The Gregory Brothers: The Masters of the Internet

Originally published on September 4, 2014 2:29 pm

This week, Ask Me Another welcomes meme-mixing masters The Gregory Brothers, comprised of actual brothers Evan, Andrew and Michael Gregory, and Evan's wife Sarah Fullen-Gregory. The group behind "Auto-Tune The News" and the "Bed Intruder Song" talk about their unexpected YouTube fame, their sincere musical backgrounds, and who among today's politicians and pundits makes the best unintentional singers. Then, it's brother against brother, against brother, against brother's wife, in a viral video trivia showdown so intense, we had to call in Nyan Cat and Keyboard Cat as judges. Plus, Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg gets the auto-tune treatment, and one lucky winner receives a classic NPR quiz show prize with a twist: a personalized voice mail tag sung by the Gregory Brothers in the style of a barbershop quartet.

About The Gregory Brothers

The Gregory Brothers' unique musical stylings and comic rapport were largely formed when the brothers began making zany mix-tapes in their living room in Radford, Virginia as tiny babies. Thought sadly lost, these seminal works of musical comedy gently gestated for a few years until 2007, when the brothers joined forces with a bright-eyed lass from Texas. This musical collaboration with Evan's wife, Sarah, was forged in the fiery crucible of a 50-show summer tour stuck in an van without air-conditioning. These sweaty bonds shall never be broken.

After the tour, they began making their wildly viral YouTube series, "Auto-Tune the News" in 2008. Their meager hope was that several dozen more people would bump their rumps to C-Span if it thumped with a bass line and a beat. Their hit "The Bed Intruder Song" was the first YouTube video to cross over onto the Billboard Hot 100.

They have spoken at Google ZeitGeist, MacWorld, GEL and VidCon about how they combine music, technical savvy, and humor to reach millions. They've collaborated with T-Pain, Weezer, Joel Madden, Adidas, and yes — even NPR. They are also the proud winners of two Webby Awards and were recipients of one of the inaugural Comedy Awards.

While they continue to work on making their YouTube jams, The Gregory Brothers now tour the country speaking at colleges, playing at rock and comedy clubs, and are in the process of making a pilot for Comedy Central.

Watch a behind-the-scenes video of The Gregory Brothers talking about their process for the series, "Auto-Tune the News."

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Welcome back to ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour for people who love people who love puzzles. I'm your host, Ophira Eisenberg, and joining me is this week's mystery guests, The Gregory Brothers.


EISENBERG: Right now you're listening to your own work.

SARAH FULLER: It's our favorite thing to do.

EISENBERG: "Auto-Tune the News volume 2". I believe this is Volume 2.

FULLER: That's right, that's right.

ANDREW GREGORY: You're correct.

EISENBERG: And we - you are four members, The Gregory Brothers. We have two of you here, Andrew Gregory, welcome.


EISENBERG: And Sarah Fuller, welcome.




EISENBERG: So let's just start with the basics. You're called The Gregory Brothers but clearly you are not all brothers.

FULLER: I really felt like we had come, you know, to a place in our society when we could accept a sort of metaphorical brother.


FULLER: But I have - I have been shocked by how many people are really stumped by my brother status.

GREGORY: It does kind of sound like an ancient Greek riddle or something, though. The four brothers that there be, there are only brothers three.


EISENBERG: So you - there's three brothers and you married into this gang, right?

FULLER: It's true, it's true.

EISENBERG: Do you all live together?

FULLER: No. It feels like it sometimes.

GREGORY: Other than once, our mom did overhear some people making jokes like that at one of our concerts and it really hurt her feelings. So.

EISENBERG: Oh really?

GREGORY: Let that be a lesson to you.

EISENBERG: I've learned, I've already learned my lesson, Andrew.

FULLER: I'm no floozy among brothers.


FULLER: One brother, thank you very much.



EISENBERG: That's your husband.

FULLER: That is, that is my brother of choice.

EISENBERG: And how did you guys...


EISENBERG: And so we take - so we know you're musicians. You're touring, playing music.


EISENBERG: Enjoying success.

FULLER: Just loads of success.

EISENBERG: Loads of success.


FULLER: As touring musicians.

GREGORY: Wild success. I mean any time you have the opportunity to close the night at a open mike comedy night in Shaker Heights, Ohio, you really - you really know that you've entered good times.

