Meet the Buddies Behind ‘Flop House,’ the Internet’s Funniest Film Critics
Three friends who love movies, and love to snark about them wittily, come together twice a month to record a podcast film fans have come to love.
To describe That’s My Boy, the critically panned 2012 movie starring Adam Sandler as the father to a son (Andy Samberg) produced from a Mary Kay Letourneau-esque affair, as the “statutory-rapiest film since Gigi” takes a finely-tuned irreverent sense of humor and a cultivated body of cinematic knowledge. And some Popeye’s fried chicken.
It’s that combo of wit, outlandishness, and acumen that has earned The Flop House podcast its own niche fandom.
Every fortnight, “Flop House” fans eagerly listen to the latest installment of the podcast devoted to dissecting the worst recently released films (except when they hold fan contests, in which the winners can choose a film from any time) with comments ranging from incisive to bizarre to barely tangential in the funniest way possible.
After nearly 200 episodes and over eight years of recording, Dan McCoy, Elliott Kalan, and Stuart Wellington have their own culty group of admirers that creates elaborate Wiki pages.
These fans summarize every episode, send personalized art, and obsess over any personal minutiae mentioned in any episode, like Kalan’s love of Popeye’s fried chicken.
The “Flop House” began in late 2007 when McCoy asked Wellington, a friend from Earlham College in Indiana who also had a love for bad movies, and Simon Fisher, another friend of his, to record podcasts with him.
“I’d talk to Stuart and Simon at parties, and I thought they were hilarious,” McCoy said. “While I was trying to be in comedy, they had no particular interest—or if they did, it was hidden away somewhere. So, I thought I’ve got to get these guys on tape.”
McCoy had trained at Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) and was looking to break into the entertainment industry. “There was a time period if you were part of the UCB theater, and you stayed in that world, you could put on a show, but it had gotten too big at that time for it to be an entrée into the comedy world. I was like, ‘What’s new? Podcasts.’”
For Wellington, who had no desire to pursue a career in comedy and still describes himself as “definitely an outsider from the comedy world,” the show was more about hanging out and making each other laugh. He is the only one of the three whose day job is not in professional comedy (he is bartender and owner of the soon-to-open Hinterlands bar in Brooklyn).
Fisher moved to Indiana fairly early into the show’s tenure, and McCoy and Wellington began trying out a Third Musketeer.
One of the contestants was Kalan, who performed comedy with McCoy at the now-closed Juvie Hall on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and worked with him at The Daily Show (until he stepped down as head writer a few months ago when Jon Stewart departed; McCoy is still on the staff).
It was quick to the trio and their fans that their biting humor balanced off each other in a well-oiled rapport. A personal favorite is an exchange during the 2014 episode discussing the cringe-inducingly, racist stereotype-dependent 1997 B*A*P*S*:
Kalan: Now, Bratz and B*A*P*S have a lot in common—in that the names sound similar, and they’re about ladies doin’ it for themselves.McCoy: Masturbating?Kalan: That’s… not what I meant, no. I mean, that is an example of “ladies doin’ it for themselves”…McCoy: Because I’ve seen a lot of movies about ladies “doin’ it for themselves.”Kalan: Yeah, I don’t want to hear about those… while the podcast is on.
Now in their mid- to late thirties, Kalan, McCoy, and Wellington have taken on every type of bad movie imaginable, never ceasing to find new ways to discuss how and why a multimillion-dollar venture can be so very terrible. No bad movie is immune from the podcast, whether it’s a terrible rom-com like Valentine’s Day, a horrendous horror like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, or even (especially?) children’s films.
McCoy described it as a movie that “simulates a real food fight in that it leaves you pained, sticky, and wanting to vomit.”
After noting that the Brand X bad guys in Foodfight! had uniforms that looked remarkably similar to Nazi paraphernalia and referred to the brand mascots as “Ikes,” Kalan quipped, “I didn’t expect to be watching this animated movie about food mascots coming to life at night, and feel a palpable feeling of anti-Semitism.”
One-liners and jabs aren’t where the Floppers (as they are affectionately nicknamed by their fans) pull their comedic punches. The trio has a savant-like ability to go on epic tangents, building out the most admirably random stream of conscious humor.
In that same episode discussing Foodfight!, a mispronunciation of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof led to a riff about what a Southern Tintin comic aficianado would sound and act like. A transcript won’t do it justice, but listen to the segment here.
Or, revel in the fan art interpretation of what Cat on a Hot Tintin Roof would look like.
When I met with Kalan, McCoy, and Wellington at Commonwealth Bar in Brooklyn’s Park Slope (where the latter bartends), it surreally felt like I had stumbled into one of their episodes. The banter began before I even asked a question:
“I’d like to be described as devastatingly handsome,” McCoy told me as soon as I hit the record button.
“I think you need to mention it was a request,” Kalan cut in, before adding his own: “I’d like to be described as above six feet tall.” (Kalan is 5’4” and his stature was noted in more than a few places when the rest of The Daily Show staff dwarfed him during his acceptance speech this year at the Emmys.)
Vulture described listening to Kalan, McCoy, and Wellington as “a bit like eavesdropping on three BFFs trying to make each other laugh-fart.” That unfakeable camaraderie is apparent from the way they tear at each other in the bar.
After I inquire about the health of McCoy’s cat Lulu (somewhat of a Flop House regular), he told me she just passed away and will include an update on the next episode.
