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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Broadcasting a bromance

The sound of laughter echoes throughout Western alumnus Will Butela’s garage. Located in Lynden, Washington, a glance inside reveals all the makings of what social anthropologists would classify a “man cave.”

The walls of Butela’s lair are adorned with various sports and film memorabilia. A giant flat screen broadcasting game three of the National League Championship Series is positioned in the corner of the room, next to a DVD rack barely able to contain the massive movie collection Butela has assembled.

In the center of the room, Butela sits across from his best friend Mike Duke. Duke is behind a laptop, grilling Butela on current events.

“True or false, you know the name of Donald Trump’s wife,” Duke asks.

“False. … Is Trump’s wife named Melania? I get it confused with the daughter, what’s the daughter’s name? And then I get confused with the woman who’s his like, what his coach?”

Will Butela talks about subjects relating to sports, pop-culture and entertainment inside the fun bros mancave, Oct. 19 // photo by Morgan Stilp-Allen
Will Butela talks about subjects relating to sports, pop-culture and entertainment inside the fun bros mancave, Oct. 19 // photo by Morgan Stilp-Allen

This is an example of the fun the two friends have recording their comedic podcast, “Fun Brothers. A Podcast.”

Butela and Duke became friends while they were in third grade, where they created a bonded over a shared love for the Seattle Mariners and movies.

“We didn’t do hard drugs or anything, so we had a lot of free time,” Duke said. “That meant extra money for DVDs and Guitar Hero.”

From playing on Little League teams together to working at the same Olive Garden in their early 20s, the two have always had a strong friendship. In June 2015, the two found themselves faced with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Butela entered a sweepstakes contest from Esurance to win a trip to the 2015 Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Cincinnati, and to his disbelief, he won.

“The only reason I opened [Esurance’s email] is because it said ‘You are going to the MLB All-Star Game,’” Butela said. “And I thought, ‘that’s a weird tagline. That doesn’t seem legal for them to lie.’”

The email was no hoax and Butela told his buddy Duke immediately.

“[Mike] was mad,” Butela grinned. “And then I told him he got to go too, and then he was excited.”

Once the trip was arranged, Esurance surveyed each contest winner about their favorite things about baseball and the responses were produced into short profile videos.

“That’s the great thing about the internet, they’re funny guys from Bellingham, Washington, and they can reach the world.”

Sean Quinn

“I guess I did good, because they did a two-minute video instead of a thirty-second video on us,” Butela said. “Most peoples’ got a couple thousand hits, and ours got over a million.”

The chemistry and humor the duo displayed in the video impressed the producers with Esurance.

“When you first sat down with Will and Mike and interviewed them, then saw the footage they brought with them, we were just kind of bowled over that we just happened upon these guys who were talented comedians,” said Sean Quinn, producer on the video production crew.

Esurance asked Duke and Butela for help with additional promotional videos and red carpet interviews at the All-Star Game. Some of the players and coaches the two interviewed include Kansas City Royals Manager Ned Yost, as well as Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier.

During the trip, Butela and Duke befriended Bradley Danyluk, a producer with the production company. Being approachable and funny made Butela and Duke unique, Danyluk said.

“I don’t know many people that have a best friend relationship like those two. I know plenty of friends who need some time apart… but I just don’t get that feeling from them. If you can monetize that and make people laugh at the same time, do it.”

After the trip, the two were guests on a podcast belonging to Aaron Kirby, who Butela met through stand-up comedy work, to discuss their experience at the All-Star Game. Instead, they rambled about sports for half an hour. After they finished recording Kirby’s podcast, the two came to the realization they might be able to run a show of their own.

Butela (right) and Duke (left) pose for photos with Cincinatti Reds legends and Baseball Hall of Famers catcher Johnny Bench (left center) and second baseman Joe Morgan at the 2015 MLB All-Star game in Cincinatti, July 2015.// Photo courtesy of Mike Duke
Butela (right) and Duke (left) pose for photos with Cincinatti Reds legends and Baseball Hall of Famers catcher Johnny Bench (left center) and second baseman Joe Morgan at the 2015 MLB All-Star game in Cincinatti, July 2015.// Photo courtesy of Mike Duke

“We literally left that, looked at each other and said, ‘yeah, we could do that,’” Duke said. “What was stopping us?”

From there, the first episode of the sports entertainment podcast “Fun Brothers. A Podcast,” starring Duke and Butela, began production. The first episode was posted on March 2, 2016.

“Basically the podcast is an extension of us watching the game together and talking to each other, except instead of that we’re talking to each other through microphones,” Butela said. “We tend to find each other during important sporting events.”

Topics covered in an episode range from performance trends of a certain team or player, to random one-off discussions, such as whether or not horses were the first animals to be ridden by a person.

“We’ve done skits, we’ve done raps, we’ve done a take on Drunk History,” Butela said. “We have a segment called ‘5-On-It.’ That’s just us talking about the five best and five worst things of a given topic.”

In the past they’ve discussed movies, actors, vegetables and even sports teams.

With the entertainment industry being so competitive and rigorous, Butela and Duke’s running start has been crucial to the podcast’s growth and popularity.

“Ten years ago they would’ve had to move to Chicago or L.A. to get noticed,” Quinn said. “Seeing them work in a very free form space like a podcast where they can really be themselves, write their bits, put some of their opinions out there, I think it really plays to their strengths, first of all. That’s the great thing about the internet, they’re funny guys from Bellingham, Washington, and they can reach the world.”

The show not only acts as an entertainment medium for comedy and sports listeners looking for a laugh, but it’s also a chance to catch up for the two best friends who share a common passion. The friends’ comfort level with each other allows for an open and genuine structure to the podcast, Butela said.

Butela said his time at Western, specifically classes like communications and debate, highlighted his ability to think quickly on his feet.

Duke (left) and Butela (right) dressed in pajamas to film an Esurance commercial in 2015 at Joe Martin Field in Bellingham. The two impressed producers with their inital Esurance short and were asked to film more. // Photo courtesy of Mike Duke
Duke (left) and Butela (right) dressed in pajamas to film an Esurance commercial in 2015 at Joe Martin Field in Bellingham. The two impressed producers with their inital Esurance short and were asked to film more. // Photo courtesy of Mike Duke

“I really enjoyed doing stupid debates in debate class, about stuff like whether crushed or cubed ice was better, and then having to give a five minute speech,” Butela said.

Duke would often help Butela study for his classes.

“I’d say I lived vicariously through his classes,” Duke said. “If he had to practice for a debate or write a paper, he’d run things by me or practice, as dorky as that sounds. I was kind of like a guinea pig for all his crazy thoughts for school.”

The show has been running for about seven months, and episode number 35 aired on Wednesday, Oct. 19, on their official website.

Butela and Duke said they value the opportunity to express themselves creatively much more than the attention they receive for it.

“We’re doing it for fun, so making it not stressful I think is the ultimate goal,” Duke said. “We don’t want to be the athletes who said, ‘it was no longer fun anymore.’”

Duke and Butela hope fans are able to find release and distraction from every-day mundane tasks by tuning into the show.

“It’s nice because we’re best friends but we don’t live near each other,” Duke said. “It’s a chance for us to keep being friends. We essentially are doing the show for each other, and it’s just lucky that people happen to listen to it, it’s just kind of fun for us.”

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