EISENBERG: Andrew, I have opened those nights, so.


EISENBERG: Preach to the converted.

FULLER: Oh, all a matter of perspective.

EISENBERG: And then, you know, the video I remember that I first saw of yours was Joe Biden and Sarah Palin singing back and forth to each other during the 2008...

FULLER: Yeah, wow... early! Early audience member here!

GREGORY: That's a real deep cut.

EISENBERG: No, that was huge. It was massive. So, but what was the step? Were you, was it a mistake that that happened?

FULLER: That was the step really that you - that you watched. I mean the video just previous to that was a music video but it didn't incorporate the candidates actually singing themselves. So it was literally between those two videos where we - where we just, you know, kind of thought this would be way more cool if, if Biden and Palin were actually singing with us.

GREGORY: Right. There was one that was the very first presidential debate from 2008 with Obama and McCain. And it was really a piece of good fortune and luck, because it turns out Obama and McCain later on were not very good unintentional singers. They really were kind - a little too thoughtful and well spoken, both of them. Biden...

FULLER: Yeah. Yeah. Were a little too clipped. Not emotional enough at all.

GREGORY: ... and Palin.

EISENBERG: Oh so they...

GREGORY: They were just, the Biden band were just screaming.

FULLER: Oh man.

GREGORY: They were just screaming at the debate, just so pumped.

FULLER: They were practically singing already.

GREGORY: They were already there.

EISENBERG: And you have a tool that we can use as I believe you've invented an app, which is amazing.

FULLER: We do, we do. We do.

EISENBERG: So Auto-tune, first, just for people that don't know, I would love for you to explain what Auto-tuning people is about.

FULLER: Sure. Sure. So Auto-tune is one particular brand of pitch correction technology and it basically takes, you know, a note in your voice and, and you can move it to the, to the nearest note and sometimes you can pick up certain key and it will sort of adjust all of the notes to that, to fit that key. Just basically messes with the notes of a voice.

EISENBERG: And so people... but singers use it as a safety net basically.

FULLER: Absolutely. Well yeah, I mean and it's also like you know cost efficient, you know. You can - you can go into a...

EISENBERG: I never thought of it like that.

FULLER: Yeah, it's - I mean like really that's probably why it's so prominent now is like, you know, time in the studio is really expensive, so why spend a week trying to get the perfect take when you can get a couple and use...

EISENBERG: Put it through the robot.

FULLER: ... use pitch correction, yeah. And it can be done very subtly. I mean really most of the music you hear today has some, at least slight pitch correction on it. And sometimes it can be used, you know, as a more broad brush, just to give an effect. You know, it's just, it's exactly like Photoshop.

EISENBERG: So you developed an app that you can auto-tune with called "Songify". Is that right?

GREGORY: It's - it's true. Which is sort of the name of the latest videos we've been making. Because we thought auto-tune was almost not an accurate enough word any more, because what we're trying to do...

FULLER: We didn't want to limit it with the News, you know. You could auto-tune your cat or undersea creatures.

GREGORY: But we're just trying to take all things that are non-songs and turn them into songs. So we thought what is the obvious-est word of all to describe that process? And it is of course to songify. We made a non-song a song.

EISENBERG: All right. So we are going to bring the rest of the band out here, Andrew and Sarah, and we are going to now put you to the test.

FULLER: Oh dag.

EISENBERG: It's going to be brother against brother, perhaps wife against husband, people all mixed up. Are you ready?

GREGORY: I'd better be.

FULLER: I'm ready.

EISENBERG: How about a hand for Sarah and Andrew everybody.


EISENBERG: And to help me with the game I'm going to bring back Art Chung.


EISENBERG: And Jonathan Coulton.


EISENBERG: You are hearing The Gregory Brothers, and here they are for their ASK ME ANOTHER challenge.


EISENBERG: So we have two teams. I'd like to welcome Michael and Evan to the stage. Hi.

MICHAEL GREGORY: Thank you. Good to be here.

EISENBERG: Now Michael and Evan, you're going to be playing against Sarah and Andrew. You don't have to say the same answer at the same time, you'll take turns. Does that make perfect sense?

FULLER: Perfect.

EISENBERG: Perfect. OK. This is a great game for you guys. Because what does it have to do with? Viral videos. Mm, I know, everyone just relaxed. OK. Now viral videos of course fantastic, but the only problem with them is that they have their moment in the sun and they are forgotten forever because everyone's moved on to the next thing like a sneezing panda or a rapping grandma or whatever it is, a cat songifying itself, so.

