactly the same age. I’m a good dude, very thoughtful, smart, and creative. We like the same shit. We laugh at the same shit. We both love making dumb, pointless shit. We’re both trolls with hearts of gold. We both love talking about the Universe and making up shit about how it works. We’re both down for whatever, whenever. We both just want to love people.
I began to realize that we were always going to be friends if we spent any amount of time together.
The Pandemic Kept Steve Inside
As I alluded to at the beginning of this autobiography (sorry) I didn’t expect to be writing today, I linked to My Obligatory Manifesto for context. This is where that becomes important.
Steve is an extrovert, and so am I, but I’m perpetually stuck inside. I’m an Internet extrovert. I’ll hang out with anyone and I make friends easily, and I always have. I’ve never had a single problem making friends. People love me because I love them back, and I’m not extra — I give them as much space as they want. I’m insanely open to interacting with new people. I’ll talk to anyone and I’ll be open and vulnerable without thinking about it.
The Pandemic bottle necked a bunch of outgoing extroverts into my life, and I understood the pain they were going through while it had no negative effect on me whatsoever. In fact, it actually had a hugely positive effect on my life. I felt like an Internet sherpa.
I met an entirely new group of friends that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. Steve is among them. Why? Because Steve is an extrovert, but he couldn’t go outside, so he was forced into my lane — the online extrovert. He wanted to do shit, and I was always available to do shit, just not outside. So we started hanging out a ton, and talking, and eventually texting. I didn’t ask him for his number for a very long time, once again projecting my own insecurities onto him and trying to protect that fan barrier.
It started in Fortnite. We became fast friends over our shared love of the stupid scenarios that game creates. But then Steve introduced me to Virtual Reality, where I met an entirely different set of new friends, who were also being forced into being online extroverts.
Matt Raub and the Dream Warriorz
I knew of Matt Raub, but I think I was one generation above the one that got hooked into the Smosh universe. Turns out, he’s a really cool guy that I also have a lot in common with. I met Matt when Steve invited me to a weekly VR night hang that they did, where they were randomly selecting a horror movie sequel and streaming it via Bigscreen VR. I wasn’t into horror really, but I am now, and those weekly hangs are why.
Matt is a fellow nerd and lover of 80’s and 90’s pop culture, video games, tech, and music. We matched 80% on Spotify Blend — the highest match I’ve had so far. We hit it off fast.
Anyway, I kept showing up to those VR movie nights because they were some of the most fun I’ve ever had. I literally passed out laughing one time. I was cackling and then I went silent for like 30 seconds, according to Steve. I don’t remember what I was laughing at because inside my head, it’s among a sea of other laughter.
Because we were watching horror movies, I asked if my friend Felicia could join, because she writes for the Fright Day podcast and reviews horror movies. I figured it’d be fun as hell watching random shitty horror with her, and it totally was. I also knew the VR friends would love her because everybody loves Felicia. That led to us watching more and more shit together, and ultimately launching our podcast.
I digress. Sometime around when I started hanging out with the VR friends, they got together and brainstormed a Pandemic project called Bill & Ted’s Excellent Remake. The idea was simple: get a bunch of editors together, divvy out scenes from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure to each one, let the editors do whatever they wanted with them, and then stitch them back together in order.
The collective was named Dream Warriorz and Matt and Steve asked me if I wanted to do a scene. I’d never really edited videos before, but I was an experienced musician with experience making weird shit, so I figured I could come up with something.
I’ll never forget watching it with the other editors in VR. I’ve never felt anything like that before. It made me a little sad that I chose a path through a career of IT instead of making fun shit for an audience. It was rewarding as fuck hearing people laugh at something I made in real time, and it felt really cool to be a part of a collaborative creative process like that.
And then when it streamed to over 400 people on Twitch — including a lot of Dynamic Banter fans that knew my name from my shenanigans over the years — that was a brand new and surreal experience, too. I could see how addictive creating for an audience could become.
I’ve been spending a lot more time creating stuff since the Pandemic started, including an album of music I’ve been working on for over two years. It’s the most seriously I’ve ever taken my music. I don’t think I ever would have gotten around to it unless all of this happened in the order that it did.
Then The Pandemic Cooled Off
Dream Warriorz is working on its next project that I’ll have scenes in, but now that the Pandemic has mostly passed us by, the progress towards release is going to be slower as all of the editors settle back into their normal lives.
Steve is going back out into the world again, but we’ve become closer friends. We’re still watching a random VR movie every week. We’re still playing Fortnite multiple times per week, and he’s been inviting me to play with him on his Big Friday Fortnite streams (every Friday sometime around 12:30 PM PST on The Valleyfolk’s Twitch channel) for several months now.
I’ve also become friends with Owen and Brett, through VR, Dream Warriorz, and Fortnite. They’re great dudes and we share a lot of the same interests, which isn’t surprising. And also Chris McCaleb, who I forgot to mention in the Talkin’ Banter section. He was a guest host of that show for several episodes, and he’s also a Dream Warriorz editor, not to mention hyper talented. He works on Better Call Saul as an editor but even before that, I knew of him from his work on one of my favorite shows, Halt and Catch Fire.
He gave me a shout out on the Better Call Saul Insider Podcast - Episode 606 around 01:21:05 for helping him figure out how to clean up some bad audio. This is a strange life I have right now.
So going from a fan to a friend felt weird — to the point I was actively trying to avoid it — to now feeling like it is a great and nearly impossible gift of circumstance. I actively think that a desire to inject yourself into the lives of creators is a weird impulse. Contribute to their art, yes — contribute to their heart, maybe not. But I’m more open to the possibilities than I was before. Maybe it depends on the creators?
I love all of these people and I’m fortunate to have many new and creative friends. These guys share my interests, my sense of humor, and my taste in media. They’re all very sweet and understanding of my mental fuckery, too.
I honestly think it happened for me because I wasn’t trying to make it happen. The Universe drifted itself into a parking spot and perfectly lined up for me in the strangest way possible, inflicting all of you with a horrible viral outbreak so that I could play Fortnite with my cool new Los Angeles friends.
Sorry about that, but also kind of not sorry.