Over lunch at a quiet, fancy Hawaiian joint in downtown San Francisco, I find myself struggling to interview Greg Miller. The trouble with Miller is not that he’s rude or evasive, like some midtier celebrities. In fact, he’s quite the opposite. He’s garrulous, friendly, funny and open with me. The problem is, he’s this way with just about everyone.
Miller is the central figure for Kinda Funny, a cluster of YouTube videos, podcasts, live events and communities loosely centered around games and geek culture. He shares the Kinda Funny desk with a handful of other personalities ― including Nick Scarpino and Tim Gettys ― but there’s never any doubt that he’s the main attraction.
He has more than 1.3 million followers on Twitter. Thousands of fans pay into Kinda Funny’s two Patreons every month, one dedicated to games, the other to broader culture and entertainment. Hundreds are willing to travel great distances to meet the man, and to attend his live events.
Just prior to our interview, he’s recognized by a tourist from England. Miller readily agrees to a selfie, chats with the delighted young man about the latest Marvel movie, and moves on.
“That guy can stop me on the street and freak out for a second, and then we can talk about games or movies,” Miller says. “They know so much about my opinions that they already have something to say to me.”
Ostensibly, Miller is a video game commentator, a quasi-journalist who holds forth on the latest big-budget action-adventures. In reality, games and movies are satellites revolving around the big central story, which is Miller himself and his splendid life.
Miller plays games, watches movies and eats snacks, and then he talks about them. That’s the job in its most basic form, and so Miller seems to have no illusions about his place in the world, or his status. “Being an internet personality plus two dollars gets you a cup of coffee,” he says. He calls his audience his “best friends.” I feel obliged to find this treacly characterization faintly nauseating — it sounds like a trite marketing line — but I find myself entirely convinced of his sincerity.
Miller’s shows often veer off into investigations into his travails, his triumphs and his relationships. He allows fans into his personal history, which has not always been so charmed. From his difficult early career, to his divorce, to his brush with cancer, to his split with co-host and onetime best chum Colin Moriarty, Miller has made a product out of his own fluctuating fortunes, spinning an almost endless array of anecdotes into success.
His shows are also a set of catchphrases, in-jokes and Millerisms. He occasionally speaks of himself in the third person. If this makes him sound like a rampaging egotist, I am doing him a disservice. During our lunch he’s disarmingly self-deprecating, just like he is on his show.
“People sometimes find it uncomfortable talking about themselves,” I say, right at the beginning of our interview.
“No,” he laughs. “I do it all the time.”
Miller and I first met when we briefly worked together on IGN’s editorial team, circa 2011. When I joined as a senior editor, he was well-established as the head of IGN’s PlayStation section, and as the host of its tremendously popular Beyond podcast. He was soon elevated as host for a daily video show called Up at Noon.
At the time, I wondered why Miller wasn’t editor-in-chief at IGN. He understood the audience, and the subject, better than anyone else. In editorial meetings, his voice garnered more respect than those of his managers. He was popular, both internally and externally. Unlike most of the staff, he had experience in mainstream journalism, having spent time at the Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune.
Sometimes, I found his writing to be a tad peppy, fanboyish and self-involved. I tried to fix what I saw as shortcomings. I recall suggesting that he spend less time talking about himself in his copy, and more time speaking about the subject at hand. I could not have been more wrong.
He’s never going to be the most powerfully original critic in the world, but he can say (or write) what he feels in a moment, in a way that obviously connects him with his audience. When he talks about a game, he talks about the game and its fandom and Greg Miller.
During the course of his career so far, gaming criticism has evolved from its hidebound origins of detached, value-based judgments to a more personalized investigation into meaning. Miller’s work offers meaning for those who want to jog along with an agreeable person who reflects their enthusiasm.
Unlike many other successful white male video game commentators, his vibe is ultra-positivity. Not for him, the endless snarkathons of so many podcasters and YouTubers.
“It’s a weird secret sauce that I don’t have figured out,” says Miller, describing his own style of communicating with audiences. “I’d like to think I’m a good person and I want to celebrate good people and good things. I like being the best friend you may have never met.”