This quiz will be about the history of viral videos from 2005... to the present.

FULLER: Oh my, oh my.

EISENBERG: That gentle, gentle time. So whatever team gets most right, of course, wins. And I don't know, maybe one of the things you'll win amongst you, you can decide that, maybe one team has to clean up the studio, provide the snacks.

FULLER: I love that idea.

EISENBERG: OK, very good.

FULLER: That's a great...great idea!

EISENBERG: Then that's what's at stake. So here you go. Let's do this. This video was first posted on YouTube in 2008. Since then it has racked up over 100 million views and resulted in countless parodies as well as accusations of child exploitation.


DAVID: Arghh. I feel...

DAVID'S FATHER: Kind of felt good didn't it?

GREGORY: David After Dentist.

EISENBERG: Andrew says David After Dentist, and that is correct.


EISENBERG: It's hard hearing that. It is hard hearing that drugged kid, it really is. OK, you guys should know a lot about this next video since you made a very popular song out of it.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh my god, it's full on, double rainbow. All the way across the sky...

EVAN GREGORY: It's the infamous Double Rainbow video.

EISENBERG: That's right Evan. But can you answer this? YouTube user Hungrybear9562 says he was completely sober when he shot that video and spotted these amazing double rainbows just outside of what California National Park? Andrew.

GREGORY: Yosemite National Park.



EISENBERG: You guys know a lot about crafting catchy tunes but it's hard to top this 2011 video in terms of sheer musical brilliance.


EISENBERG: Anyone could tell you that those dulcet tones belong to Nyan Cat. But tell us what is Nyan Cat's body made of?

GREGORY: A pop tart.

EISENBERG: Michael, you are correct, a pop tart.


EISENBERG: Andrew, did you know that?

GREGORY: I'm familiar with Nyan Cat. I would have answered it correctly but I buzzed so prematurely I was sure you guys were already going for Rebecca Black's "Friday".


ART CHUNG: Ask and you shall receive.

EISENBERG: Let's listen to something a little different then, shall we?



EISENBERG: So in her song "Friday", and I know you were waiting for it, teen singer Rebecca Black faces the most difficult decision of her young life. Twice during the song she ponders the impossible choice telling herself "Gotta make my mind up." What life-changing decision is she trying to make? I did not see who rang in.

CHUNG: Sarah and Andrew.

EISENBERG: Sarah and Andrew.

GREGORY: What seat to sit in?

EISENBERG: Mmm. Let's listen to the song.



EISENBERG: A question for the ages, truly, truly.

FULLER: I know, I know.

GREGORY: When she steps on a bus there's a long moment of existential confusion.


EISENBERG: In 2005 "Saturday Live" had a digital short called "Lazy Sunday".

OK. What's the answer?

GREGORY: "Chronicles of Narnia".

EISENBERG: That was in the question actually. Sorry Michael.


EISENBERG: Shall I continue? Basically obviously this was a huge YouTube hit with millions of views before NBC took it down with copyright claim, but in the video Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell buy snacks to sneak into the movie. Obviously you said it: "Chronicles of Narnia". What candy-soda pairing do they claim is crazy delicious? Evan?

GREGORY: I hope I'm not eliminated since Michael's already answered the question, but on behalf of my team...


GREGORY: ... I think that delicious combination is Mr. Pibb and Red Vines.

EISENBERG: Yes, you're correct.



EISENBERG: And I have to admit, I didn't know what Mr. Pibb was. I know.

JONATHAN COULTON: It's like a, it's like a... it's like a Dr. Pepper but he's not a doctor. He just never graduated from medical school.


EISENBERG: All right. How are we doing with scores?

CHUNG: Sarah and Andrew, squeak out a winner.

EISENBERG: You guys won, congratulations.


EISENBERG: Whoa, we have many prizes for you. We've decided that you deserve them. We have NPR ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cubes for your enjoyment.


GREGORY: Thank you.

EISENBERG: And of course, Sarah has also put out the wager so Michael and Evan, I'm sorry, you'll be cleaning the studio for the next month. So.

FULLER: I love you so much.

EISENBERG: My pleasure. Guys are fantastic. How about another hand for The Gregory Brothers?

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.