Danny Avidan and Arin Hanson, the Game Grumps' main hosts, meet me on Skype for our interview, and even though my name is clearly visible on the screen and we had just spoken a second ago before my Skype recorder forced me to do a restart, Hanson answers the call by asking "Who is this?" Avidan immediately laughs.
The conversation starts the same way I start all of my interviews. I ask for full names, so I can identify the voices later while I'm retyping quotes, and their proper spelling. Years of reporting and writing have taught me that names are the first thing people look for when they read anything that's been written about them.
"George Wilson," responds Hanson, a Game Grumps host and animator who's also known by the moniker Egoraptor.
"And I'm Danny Avidan," says Avidan, who also goes by the name Danny Sexbang as one-half of the comedy music duo Ninja Sex Party. "Oh wait, were we coming up with pseudonyms?"
Laughter follows from all three of us even though I'm not 100 percent sure which are Hanson's and Avidan's real names.
That's the best way to characterize what Avidan, Hanson and the rest of the Game Grumps crew do, except video games are also part of the process. The pair
It seems they only have one goal: If they can make each other laugh, then they can make their 3.6 million subscribers laugh along with them.
"We have so much faith in each other that we know that whatever situation we find ourselves in," Avidan adds, "there will be some humor we can find in it."
The Game Grumps Live show scheduled on Friday at The Bomb Factory is part of Avidan and Hanson's first national tour. At the show, they'll do pretty much the same thing they do on YouTube, except they'll have a crowd of screaming fans watching, who can play along with them.
"We weren't prepared for how much fun it would be to actually have the audience interaction and to do the show with an immediate response and hear laughter other than our own," Avidan says. "It just makes the whole thing more real."
Game Grumps is like a talk show for the gamer sect except there aren't prepared
Like most YouTube channels in the "Let's Play" genre of video game videos, sometimes they make fun of the events on the screen a la Mystery Science Theater 3000. Occasionally they descend into hilarious bouts of "rage quit" if the game is particularly bad or frustrating, such as Hanson's attempt to beat a giant piece of plant life in the infamously difficult modern throwback platformer Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril.
At other times they just rattle off whatever's on their mind as they play, throwing one-ups at each other when they are winning or flinging curses when they aren't.
"From the very beginning, Game Grumps was very lax," Hanson says. "It was almost sort of a joke we were doing. The original host Jon [Jafari, better known on YouTube as JonTron] and I both had our own brands and our own content we were making for the internet and our YouTube channels. At the time, Let's Playing was picking up speed and a lot more channels were getting more and more successful because of Let's Playing. So we were sort of like, 'Ha ha, why don't we make a Let's Play channel?' and it was hugely successful right off the bat. We never reached the point where we are very serious and this is what we do now. We thought let's just continue to have fun with it and just show up and play games."
Avidan describes the series as a relaxed, unpredictable chat show that draws audiences into the experience through the natural flow of conversation around a unifying element.
"The way comedy is written for TV and anytime something is scripted, there's a strong rhythm to it," Avidan says. "There's not room for breathing or peace or things to develop naturally. With our show, it's literally what it would be like hanging out on a couch playing video games with us and whether the camera is rolling or not, we're exactly the same."
The conversations can also come from very personal places and painful experiences that can bring a greater sense of gravitas than one might expect from a show about video games. Avidan spoke honestly about his struggles with depression and obsessive compulsive disorder during a playthrough of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD for the Nintendo WiiU.
He says the laughs came later for him because the audience could relate to him on a level beyond just being a gamer.
"Both of us kind of fell into this but at least for me, there wasn't exactly like a plan other than to just be myself," Avidan says. "Strangely enough, the episodes that made people connect with me weren't funny. I started talking about my life and there's where the camaraderie was built and I started finding comedy after that because they knew us as people."
Transferring the Game Grumps' conversations and commenting from YouTube to a live stage seemed like an impossible task, and Hanson says he was a bit hesitant to agree to do a live show tour at first.
"Honestly, it was something our, I don't know what he is, manager, was like, 'You should do this' and I was like, 'No' and he was like, 'Please?' and I was like, 'No,' and he was like, 'Well, I'm gonna seek it out anyway,'" Hanson says with a laugh. "'Then when it's further along, we'll see what you think.'"
"It turned out to be a really great time," Avidan says.
"Yeah, it's super fun and we love it now," Hanson adds.
The live version is just as deceptively simple as their YouTube show. They play a video game or two with a multiplayer function in front of a live audience, such as the board/mini-game fest MarioParty, and turn the massive crowd of screaming fans
"It's just inherently fresh each time for us, just based on our audience," Hanson says. "Every audience in every theater lends a different vibe to the energy and each person we bring up is unique in their own way, so that's new for us every time."
The live shows have not only given them a new outlet for their humor but also a way to connect directly with their fans.
"Whenever we meet fans in person and they're younger and have their parents with them, nine times out of 10 the parents will say, 'I didn't get it at first but they just have it on all the time so I catch it and realize these guys are really funny,'" Hanson says. "It's
Not even Avidan and Hanson know exactly what's going to happen after one of them presses start on his controller.
"There's always something specific about a show, like it's a comedy show or whatever kind of show it is," Hanson says. "Our show is just guys playing games."
"We don't know what the show is going to be when we start," Avidan says.
Hanson adds that since he and Avidan have gone on tour, there's only one thing he can be sure of before they step out on the stage and greet a massive crowd of their fans in a new city for the first time.
"Whenever we have to go out and do the show and it's like two minutes before, I really have to take a shit and I just don't have time," Hanson says, drawing a huge laugh out of Avidan. "It's just impulsive. It's Pavlovian."
Game Grumps Live starts at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16, at The Bomb Factory, 2713 Canton St. Tickets are $27 to $35 at The Bomb Factory's website.