Apart from a few scrapes early in his career, he generally doesn’t go for the hostile, aggressive flame-war approach. If a big game turns out to be disappointing, he treats this as a regrettable loss to the world, rather than an opportunity to sharpen the critical knives. He celebrates excellence with the enthusiasm of a child.
I recall a meeting during our time at IGN in which he made his case for giving Uncharted 3 a perfect score, something that IGN does rarely. His passion and seriousness batted down all rival concerns (including mine, that IGN was generally way too generous to Sony). He loved that game, without reservation, and the rest of the world was going to know it. Here’s his lede:
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is the reason I play video games. From the smile plastered on my face during the opening montage to the disbelief that swept over me as Chapter 2 began to the middle of the night text message I shot a friend about a relationship reveal, I couldn’t stop loving this touching, beautiful, fun and engaging game. From the moment the music swells on the title screen to the moment the credits roll, Uncharted 3 is a masterpiece.
Miller writes from the point of view of the PlayStation uber-fan, with other fans as his audience. He is a reflection of their own passions. If you don’t believe this audience exists, you don’t understand game culture. Miller understands it as well as anyone.
Born in 1983, Miller was raised an only child in blue-collar Chicago suburbs. His parents divorced when he was in college. He calls each of them at least once a week. His mom is a regular fixture at Kinda Funny live events, where she’s treated like royalty.
At school, he was a nerdy kid who read all the game magazines. He had a close circle of friends, but was socially timid outside this group. He wanted to work for a magazine, like Electronic Gaming Monthly or GamePro. He opted for a journalism degree at Mizzou, regarding this as his most likely route toward his ambitions.
College was where he learned the value of being a people person. “I became who I wanted to be,” he recalls. “It was sink or swim. I had to talk to people. I had to speak up. It was a case of walking down the hall and looking for an open door and saying, ‘Hey, you wanna be friends? I got nobody.’”
But his ambition to use Mizzou as a launchpad into games media did not go to plan. Multiple applications to every games outlet he could find came to naught. “I went to the best journalism school in the country,” he says. “I thought I was going to write my own ticket to EGM or wherever. But nobody would fucking touch me with a 10-foot pole.”
As his goal receded, he began to feel that he wanted to work in mainstream journalism. “Telling stories and interviewing people, writing for the school paper, I found that I really liked it,” he says.
He was offered a job as a cub reporter on the Columbia Daily Tribune. He worked tough beats, interviewing widows of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. He wrote a series about a boy with terminal cancer.
He tells me a story, one he’s pretty sure he’s not told before.
“There was a car accident a year and a half before I started at the paper,” he says. “The city finally put up a [traffic] light there, where there’d been this fatal accident. So the paper wanted me to get a reaction from the deceased woman’s father. I called him and he was cheerful until I told him who I was and what I wanted to talk about. Everything about him changed, right then. It was night and day. He didn’t want to talk. He hung up. I just ruined that guy’s day. He was having a great day, and I called in to do my due diligence and I brought back to him all these memories of the death of his daughter, rather than the good parts of his daughter.”
Cold-calling funerals and interviewing the bereaved left Miller with a renewed desire to report on the things that he loved, rather than the worst that the world can offer.
He continued applying to games outlets, finally landing a telephone interview with IGN editor Jeremy Dunham. “I was very impressed that he came across as a real person,” Dunham says. “He didn’t put on an act. He was comfortable talking about himself and the things he was good at, but also being self-deprecating about the things he was not good at.”
Dunham brought Miller in as a junior writer. “Greg was personable and made fast friends very quickly,” says Dunham. “He was passionate and ready to learn, and willing to do anything. He was a good fit to join our podcast at the time. When we launched a PlayStation podcast called Beyond, he was the obvious person to host it. That’s when people began to hear his voice regularly.”
The contrast between reporting on traffic fatalities and writing game reviews gave Miller a perspective denied to most in his profession. “I never have do that again, talking to family members who are dealing with tragedies,” he says. “I’ll never bitch about working late at E3. There’s so many of those stories that left an indelible mark on me.
