Jonathan Larroquette and Seth Romatelli are unlikely best friends. When they met 20 years ago through Larroquette’s then-girlfriend, a casting director, Romatelli was a struggling actor who had recently moved to Los Angeles from Massachusetts with big dreams of becoming a series regular on a network sitcom. He was also battling a drinking problem and drug addiction. Larroquette, an L.A. native born in Hollywood to celebrity parents (his father is Night Court star John Larroquette) was a musician and composer who’d gotten sober through a 12-step program years earlier.
By the time Larroquette and Romatelli started a podcast together in the spring of 2006 — just a year after iTunes launched podcast streaming services, back when the medium was still just a buzzword few people understood — their lives had flipped. Romatelli, who is clean-shaven with a silver-streaked pompadour and a penchant for Western shirts, had stopped drinking. He’d begun to accept that he might never land a role on a TV show, despite having studied under Jeff Goldblum and Robert Carnegie at Playhouse West (he likes to joke that his biggest role to date was a bit part in the 2002 Britney Spears movie Crossroads). Larroquette, a long-haired musician with a beard and knuckle tattoos, had started using drugs and drinking again after his divorce. His then-girlfriend is now his ex-wife, but the two buddies she introduced are now besties for life.
The only thing more unlikely than their friendship is that the duo has managed to record a podcast together nearly every week for the past decade and counting. With more than 500 episodes — so many that iTunes can’t even store them all because they exceed its bandwidth — Uhh Yeah Dude has become one of the longest-running comedy podcasts in history. Romatelli is an inquisitive news junkie who portrays himself as neurotic and germophobic, and Larroquette, the wilder of the two, is prone to outbursts, tangents and on-air drug use. The hourlong unscripted chats between the two have gained such a fiercely loyal underground following that fans have started paying the hosts to do it as a full-time job. But it wasn’t always that way.
“We started doing this thing where we recorded our first show and put it on the internet and we were both like, ‘What the fuck are we doing?’” Romatelli says. “When it’s just your moms [listening] it’s one thing, but when it’s 10 years later …” Larroquette interrupts, a frequent occurrence on the podcast in which the two finish each other’s sentences, sometimes screaming over one another to get a word in. “It’s 2016 and you’ve got guys talking to me about stories that I told to 100 people when the show started but they’ve gone back in the archives,” Larroquette says. “I’m like, fuck, if I thought that there was going to be tens of thousands of people knowing that I fucked a honeydew melon when I was 13 years old or whatever, that it was just like, fuck, you know ...” His voice trails off. He goes to smoke a joint near the window.
It’s a Thursday afternoon in May and we’re sitting in Romatelli’s movie poster–adorned living room in Koreatown, which also doubles as a bare-bones recording studio. (The setup consists of no more than two handheld mics plugged into a computer. Even the use of headphones is shunned, lest the two become distracted from their conversation.) Laid out in a grid on the wooden coffee table are dozens of note cards filled from top to bottom with segment ideas for the day's show: snippets of magazine articles, hand-cut statistics culled from USA Today’s data-driven “Snapshots,” wacky sports stories with a human-interest angle (like the NFL player who tested positive for steroids because he ate contaminated meat from Mexico), fast food news, scientific studies and national surveys pulled from all over the web.
“We’re not just sitting here going, ‘What’d you do today?’” Romatelli says. “No!” he screams, feigning outrage at the thought of it. “It might have that feel of, ‘Oh we’re bouncing around,’ but there’s a framework to it that keeps the train moving.” That framework includes hours of scouring the internet, reading the newspapers and watching television to pull the kinds of bizarre, sensational stories from the depths of Middle America — the show’s slogan is “America through the eyes of two American Americans” — that virtually no other publication outside of small-town newspapers is interested in. One such news story, for example, focused on a Virginia man accused of stealing women’s shoes, ejaculating in them, and then returning the shoes to their owners.
On recent episodes of “Uhh Yeah Dude,” the hosts have rambled at length about getting DNA tests, the logistics of interspecies mating and how to make a DIY earthquake-preparedness kit (Romatelli’s involves lots of caramel candies). The show’s format is tough to pin down, and attempting to describe it can make the whole endeavor sound incredibly dull. Its creators are the first to admit it. “It’s two fucking old white dudes talking. It’s like, what is worse than that? Are they complaining about all their opportunities?” Romatelli says, rolling his eyes at the premise of his own podcast. “And they don’t write? They just rely on their own spontaneity?” Laroquette chimes in, impersonating a would-be listener. “Gross!” Romatelli shouts.
But for all their self-deprecating jokes, their back-and-forth banter has attracted hordes of dedicated listeners who comprise a subculture of UYD fans (they call themselves UYD Heads) who debate about show topics on online forums, mail lengthy personal letters and homemade fan art to Laroquette and Romatelli, and even leave them voicemails to say hello or to correct them on a particular issue discussed on the podcast. (The hosts advertise a public voicemail box and attempt to respond to every message they receive.) Some listeners who met through their fandom have gotten married; Romatelli officiated one such ceremony. When he and Laroquette joked at one point that there should be a dating site just for UYD Heads, their fans obliged. The resulting site, OK Seatbelts, a combination of a catchphrase from the podcast and the dating site OK Cupid, once boasted hundreds of members, Laroquette and Romatelli say.
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It’s not just the fans who want a piece of UYD. The entire industry of podcasting has exploded in the 10 years since they launched theirs — a full three years ahead of podcast darling Marc Maron — and they’re no longer “the shitheads on the internet that nobody wanted to pay,” says Laroquette. “Now every company’s coming along and trying to mine podcasts for fucking content.” But the two hosts have long refused to court advertisers, charge for subscriptions or join a podcast network — an attractive option for comedy podcasts, it offers support and promotion but often requires creators to give up at least partial rights to their shows. “There was a proclamation made somewhere in the middle of the show at some point where we were like, ‘We love this show. … We’re always going to do it and it will always be free,’” Laroquette says. “And so the main thing was, how do you do it [financially] so that nothing changes?”
In October of last year, he and Romatelli found their answer. Through the crowdfunding site Patreon, more than 1,200 fans of the show have volunteered to pay them nearly a six-figure collective salary — the actual amount fluctuates between $8,000 and $12,000 a month, depending how much fans decide to contribute — all for merely recording their weekly podcast. The money has allowed Romatelli to quit his day job of eight years at a weed dispensary and focus on the show full-time. He calls it a dream come true.
“I’m never going to do anything that I think is funnier or that I enjoy more, no matter what happens,” Romatelli says. “If I’m in a movie directed by Judd Apatow with Key and Peele, I won’t think it’s as funny as an episode of this show, as much as I want to do that.”
Still, the actor hasn’t given up on his lifelong dream of becoming a TV star just yet. He and Laroquette are meeting with networks in the hopes of parlaying their UYD antics and built-in fan base into a variety show tailored to the small screen. But for now, like every Thursday and the Thursday before that and the Thursday to come, they’ve got a podcast to record.