In a narrow yellow kitchen, two best friends giggle over four steaming pots of pasta.
“It’s so steamy, it’s confused my microwave!” says the man in a chef outfit as he frantically tries to turn on the fan above his stove, to no avail. “It’s too steamy to do anything, we’re just going to have to endure.”
“It’s like we’re taking a shower!” laughs the sweatshirt-clad man next to him. In a few moments a pop culture reference will send the screen to a clip of Bart Simpson talking through his butt, then back to the subject matter at hand: boxed mac and cheese.
Jon Hunt (Junt, to his friends) and Frankie Frain have dedicated countless Saturday mornings and nearly 100 Youtube videos to finding the perfect boxed mac and cheese. Paste sat down with them at their yearly 4th of July Mac Mix-In Cook Off taping to chat about why the heck two men in their 30s would take so much time out of their busy lives to investigate this childhood favorite.
Paste: So, I know a little bit about your background (I’ve been a fan for a while), but tell our readers a bit about yourselves.
Frankie Fran: Well, we met going on 20 years ago. I was in eighth grade, he was 19. We were introduced by his sister who I was running track with at the time, if you can believe it with all the mac and cheese, and she said “my brother would get a kick out of you.” It was the late 90s, so commodity video was sort of just coming onto the scene and I was really like keen to get into filmmaking. John turned out to be, I don’t want to say expert because he was just a guy in his bedroom, but pretty darn good for the time for commodity video. It turned out John was also a musician, and the movie I wanted to make was called I Want to Lose 10 Pounds and we spent the next six years making it as well as animations, short films, and we went went on to make three more feature films after that.
Jon Hunt: A lot of films.
FF: Then once we were doing serialized, episodic stuff it was John who came to me and said “well what about really low effort, like we could shoot it on iPhones and we could make a box of macaroni and cheese.”
JH: Yes that’s a longtime fixture of our relationship.
FF: And right out of the gate the production value was way better than iPhones. The cornerstone of the comedy was that we were making such a big deal about such a benign thing.
Paste: You owe most of your following to a Reddit post that took off. And while you have a modest following, what I find so interesting is that, despite that, you have such a community of mac lovers that there are dedicated commenters on every single post.
FF: It’s a product of having a small audience. We put up a new BoxMac every week, and we’ve been doing that for two years. For those who love it, it’s become a routine. In the first week we normally see about 1,500 to 2,000 views.
JH: Whole families gather ‘round the tv!
FF: We started doing viewer-submitted macs in the early episodes, so doing user-submitted content has been in our DNA. You get to know people who contribute, and we’ll get people who are local who ask if they can be on it. There’s not so many people that we lose track of it, we get back to them very fast, often within the hour. And we listen to them.
JH: One of the things I love most about our following is how dedicated everyone is to it. A lot of people talk about engaged fans, and we have some of the best engaged fans for our audience size that I’ve ever seen. It’s so refreshing to see them interact and be involved. It makes it worth the effort.
Paste: And they go beyond just mac and cheese. Each episode is like its own self-contained pop culture time capsule, which is so unique. Do you think this why the show is so popular?
JH: Absolutely. When I watch content on Youtube you don’t really know where it’s coming from if it doesn’t have a personality, and even then it all feels exactly the same. I think our show really has a different kind of feel to it.
FF: We have a lot of shows on the channel. EJ Masa [who does most of our filming] does a lot of different kinds of content, we also do shopping videos with John, we do movie reviews, we do narrative stuff, and I think what we have for sale is hopefully characters and personality more so than than kind of a quick little flavor of the week thing.
Paste: You say you play characters. How much of BoxMac is John and Frankie, and how much of it is a character you’re putting on?
JH: I think I’m about me plus 10 percent. I’m just a little more turned up, a little more crazy, but it’s not that far off.
FF: It’s pretty much me.
JH: Yeah, Frankie is playing Frankie.
Paste: When I talk about this show, people ask me what the best mac and worst mac is. So far, what have you found?
FF: There are definitive answers to those questions. Sharp Cheddar Cracker Barrel Mac and Cheese.
JH: Cracker Barrel, White Cheddar, all those Cracker Barrel brand macs we like.
FF: The worst was Evol truffle mac and cheese. It’s a frozen mac that you can’t keep in your mouth for more than one second.
JH: It was industrial mushroom flavor. Super super strong, it made me think there was a manufacturing error. I had to throw it out of the kitchen.
Paste: Were there any macs that surprised you?
JH: Oh all the time. We did a pesto mac and a sun dried tomato mac and I thought they were going to be lousy — I mean, powdered pesto? — and they actually were very good.
FF: Cracker Barrel was a good example, it had just hit the scene and we didn’t know anything about it. We’ve been sent a lot of Texas macs too, and the HEB three cheese was very good.
JH: HEB’s store brand was really a step above.
Paste: What makes a good mac? What are you looking for?
FF: It’s so subjective. I hate breadcrumbs, I’m looking for a creamy texture, firm noodles.
JH: There’s a lot of junky pasta in boxed mac. When you find a good one it’s a real treat. When you have a box mac you want a couple of things — decent pasta, the powder shouldn’t taste like powder, and you want it to taste good. On the deluxe side there’s a tendency to go sour because of the preservatives. Velveeta does a good job. Common things you’d experience.
FF: We’d be remiss not to mention Kraft Three Cheese.
JH: That’s our favorite non-deluxe mac. It’s far better than all their other offerings overall. Definitely try it out.
FF: This past Christmas John made a homemade mac that had like tempered egg and a bunch of different cheese, like way too much cheese in a great way, and it was the probably the best Mac I’ve ever had in my mouth.
Paste: I enjoy Junt’s cooking tips throughout the episodes. Do you have a background in cooking?
JH: My mother always cooked us pretty big dinners every night. She was a stay-at-home mom and worked part time, and made us help out. I was always surprised when my friends didn’t know how to do basic cooking techniques. I love to cook, but I don’t cook a lot for myself. I love to do it when I do, and I love to give tips too.
Paste: Where do you see BoxMac going? In an early episode you said 100 episodes, do you think you’ll bypass that?
FF: We have a backlog of macs we’ve been sent, and some of them are sort of difficult to come by so we’d hate to ask people to send them again but they do expire, so we’re trying our best to make our way through the backlog and we’re always receiving them. So my goal would be obviously 100, I think we’re going to pass right by that, but I would like to get through all the major macs, anything that sticks out. The channel itself has so much more content than BoxMac. We launched a show not too long ago we’re called “Scavenger Junt” where we we get to like pick apart John’s property and bring back weird items to him and be like “what is this, John?” We also do a makeup tutorial show with our friends Nina and Paula, so there’s there’s all of the characters you see in BoxMac who have their own shows and I hope to kind of fill out the network with those. Also, I mean, John is capable of cooking things that aren’t mac and cheese…
JH: I’d love to do that to transition us into a general kind of cooking show.
FF: We won’t stop making content, I promise.
BoxMac airs on RedCow Entertainment’s YouTube Channel, which publishes new content every Sunday and Tuesday.
Ashley Blom is a New Englander and haphazard foodie living in Austin, Texas. Her book, “How to Eat a Lobster” is now available, and you can find her recipes and ramblings at forkingup.com