“It made me realize that every day I do this is a blessing. All this for me can go away tomorrow. I could say something stupid or I could not matter anymore. It could all go away, but I’ll never take any of this for granted.”
Miller arrived at IGN’s offices in 2007. This was a time when the demands of video production were taking a greater chunk of the team’s efforts. Although the well-established Jessica Chobot was IGN’s primary host, she was beginning to move on to other opportunities in mainstream TV shows and entertainment podcasts. Low-cost gaming video production and podcasts were increasingly viewed as not merely acceptable for IGN, but vital. Miller seized the opportunity.
“When I got there, I expected to be just another cog in the machine,” he says. “But the guys I’d grown up reading, the old guard, were burning out. They didn’t want to be on video and didn’t want to be on podcasts. And so being at the front of the wave of the personality movement was a surprise, but it was incredibly special.”
During this time, he honed his skills as a presenter, relying on catchphrases such as “beyond.” He got to tune up his on-camera skills via Up at Noon. He recalls this time as an education through experience. “It’s so cringey, looking at it now. I have no delivery,” he laughs.
While at college, Miller had married his college sweetheart. When he joined IGN, he moved with her to San Francisco. But the marriage didn’t survive the upheaval. “I was living my dream,” he says. “She wanted to find her dream, and she eventually found it and became a flight attendant. We both realized that we loved our jobs more than each other.” They separated and divorced.
It was during this difficult period that Miller first opened up to his audience. “I started getting choked up,” he says. “It wasn’t because of my marriage ending. I was choked up because of how much the listeners meant to me right then. They felt like my best friends.” The listeners responded with warmth, affection and support.
“The audience told me how much it meant that I’d opened up to them, that I’d shared my private life. We have a relationship together as friends. That means my successes are our successes, and my failures are our failures. It’s not about being praised or demonized. Everyone is in it together. They’re in it with me.”
Game journalists had been mini-celebrities before, but generally through magazines, websites and scripted shows. They were cartoon cutouts whose only expressions were about games. Miller presented himself as an entertaining gaming expert, and as a flawed human being. He sees the relationship as working both ways.
“I’m lucky enough to be part of people’s routines,” he says. “We [at Kinda Funny] get them through their own breakups. We get them through night jobs. We get them through illness and debts. The connections range from sad to happy to somewhere in between.”
In the weeks prior to the diagnosis, he’d already complained to his listeners about lumps on his neck, which, at the time, were just a nuisance. In the months that followed, Miller took his listeners along with him on his difficult journey.
“I was so naive coming into cancer, and that was my biggest strength,” he says. “That night [after the diagnosis], I went home, ordered pizza, and started calling friends and family to tell them. So I made it into a guessing game. ‘Guess why I’m calling on a Tuesday night!’ That’s how I was breaking this to people.”
He did not play the guessing game with his parents, whose reaction approached devastation. Miller began to grasp the gravity of the situation. But it wasn’t until his first chemotherapy session that he truly understood.
“I wanted to take the bus to chemo,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘I’m going to get Vita trophies. I can not work and not feel guilty about it.’” His girlfriend at the time, Kristine Steimer — now a popular figure on gaming entertainment channel What’s Good Games — insisted that she drive him to the hospital.
“The doctor comes in like he’s going to do an alien operation,” says Miller. “Visor down, blue gloves in this giant thing of neon red goo, and he’s like, ‘Yeah, if this gets on your skin or your clothes, it’ll eat through it.’ And he injects it into me.”
Miller suffered a bad reaction to the treatment and still carries the bruises, both physically and mentally. He’s been in remission now for six years, but he says it changed his personality. Occasionally, he suffers from brief bouts of rage over trifling matters, something that never happened prior to his illness.
“Somehow it changed the composition of me,” he says. “I always like to imagine I’m an easygoing kind of guy, and I think for the most part I was before. But cancer was a light switch of rage coming on. I’m better about it, but I still have moments when it’s uncontrolled and unmanageable.”
A few years ago, I attended Sony’s PlayStation Experience event. I was seated in the media section of a great hall, waiting for the main presentation to begin. At some point, the crowd of a few thousand stirred; cheers and chants bounced around the auditorium. I thought maybe Ken Kutaragi had arrived, or Hideo Kojima. People were standing. I asked a taller man next to me who had shown up.
