Forget the moon landing. Fuck blue jeans and rock and roll. Don't call us, we'll call you, baseball. If there's one thing that makes American the misguided but glorious hodgepodge of cultures that it is, it could be its wealth of chain restaurants. Whether you're talking about the rise of the drive-thru, the fall of flair, or a uniform coffee shop on every corner, America thrives on this sort of sweaty corporate culture.
This importance of the chain restaurant in American life is a fact that comedians Mike Mitchell and Nick Wiger know all too well. These two sketch and improv veterans have long been mainstays of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and are starting to become pretty big deals in the indie comedy community. They also just so happen to be the hosts of Doughboys, a podcast devoted solely to discussing and reviewing chain restaurants. While neither of the comedians is a food or restaurant industry expert in the conventional sense, they provide an intriguing and hilarious perspective on topics ranging from food scandals and unscrupulous business practices to our collective nostalgia for this aspect of American culture.
We decided to chat with the guys to find out exactly what it is about chain restaurants that resonate so strongly not only themselves, but with the rest of America as well.
MUNCHIES: You've previously mentioned coming up with the concept for the Doughboys podcast while eating at a Cheesecake Factory. Can you tell us a bit more?
Wiger: Yeah, I mean I'm pretty lazy, and Mitch is a living caricature of a man napping in a hammock, and a podcast is like the least amount of effort you need to put into a creative endeavor in 2015.
Mitchell: And we both bond over the fact that we love food. I'm a fat slob and Nick is a former fat slob. So I think we just knew that our love of food was a given. LA has a huge selection of cool, fancy restaurants, which we love, but we're also pretty simple men and we have a bunch of respect and love for chains and fast food.
Wiger: Plus, as saturated as podcasts are, there just aren't many food ones, so that made sense. Having listened to every episode of your podcast, it struck me just how ubiquitous chain restaurants are in the lives of most Americans. Do you feel that either of your outlooks about the role chain restaurants play in Americans' lives has shifted at all?
Mitchell: Well, yeah, I feel like my outlook has definitely changed. I mean I always knew that Americans love their chain restaurants and fast food. But honestly, the days of looking down on any chain or fast food restaurant, those days are over for me. There are a lot of beefs to have with the fast food industry and I hope that we figure all those issues out in the years to come. But a lot of Americans depend upon these chain restaurants. Not only depend, but enjoy it. Chili's is a night out for a lot of Americans. And who am I to scoff at something like that?
Have you found it hard at all to differentiate among chain restaurants after examining so many? Did you have a Super Size Me moment?
Mitchell: Yes. Every single week I'm having a Super Size Me experience in that I want to eat a meal that I think represents the chain we are covering, but I don't want my heart to stop. The one thing I've learned from all this is that there are so, so many chains. They are never ending. This podcast will most likely continue on until my death (and beyond it). Also, unlike Morgan Spurlock, our podcast doesn't have an agenda. Oh, wow, the conclusion of Super Size Me is that this former vegetarian gained a bunch of weight and feels sick? Get bent, Spurlock.
Wiger: Yeah, fuck you, Spurlock. Let's go to war with Spurlock for no reason. He's more famous than us, so that'll probably be good publicity.
Nick tends to find some really intriguing tidbits relating to each week's chain restaurant, especially considering how manufactured their public images are. Has anything you have unearthed changed how you viewed a particular chain? The story about Domino's Noid mascot was crazy.
Mitchell: Chick-fil-A's policies really bummed me out. Some of the terrible executives and their decisions bum me out. But again, I'm just hoping that shining a light on some of these issues will right them. I try not to take any of this stuff into consideration when we review a place. It's a sad, real-world reality.
Wiger: I'm amazed by how many chains started in Southern California. So much of America's food culture seems owed to the burger and hot dog drive-ins that started on the left coast. Beyond that, the Noid thing is maybe the craziest. If you don't know the background, a mentally ill man with the last name Noid thought [Domino's "Avoid the Noid" ads] were making fun of him and laid siege to a Domino's, ending in his violent death. It's bananas, but also maybe the most understandable paranoid delusion I've ever seen.
You've both voiced some guilt over chain restaurant diners' complicity in the industrialized slaughter of animals. Have these opinions changed at all since starting the podcast?
Mitchell: It's definitely something I've thought about more. When we were at Buffalo Wild Wings, it was hard for us to wrap our heads around how they produced so many chicken wings a night. I mean, the number of wings they made for Nick and me alone was mind-boggling. Speaking of Nick, he has a stance on this: A hundred years from now, we will all be looked back on as savages because we eat animals.
Wiger: I think future generations will have a hard time comprehending how we could imprison and slaughter billions of sentient animals each year—and dump so many of their corpses into the garbage. I think the real problem is with crony capitalism, and American farm subsidies, and depressed wages for agricultural workers (many of whom are migrants being taken advantage of), and all those associated social ills. Choosing to become a vegetarian is like turning off your AC because of global warming. It makes you feel good about yourself, and God bless you if you do it, but individual choice has zero real impact on the actual systemic problems. It's such a financial and social burden to be a vegetarian, so I just choose to enjoy the decadence of the American food surplus—which tragically relies on a nightmarish production model.
Thirty episodes into the podcast, do you have any thoughts about the role of chain restaurants in regards to national food policy?
Mitchell: It makes me sad, of course. That kids just have to eat sugary, preservative-filled garbage at school every day. That sucks. And I love junk food. But I've also battled with my weight for years due to an awful diet. And Wiger has done the same (before he sold out and got skinny). So I have thought about this on a very small, personal scale.
Wiger: Maybe we can inspire some changes on an individual level—I guess by showing people what not to do? But any sort of national conversation about food is an impossibility, sadly. The system is completely broken at the highest level. And it's unfixable due to institutional inertia. We're in the midst of The Fall. Enjoy the ride.
Mitchell: Either way, we at least got to stuff our faces.
Wiger: Fuck you, Spurlock.
Thanks for speaking with us, guys.