Cold Pitch
Cold Pitch
This YouTube Show is a Rich Text
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This YouTube Show is a Rich Text

Good Mythical Morning is a silly daily YouTube show—and it's so much more than that, too.
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Transcript

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Sean and I have an everyday evening routine. We finish up work around 4:30 or 5pm, make our dinners, and then sit down on the couch to watch Good Mythical Morning.

For the uninitiated, Good Mythical Morning is a long-running daily YouTube show hosted by self-described "internetainers" Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal.

The first episode aired in January 2012, and while the show has evolved, the basic premise remains the same. Rhett and Link are two lifelong best friends in their mid-forties who use a talk show set-up to crack jokes, eat bizarre foods, and play games. This simple premise has garnered the show 18.5 million subscribers and over 9 billion views—and recently carried them through their 2500th episode.

Sean sees the show as a "concentrated representation of online media and culture." They somehow take all the things we love about the internet and distill them into a single show. While predominantly goofy, even juvenile, the show also hits sentimental, vulnerable, and intimate notes. On other Mythical channels, including their podcast Ear Biscuits, Rhett and Link often talk candidly about fatherhood, sex, religion, and social issues.

Good Mythical Morning is, as they say, a rich text.

If you watch more than a few episodes, you'll notice that Rhett and Link are very intentional about what they do and the context in which they do it. The show is in dialogue with YouTube culture—without (for the most part) being derivative. It has a certain social and global awareness that informs its production, staffing, and content.

Rhett and Link aren't 'just' content creators or influencers. They approach media-making as a craft, and they approach the media business as a craft.

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Mythical Entertainment is a multimedia, multi-channel entertainment company that employees about 100 people. There's a network of podcasts and a membership community. There are table games, collections of merch, and series of collectibles. Rhett and Link have appeared on the Tonight Show several times. They hosted a Food Network show last year. They've authored two books, and the brand is releasing a cookbook in 2024 written by Mythical Chef Josh.

They absolutely do not shy away from making a pitch to buy their stuff. Whether it's the premium Mythical Society membership, a new t-shirt, or a game they designed, there's a promo in every single episode. But rarely does their delivery of a promo feel forced—instead, it feels self-aware.

Like, "Isn't it funny that we make this stuff for you to buy? Sure it is! But also, we know you want to buy it—so we're just letting you know..." They also talk pretty openly about business decisions and strategy on their podcast and, sometimes, within GMM itself.

They make the business of internet media part of the experience of the media itself—on purpose. For instance, there's a recurring episode format that pits two similar fast food restaurants against each other. In the most recent "Food Feuds" the battle was between Five Guys and Shake Shack.

They try the same dishes at both restaurants and rate them. Then they add up the score to declare a winner. The prize? Well, it's chance to sponsor an episode of GMM.

No one has ever taken them up on this prize. But it doesn't stop them from trying! Or from trying to make it a joke!

There's more to this "rich text" than the business.

Rhett and Link model a version of mature adult male friendship that is hard to find in any form of media.

They celebrate each other's growth and talk about the intimate parts of their lives. They are both open about the role therapy plays in their lives. They model self-discovery, political curiosity, and care for others.

This modeling is part of the genius of Good Mythical Morning. What Rhett and Link do on screen isn't just something to watch—it's something to participate in.

Theorist Roland Barthes argued that anything could be read as a text. A text, he wrote, "is a little like a [musical] score... it solicits from the reader a practical collaboration."

Barthes drew a connection between the reader and a text and the casual musician and a piece of music. The musician both plays and listens to the music as they play it. The performance created and received is the same performance. A reader experiences a text in a similar way—they don't simply receive a stable and specific meaning through the experience of reading but instead participate in creating the many meanings of the text through the act of reading.

When Sean and I watch Good Mythical Morning, we participate in its many layers.

The way we interact with games they dream up or the food they eat engages is woven into the fabric of the text. Barthes even describes reading a text as play. With one hand, Barthes gestures toward playfulness. But with the other hand, Barthes points to flexibility and give.

The way a middle-aged American married couple participates with Good Mythical Morning is different from the way a Japanese high schooler participates with it. The way my kid watches GMM is different from the way I watch GMM. The show has enough play—enough flexibility—to have meaning for people with wildly different backgrounds and life experiences.

I asked Sean whether he feels he has a parasocial relationship with Rhett and Link. And sure enough, he responded, "Yes, I do. I do have a parasocial relationship with them."

The term parasocial relationship refers to the relationship between the performer and their audience. It's a necessarily one-sided relationship—the audience can develop the feeling that they know and care for the performer. But the performer cannot know or care for individual members of the audience.

The term was coined by Donald Horton and Richard Wohl in a 1956 paper for the journal Psychiatry. They used the term "persona" to identify the image and character of the performer that's transmitted to the audience. A persona isn't exactly the performer* as they know themself, nor is a role they play.

The persona shows up day after day and offers a "continuing relationship." Horton and Wohl write: The persona's "appearance is a regular and dependable event, to be counted on, planned for, and integrated into the routines of daily life." Fans perceive themselves as sharing in the persona's public life "and to some extent even [their] private life away from the show."

Of course we have parasocial relationships with Rhett and Link, as well as many members of the Mythical Crew. But Sean threw an interesting idea into the mix:

"You know where my mind goes? I have a relationship with the ampersand. I have a parasocial relationship with the ampersand."

To be clear, Rhett and Link is most often styled, Rhett & Link. So yeah, the ampersand.