“Greg Miller,” he said.
I’d bumped into Miller at a press event a few months before. We spoke of the tremendous success of various YouTube celebrities, like PewDiePie. He grimaced and said that maybe he’d missed that particular boat.
Still, it didn’t surprise me when, in 2015, Miller, Moriarty, Scarpino and Gettys announced they were quitting IGN. They’d already been experimenting on personal, nongaming YouTube videos, with varying success. Miller attended VidCon and saw top YouTubers giving lectures on techniques he’d been using for years.
“Before YouTube, you worked in games journalism long enough to go into PR or write the Bethesda blog or be a community manager,” he says. “None of that seemed attractive to me, but I understood why it happened. What do you do when you’ve risen as far as you can go? You look up, and your managers aren’t going anywhere.”
He and his partners funded their new company, Kinda Funny, via Patreon. This was a boat that Miller had not missed, raising enough funding to sustain the company, and to help it grow.
“I was so late to the game on YouTube,” says Miller. “But Patreon was the one thing where we were tip of the sword. That and the power of a micro-community. Because of my time at IGN, I equated success in the reach of millions. But for us to leave and support ourselves based on people coming out in the thousands, that was a big deal.”
Kinda Funny has prospered and grown, bringing in new people. A series of regular shows are interspersed with one-offs and miniseries, including a diversification into Marvel movies as well as a constant revolving door of guests and collaborations with other YouTubers.
The company also takes funding from sponsors. Most recently, Microsoft paid Miller to go back to Mizzou and talk about his time there. I ask Miller about the cozy relationship between game companies and YouTubers.
“Everything is communicated to the audience,” he replies, adding that all sponsorships are announced at the top of a video. “Game company sponsorships are kinda rare, but if a game we’ve been paid to promote in the past comes up in the present in an editorial context, we try to point out that we’ve worked together in the past. Something like, ‘Oh, and I’ve been playing Game X, and I love it, but remember, we did a sponsorship with them in April, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.’
“The audience likes to see us make deals and be more successful. They know we wouldn’t take a deal that cut us off at the knees. When you hire Kinda Funny for a sponsorship, you’re hiring us to make our content; you want our voice. We’re not going to budge on that. So, a sponsor might ask us to play a specific mode or hit a time commitment, but they’re not directing the product.”
The month before last, Kinda Funny hosted more than 700 people at its fourth annual live event, a prom night. I tagged along to speak to some of his fans, many of whom had traveled from the other side of the country, or from Europe or Asia.
They all spoke of their warmth for Miller and the team. “He’s crazy and so funny,” said one young woman. “I listen to them while I’m at home.” Her husband stood by and agreed that the show was entertaining. “I don’t even care about games,” he said.
Another woman said she has many friends back home in New York, but few of them are interested in games. “It’s like this show is where I hang out with friends and talk about the things I enjoy.”
All the people I spoke to said they considered Miller to be a friend, even if they’d never met him. They acknowledged that this form of friendship is a little strange. “Sometimes I feel weird because I join the conversation,” said one man. “But I’m in the car, on my own.”
When the members of Kinda Funny took the stage, they were greeted with loud cheers, chants and guffaws at their jokes, most of which I found incomprehensible. But the atmosphere of bonhomie and goodwill was unmistakable.
As he moved through the crowd, Miller — dressed in a natty Spider-Man jacket — stopped to deliver hugs, selfies, hearty back slaps and jokes to his fans.
I ask Miller if he thinks, perhaps, his role as a virtual friend suggests that his audience is somehow lonely. “I wouldn’t say that they are lonely,” he says. “Everyone gets lonely sometimes. I think I get to be, for them, the person or friend that I always wanted back in my day, or what I projected onto the guys at EGM.
“If you’re the game guy or girl in your group, and you love games more than your friends do, now you have all these podcasts and videos and personalities you can connect with. You’re in the room with us, a group of friends, talking about games. We all care about the same things, so you feel like you’re part of that group.”
