Seven years ago, Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal still operated their budding YouTube comedy channel out of a brick building in downtown Fuquay-Varina, filming their million-hit videos inside Cooley’s Restaurant or off the Main Street sidewalks.
Flash to 2017, when the duo from Buies Creek has long-since settled in Hollywood, boasting a book on the New York Times bestseller list, a podcast on Spotify and their daily Web show “Good Mythical Morning” that lures the likes of Daniel Radcliffe and Weird Al Yankovic as guests.
On a given day, 10 million people watch Rhett and Link stage their goofy-but-charming stunts: the Treadmill Dance Challenge, Eating a Bug Burrito, the Toilet Paper or Sushi Taste Test.
And now, the Internet stars who met at Buies Creek Elementary while being punished for writing naughty words on their desks, return to Durham for their first-ever tour – performing their best-friends humor live at Carolina Theatre on Dec. 17. For their sold-out tour, Rhett and Link turn off the camera and belt out favorite songs, take fan questions and share stories of first-grade sleepovers without editor or net.
Rhett: There is an element of unpredictability. You never know when a guitar’s not going to work or when Link is going to trip onstage. Both of these things have happened.
Link: There are some falls. Most of them are intentional.
The tour spins out of Rhett and Link’s “Book of Mythicality,” a coffee-table read that traces the pair back to Buies Creek and Miss Locklear’s class, when they discovered a mutual love of mischief and snack food. Fans with deep knowledge of the duo’s origins know that, as children, they stood on a rock along the Cape Fear River and swore a blood oath to always make great movies together.
The book and tour delve deeper into their bond. Rhett explains that during their first sleepover, he discovered to his delight that Link’s family kept a pantry stocked with Little Debbies and that Link’s stepdad stoked the backyard fire with cups of gasoline.
“This seemed unsafe,” writes Rhett in the book, “so I was very into it.”
The book’s opening pages contain scraps of their schoolwork – namely a grade-school essay that compares haircuts to deforestation – and Merle Haggard lyrics inscribed in their yearbooks, all designed to show the roots of a 30-year friendship that has made them famous.
“It’s not a conspiracy like the moon landing, Tupac’s death or a spherical Earth,” Rhett writes. “We’re actually best friends, and one of the reasons is that our job is to make each other laugh nearly every day of our lives.”
So on a tour that’s taken them from New York to San Diego – though regrettably not aboard a tour bus – they bring the same mixture of playfulness and solidarity, uploading a log of their adventures to Instagram. In Dallas, they filmed themselves at Wal-Mart attempting to place a Polaroid of themselves inside a copy of their book. But finding no copies on the shelves, they stuffed it inside a romance novel titled “Side Piece.”
Rhett: We went to a barbecue place in Austin. It was in a gas station, but the brisket was phenomenal. But the most memorable part was, inside the restroom, they had these two mechanical holes you stuck your hands in.
Link: All the way to the elbows.
Rhett: How do we get one of these things? How do we get one of these “Star Trek” hand driers?
They’ve found themselves surprised and relieved by the applause their live shows create, having worked for a decade in a studio behind a camera. But even after internet fame, after appearing in ubiquitous commercials for Wix.com, after touring with Lady Antebellum and getting chummy with Jimmy Fallon, they still ache occasionally for the ease of Fuquay-Varina.
Link: I’ll never forget the time we wanted to film in the middle of the street, so we walked out there and cars are going by. A policeman shows up and, instead of saying, ‘You guys need to get out of here,’ he says, ‘You guys need any help?’ Out here everyone’s ‘Show me the money or show me the permit.’
Oh, and Bojangles’. We miss Bojangles’.
Rhett and Link
In person: Rhett and Link’s Tour of Mythicality comes to Carolina Theatre in Durham on Dec. 17. As of Tuesday morning, the show was sold out.