I like this idea. The ampersand, in a way, signifies that what we're actually participating in is the space between the two men. We are connected less to the two of them and more to the participation with them as the show plays out.

I started to wonder whether Barthes had ever interacted with the idea of parasociality. It doesn't seem that he did. But he did investigate the role of the reader or the audience in relation to a text.

For Barthes, the audience of a text creates the many meanings of that text.

As I mentioned earlier, the audience isn’t separate from the work; they participate in it. The audience plays with the text.

That's an apt description of how we watch GMM. If they're playing a game, we try to play along. When we go to the grocery, Sean will ask me to check out what "the boys are eating" to see if he needs to add something to his shopping list. Maybe they're doing a Reese's taste test, so he wants to pick up a few varieties of Reese's to play along.

It's here that I wonder if the notion of parasocial interaction breaks down a bit. Parasociality is, by definition, one-sided. The audience receives the performance, even as that performance is designed to draw the audience in.

But GMM viewers—the mythical beasts—have a multi-sided relationship with the performance on the screen. They play along. They're even encouraged to create along. And it happens in a media environment where this is possible. Today's social media weren't on the radar of Wohl, Horton, or Barthes, writing as they were in the mid- and mid-to-late 20th century respectively.

There's a kind of digital media that fosters a separation between creator and audience—even in social media. Think celebrity Instagram feeds managed by an agent or intern. And there's a kind of digital media that invites participation, if not with the creator themselves than with the subject matter, other audience members, or the creative impulse. Good Mythical Morning certainly falls into that camp for me and Sean.

But not everything that Rhett and Link create belongs to that category for me. Once a month, Rhett and Link release a highly edited, conceptual video on a different channel. These are typically about 30 minutes long, often cut in a sort of mockumentary style, and include original music and special effects. You can tell that they're making something that really scratches a creative itch for them.

I enjoy these videos. They're funny but often play with unexpected emotional notes.

However, these videos don't hit the way GMM hits for me. And I think it comes down to the participation piece. These videos don't invite play so much as they ask to be consumed. There's a separation between me as an audience member and them as creators that doesn't exist in the experience of watching GMM.

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Playing Along

When the show gets especially absurd, and we're laughing our heads off, I'll often look over at Sean across the couch and say:

"...just two grown-ass adults watching two grown-ass adults do [insert absurd thing]."

There is something meaningful to me about this that I couldn't quite articulate when Sean and I were talking about the show for this edition. Sean brought up a recent episode of Good Mythical Morning help me unpack this.

As I mentioned earlier, GMM is often in dialogue with internet culture. If something is trending on TikTok, for instance, they might design an episode around that trend. In GMM #2493, they took on "blind boxes." Blind boxes are sets of small "collectible" toys that are sold in sight-unseen packaging. Opening the box (or bag) to see what you got is part of the experience. One might argue it's the entire experience since these things seem to have no more depth or value than the act of buying.

Okay, I'm going to try to explain this—but if you have a few more minutes, just watch (part of) the episode.

The premise of the episode was that Rhett and Link would open boxes from various toy lines, "trying" to get a chosen character from the collection. To determine how many boxes they'd get to open (and thus, their chances of winning), they answered trivia questions.

Suffice it to say, the boys are skeptical about the blind box phenomenon. They have no problem get into weird internet trends—but this one might be a bridge too far.

The first 7 minutes of the episode are spent in this skepticism. But it all changes at 7:33. Rhett opens his first blind box and, upon realizing that it is the one he was hoping for, freaks the $&#! out. Okay, maybe that first freak-out isn't entirely authentic. It's a bit of an act.

"I get it! I get it! I love this!" he screams.

But as he continues to open his boxes, Rhett's attitude goes from performative excitement to genuine glee. After he opens the final box and finds the figure that Link wanted to find, his whole body is in on the delightful absurdity of the activity. He's shouting, jumping, and... flexing. He gloats:

"By way of review, I got the one I wanted. I got the other one I wanted. I got the one you wanted. And I got [the rare one] you also wanted."

Disappointedly, Link replies, "I just wanted you to be happy."

Sean explained that what he finds meaningful about watching two grown-ass men opening children's toys is the way it disrupts acceptable expressions of masculinity. That glee, playfulness, and silliness aren't things society expects from middle-aged men. And when Rhett and Link express those feelings, it events other grown-ass adults to do the same.

"There's a part of us that needs that, too," Sean told me, "and we don't give ourselves that."

That all said, I think the unbridled silliness is part of their craft. They've learned how to turn it on and include it in the performance. I do think they have a talent for it, but I also think they've practiced dropping into the space where they can just let themselves act silly. That doesn't make their play any less real. Connecting with the emotion, the idea, the story, the character... it's what all craftspeople learned to do whether they're "inspired" or not.

For me, that realization is profound. I know how to sit down and write—even if I'm not initially excited about what I need to write. But I'm often at a loss when it comes to feeling that kind of joy. The idea that I could make joy of that kind a practice is meaningful.

But Good Morning isn't only an invitation to be silly—it's an invitation to grow. "I appreciate that they intentionally pursue growth," Sean told me. "That is additionally this through-line of their entire show—personal development and growth as men. And I don't know where else that's happening, honestly."

So, you know, why do we watch this every day?

Because we're two grown-ass adults watching two grown-ass adults play, work on themselves, and become better people.

As I said, Good Mythical Morning is a rich text.

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Cold Pitch
Cold Pitch
An experimental media project on media, curiosity, and identity brought to you by the host of What Works, Tara McMullin, and Sean McMullin, co-founder of YellowHouse.Media.
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