As Kinda Funny expands, it draws new talent from the community. Joey Noelle runs the company’s social and community efforts. She recalls first seeing Miller’s show on YouTube, in which he reviewed different flavors of Oreo cookies.
“Really? A whole show dedicated to reviewing Oreos?” she says. “But it didn’t take long before I’d be eagerly waiting for the next episode.” From there, she explored Kinda Funny’s other shows, and began attending community events. Eventually, she applied for a job with the group, and is now a fan favorite.
“Every decision and conversation is made with an immense amount of care and consideration,” she says of Miller. “He has an incredible work ethic. I’ve never seen anyone hustle as hard as he does. He’ll go from live show to podcast to flight to conventions and back again, all in a span of three days.”
Miller believes that, unlike for game journalist celebs of the past, his audience won’t grow out of him, that he’ll be allowed to grow with them. “I got here right as [internet] personalities start to become a premium, when people started to care about them. But then, I got here as well just as my generation aged into it, and has no plan to age out of it.”
Miller recently married Geneviève St-Onge, a former brand manager for Square Enix, now running her own consultancy. “When Gen and I do have a kid, there are so many people who are watching our content who just had kids or are about to have kids or want to have kids,” he says. “They’re going to live vicariously through me again. It’ll be a new avenue of conversation.”
There are always, of course, those who dislike Miller. Over the years, he’s had his fair share of criticism.
“You go on any subreddit about video games, and if I pop up, there’s a real ‘I like him’ or ‘I don’t like him’ thing, and I understand,” he says. “I’m selling a product that is me. I’m not gonna change who I am.
“People who have a problem with Greg Miller see that I get to go out there and have all the fun in the world. I have people swarming to tell me they love me and they love what I do. When you’re unhappy, when you’re in a job you don’t like, it’s upsetting to see someone who you think you could be, that you could do the job better.”
There was a time when he responded badly to criticism, even keeping a little black book of people who said mean things about IGN, just in case they one day came knocking, looking for a job. He also publicly rebuked people whom he viewed as attacking him.
“You don’t have to look too far into my Twitter history of people being mean to me and me then quote-retweeting it,” he says. “To me, there was the idea that their behavior wasn’t acceptable. I wanted the world to see, ‘This isn’t how you act.’
“I think I had good intentions, but it wasn’t always received that way. [laughs] And it looked like I was attacking someone. But today especially, no one needs a reminder that bad people are on the internet. The jig is up. People are mean to other people on the internet for no reason. So there’s no real reason to quote-tweet crazy and put people on blast.”
These days, he tries to stay away from negativity, though he admits to sometimes coming close to “falling off the wagon.”
“I try to make sure my audience doesn’t escalate. People talk shit about me and community members bring it to me, and I say, ‘Please just mute them. Don’t fight for me. You’re not going to change anyone’s mind.’”
Last year, Miller split with Colin Moriarty. The two had been flatmates, best friends and business partners. They made a kind of double act, with Miller playing the bouncy, positive one, while Moriarty was generally more dour.
But Moriarty often disagreed with Miller and the other members of Kinda Funny about editorial direction and the company’s long-term goals. Moriarty was also prone to social media drama, especially when he espoused right-wing opinions about race, feminism and economic equality.
“He would be the odd man out of the votes between the four of us,” Miller says. “He wanted to stay smaller, but we wanted to build something bigger, where people could grow and do the things they want to do.”
Tensions between Moriarty and the rest of the Kinda Funny crew came to a head when he tweeted, “Ah. Peace and quiet,” on International Women’s Day, during which rallies took place around the world. Many women joined the protest by staying away from work that day.
The tweet was greeted with dismay and uproar. When Moriarty, facing a social media shitstorm, went back to his teammates looking for support, he found them unsympathetic. He left Kinda Funny the following week.
Moriarty went off to launch his own Patreon, initially supporting videos and podcasts giving libertarian political opinions, though now he has returned to also commenting about games.
Miller recounts to me much the same story that he gave to the world at the time of Moriarty’s departure. It was just a relationship that had come to its end, according to Miller. No hard feelings.
“At some point in time we went from being friends who live together and work together to being roommates that worked together,” says Miller. “We weren’t going out for chummy lunches. We did the shows together; we worked together. The dynamic had shifted.”