“Yeah, let’s bum everyone out right at the top,” Kalan said improvising McCoy’s imagined opening for their final Halloween-themed episode of the month. “Nothing is scarier than death. I put my cat down. Shocktober, everybody!”
To rub extra comedic salt in the wounds, Kalan added, “It was her time… because you chose to do it at that time.”
Instead of being saddened or uncomfortable (as, I must admit, I was), McCoy began laughing and cracking jokes, too. “Come on, she died in our arms… tonight.”
“Must have been something you said,” finished Kalan.
Besides, McCoy and Wellington take their shots at Kalan when I ask if he’s really eating fried chicken when they record (an oft-referenced detail in the podcast).
“It’s distressing to watch him eat fried chicken. There is no meat left,” McCoy said. “It’s literally like a cartoon cat sticks a whole fish in his mouth and then just pulls out the bones. I’ve never seen someone clean bones that well. If I ever accidentally kill somebody, I’ll have to have him clean bones for me,” Wellington added.
One of the great parts of listening to “The Flop House,” though, is that this friendship almost transcends to the viewer. The three men have maintained a remarkably intimate relationship with their listeners. Kalan openly discussed why he left The Daily Show on one of the recent episodes and McCoy announced his marriage was ending.
McCoy talked about how he felt the need to play the boring, basic straight man to Wellington’s party-guy and Kalan’s know-it-all personas on the podcast. “I felt I needed a hook, but it became such a strong meme among fans that they think they can joke about it,” he said. “My self-esteem is not strong enough to support strangers making fun of me for being dull. I kind of wish I had never kicked that off.”
“The Flop House” is part of the growing and surprisingly popular make-fun-of-a-bad-movie genre of entertainment. In 2013, The New York Times noted that several venues in Manhattan, including the 92nd Street Y and the IFC Center had, started purposefully screening “trash cinema” (That “The Flop House” has its own occasional live screenings and discussions was noted in the piece).
Instead of being purely snarky, there’s a certain admiration and respect on “The Flop House” as they rip apart movies. “I think a lot of the bad movies that are fun to watch are weirdly earnest,” said Wellington. “There’s something about someone being that honest and passionate about something that is crazy or bad, rather than being inept.”
Not that this cinematic critique-comedy fusion is exactly new. The Flop House follows in the footsteps of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988-1999), a television show with the premise that a man and his robots are trapped on Satellite of Love and are being forced to watch bad movies.
Nor is “The Flop House” the only podcast devoted to this subject. In fact, its main competitor (my words, not theirs) is the more famous How Did This Get Made?, which is hosted by a trio of comedians, Paul Scheer and Jason Mantzoukas (both of whom starred on FXX’s The League) and June Diane Rapahel (who has appeared in a number of films and television shows, including Parks and Recreation and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues).
“How Did This Get Made?” premiered in 2010, and their guests have been, shall we say, a bit more Hollywood than those of “The Flop House,” including Kevin Smith, Adam Scott, Adam Pally, and Michael Showalter (of the beloved Wet Hot American Summer).
When I ask if they’re bothered that a podcast that’s later to the game is beating them in fame, their answers are mixed.
“Those are all good guys, and I had two of them [Scheer and Mantzoukas] as improv coaches. The only thing was we were around earlier,” McCoy said.
“I think we’re better, but we have a different personality and tone that fits us,” said Kalan. “I enjoy it more because it’s us. The same way I would watch Last Week Tonight when I was still at The Daily Show and be like ‘This is a good show, but ours is better.’ Then I’d be like ‘Wait, I’m not an impartial judge,’” he added with a laugh.
And while “The Flop House” may not be the top podcast dog, it’s hard to still consider it as under-the-radar. It has received shoutouts from The Guardian and Entertainment Weekly, which named “The Flop House” the second best podcast of 2014, after “Serial.”
“We’re minor celebrities in a very weird slim subset of the Internet in a way which I’d never have expected,” McCoy said. “The analogy I use is being an anchor at Comic Con. You have all these nervous people come up to you and they’re really excited to see you in this one specific context, but you know that you lead such an unglamorous life otherwise.”
The trio still meets every other Wednesday at 8 p.m. at McCoy’s apartment to watch the movie and then records the podcast immediately after, lasting about 3½ hours in total. By all accounts, it’s (mostly) a labor of love.
“We’ve made enough where we could give dividends to stockholders—which is the three of us,” Kalan joked.
The podcast, they say, now makes a few thousand dollars a month. “In the very low thousands,” Kalan jokingly qualified, “as low as it can get and still be in the thousands.”
Still, as much as the podcast’s humble origins and content structure has remained the same, the cultdom is only growing—so much so that it begs the question: any chance “The Flop House” will make the jump from podcast to the screen?
The trio is vague, but say it’s not out of the question. “That’s something I’ve been looking into with these guys’ permission. Nothing has come of it yet,” Kalan said, explaining he’s played around with editing some of their podcasts into TV episode-sized chunks.
McCoy said he’s debated writing a pilot and the three have considered possibly trying an animated version of their riffs, like The Ricky Gervais Show.
They’re not ready to ditch Brooklyn for Hollywood quite yet.
“The coolest part for me if having a structure where I get to hang out with friends and make jokes,” said Wellington. “That other people find it funny is mind-boggling.”