Practical Folks: The Self-Made Artist

Sometimes, it’s hard to be an aspiring artist. Whether your art of choice is writing (hello!), drawing, painting, filming, editing, auditory, or the hundreds of other different forms of art that I’ve left off this list, it can feel like you’re not going to get anywhere if you’re not already in the Big Leagues™. However, if you’re clever enough, there are ways to be massively successful online, and no group of people does this better than Practical Folks.

Officially, the members of the sketch comedy group are Chelsea Rebecca (a woman I honestly idolize), James A. Janisse, James Graessle, and Joel Arnold. However, in this essay, I will also be including their good friends Beth Radloff and Mike Cygan, as they are frequent collaborators.

According to a video on their YouTube channel, Practical Folks started out as Comediocracy, a sketch comedy group featuring James, Chelsea, and Dave Devries, a group of friends who knew each other from the University of Michigan (The History of Practical Folks // VEDA 2016 Day 1). The group eventually changed their name and expanded to include Graessle and Joel, and was grounded between Los Angeles and Michigan. The group has gone through a few lineup changes over the years, and Dave is no longer an official member (although he is still a friend of the channel and a staple of their famous Drunk Disney series), and we now have the group that is loved and known by thousands today.

For a long time, Practical Folks was known for their Drunk Disney series, a series where James, Chelsea, Dave, and a special guest would play a drinking game while watching beloved Disney movies. Joel was in charge of audio, and Graessle was known as the ”Disembodied Hands, ” serving the drunkards special libations that were based on whatever movie they were watching. This show was and still is a huge hit on the channel. Though new episodes no longer come out frequently, the group makes up for this every single day.

Their friend Beth Radloff has guest starred in two episodes of Drunk Disney and has contributed visually to many of their projects. Beth is a freelance visual artist who has more talent in her left pinky than I have in my entire body. Seriously, her stuff is incredible. She is also part of a gaming channel, FreshPlays, along with her boyfriend Mike Cygan, and the two frequently stream video games and (in Beth’s case) art projects on Twitch.tv. While these two are not officially members of Practical Folks, they often appear in the group’s projects, and hey they’re awesome people and you should check them out along with Practical Folks.

Their Drunk Disney series is the reason I began watching them. Drunk Disney: The Lion King came up in my recommended on YouTube and, seeing as The Lion King is my favorite movie of all time, I naturally clicked on it. I was greeted with riffs about the movie including comparing it to politics (”I feel like Rafiki is kinda like Bernie Sanders”), making fun of the Nazi undertones during ”Be Prepared” (”Walt’s gone right? You think we can Nazi this up a little bit?”) and how maybe it isn’t so bad that Scar’s real name means garbage (”He’s just, like, one letter off from taco and that’s not half bad”). I found myself laughing my ass off, so I immediately went back and watched the other Drunk Disney videos. Their humor ended up working its way into my own vernacular and I probably replayed the clip of Chelsea falling over, completely shitfaced, during the first episode about six times. I loved this silly show so much that I would rewatch each video over and over again, keeping me entertained while I did my homework.

In 2017, James began another YouTube channel called DeadMeat, where he would count kills in ”all our favorite horror movies” (DeadMeat Intro). This channel is devoted to James’ love of horror movies, and he quickly brought Chelsea on board to help sell merchandise and run the DeadMeat Podcast. Beth contributed to DeadMeat by designing its ”killer” logo (see what I did there), and Graessle and Joel have made an appearance on the podcast, so the team is all still together. Their channel has just recently passed one million subscribers on YouTube, and it is truly content to check out if you love horror movies.

Due to the rising popularity of DeadMeat, as long as other work commitments from the rest of the team, Practical Folks disappeared for a while. Sure, we were getting incredible content through DeadMeat (seriously, I cannot stress this enough, go check it out), a lot of people missed the dynamic of the entire group. They worked so well off of each other, and seemed to do their best work when they were together. Throughout 2017, however, Graessle kept teasing that they had something special planned coming out in 2018.

Flash forward to June 2018, and the DnDnD podcast was released. Featuring all six of them, this podcast is a ”dinner party role-playing game” where the group gets together to eat a meal prepared by Graessle and play Dungeons and Dragons. This podcast is the best comeback possible for Practical Folks, and features James, Chelsea, Mike, Beth, and Joel as a team of adventurers, and Graessle as the all-knowing dungeon master. And it is this podcast specifically that I want to focus on.

The characters that the team plays as is a group of misfits. Graessle is the dungeon master, so he portrays many of the incidental characters throughout the story. James plays Flak, a bard gnome whose ego is only balanced out by his humor. Chelsea is Zabbas, an elf and sorcerer who does not have the strongest grip on magic. Mike is Fletch, a socially awkward elf ranger who just wants to dance. Joel is Juno, a human ranger who has a habit of saying and doing the wrong thing almost all of the time. And then, there is my favorite character of all, Beth as Margarine, a halfling rogue who is over 200 years old and refers to herself as the ”campaign meemaw” and wow I love her so much.

Actually, I love the entire group. And that’s what makes this podcast so good. The group works off of each other in a way that only friends who have known each other for years possibly can. Even when one of the characters messes up (mostly Juno), it’s hard to get upset at them because they’re all so damn charismatic. They’ve created a piece of art that unites people of all different backgrounds in order to play one of the most popular games in the world, and it’s beautiful.

They’ve created a mantra, ”do what’s fun, ” that has inspired some people outside of the game (myself included) to live a more fun-filled life and take risks. In the most recent episode of the podcast, which was just a discussion rather than an actual episode, Mike says something that I believe is very poignant. He says ”Try something new… That’s something I would love to tell my 20-year-old self… Say yes and try something new… I’d be a different person right now if I would’ve known that” (Bonus Episode! DnDnD…nD!). Most of the Practical Folks audience is in their late teens/early twenties, and can benefit from hearing genuine advice from people older than them. When Mike says he wants to tell his 20-year-old self something, he can see that manifest in his fan base.

And at the end of the day, that is what this extraordinary group of people has done, not just in this podcast but in everything they do. James, Chelsea, and Beth are all vocal about working from home and doing what they love to do, inspiring many to do the same. Part of the reason that I want to write freelance is that I’ve seen how well Beth does with her freelance art and hey, if you’re good at something you should never do it for free! Without trying new things and taking risks, there is no payoff.

When you’re an artist, this is daunting. So many people have probably told you that if you don’t make it in the Big Leagues™, then you will not make it at all. However, it is in these moments that you should look at Practical Folks for inspiration. This entire group devotes their time to making a form of art that can sustain itself in the world without being a part of the Big Leagues™, and at the end of the day that is the type of art that is going to stick around. They are truly the embodiment of the self-made artist.

But most importantly, they are an example of what can happen when you pour your heart and soul into everything that you do. And that is what art is all about.

You can listen to their podcast DnDnD all over the internet. Follow them on Twitter @practicalfolks @dndndpod

Individually:

James Graessle: @jamesgraessle

Joel Arnold: @joelkarnold

Chelsea Rebecca: @carebecc

James A. Janisse: @jamesajanisse AND @deadmeatjames

Beth Radloff: @bethberad

Mike Cygan: @freshpancakez

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