Some of Miller’s close friends, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say he’s quietly relieved that Moriarty left. One says that Miller saw Moriarty’s social media antics as a millstone around Kinda Funny’s neck.
At a time when Miller was seeking to craft a positive, jovial brand, Moriarty was cracking misogynistic jokes that pushed fans away. In the aftermath of the uproar, Moriarty had the tweet framed and mounted on his wall. He went on the right-wing YouTube and podcast circuit to defend his opinions.
I’m not satisfied with Miller’s pabulum on the topic of Moriarty. I press him. I want to know how he really feels about the whole episode. For the first time in our interview, he looks uncomfortable.
“Let’s hope I don’t fuck it up here,” he says, acknowledging being on the precipice of internet rage awaiting him, should he put a step wrong on this subject.
“The problem is that I don’t know what his opinions are anymore,” says Miller. “I feel like when he wants to talk about something, he can be super eloquent about it. He can explain where he’s coming from.
“But then I see the 280-character, boiled-down version. I don’t understand what you’re saying. I don’t understand where you’re coming from. The tweet: ‘peace and quiet.’ That was the beginning of a new brand of Twitter for him, I felt. Before that, I thought that he usually had some kind of an argument.”
Via email, I asked Moriarty for his views on Miller, and on their split. He replied, describing Miller as a “sweet and caring guy,” adding that the two of them innovated in “personality-driven content, before most people understood how important that was going to become.” He said that he and Miller had “been growing distant for a while” before he split from Kinda Funny, and that they “needed a lot more space from each other.”
But Moriarty remains defiant about the circumstances of his departure. Regarding his tweet, he pointed at “Greg’s unwillingness to help push back against the character defamation I was experiencing,” adding that Miller’s silence was “deafening.”
Moriarty continued, “I truly don’t believe I did anything wrong, and no one to my recollection ever once talked to me about toning down my social media posts, so I obviously couldn’t anticipate their reaction.” He added, “If the roles were reversed, I would have went to the mat for Greg.”
Miller points out that he did respond to the tweet, publicly distancing himself from Moriarty’s comments. “I wasn’t silent after the tweet,” he says. “I just didn’t say what Colin wanted to hear. I thought it was a mean-spirited tweet on a day where our industry and peers were celebrating the women in our lives, and I expressed that privately and publicly.
“Colin told me he didn’t want to be anyone’s doormat anymore. He was going to come for people if people come to him. And that’s antithetical to who I am. When the narrative started getting away from even the tweet, and it became about him being a racist or a sexist or whatever, I think he was upset that no one in the video game industry was coming back to help him.”
Miller stays away from politics, pointing out that the passion he shares with his audience is for games and geeky stuff. He says he can’t pretend to be interested in something that doesn’t interest him.
For the future, Miller wants Kinda Funny to grow, so that it can bring in new people and reward the talent it has on board.
“There’s always going to be someone who is young and hungry and connects at a level that we don’t,” he says. “We don’t want to worry about them usurping us. We have to worry about how we get them to come and work at Kinda Funny.”
“My biggest fear is that it stagnates, and we can’t allow our guys to grow,” he adds, saying that new hires have brought in expertise in games that more established members don’t play as much, like Overwatch and Fortnite.
He’s open to maybe moving to TV in the future, but says the internet is where it’s at right now.
“My passion is hanging out with friends and talking about movies, video games and comics,” he says. “And I’m trying to be better at that every day. It’s worked so far.
Miller concludes, as always, with an anecdote. I dare say I’m not the first person to hear it, nor the last.
“I was making a joke the other day that if someone broke into my room at 2 in the morning, carrying a mic and saying ‘let’s go,’ I’d be up in a half a second, and, ‘Hey, what’s up everybody?’ I can talk to a rock for two hours. But I have gotten better at reading off a teleprompter, and knowing how much improv there is in telling a joke, and when to take a breath and when not to. So how much better will I be in two years? Where does it go? Does it get to TV? I don’t know. But if I was on TV, I don’t know how I’d watch it. I don’t even have a cable box.”