Couch Soup Takes FanX (Contributor Panel)

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| December 22, 2022

What happens when a group of Couch Soup contributors comes up with an idea that involves a convention, Uncle Noly, and a basement? A brilliant idea, a ton of jokes, and a wild adventure. What started as a small idea grew into something extraordinary. Couch Soup brought people together from across the country who had only met online and created lasting friendships. Here’s the story of how six nerds took an idea of hosting a panel at FanX, one of the biggest comic cons in the US, into an adventure filled with laughs, friendships, celebrities, and eventually a panel. Here are their own unique and profound experiences.

The panel according to Erika:

Starting around January 2021, Maria asked me if I was excited about FanX in Utah. Of course, I said yes and that I hoped to be on a few panels again this year. I love Comic Cons, especially when they are close to home! Not long after, Michelle asked, “without being insulting, can I ask how or why you’d be on panels at cons, bc that’s effing amazing, and I wanna support.” She has quite the way with words.

I told her about having access to panels from previous years and working with other podcasts who invited me. A month or so later, the subject came up again about being a panelist. 

So, I told my friends this:

(secretly, I just wanted a ton of my friends to come hang out with me at SLC and have them feel like stars on a panel cause that’s a rare experience)

Michelle was the first to jump on the possibility! Said she would come to Utah to do it! And this steamrolled the entire adventure to come.

THEN Maria took it and ran. She gave us the best idea as Michelle was set to come out to SLC for FanX already. 

The idea kept growing and growing over the next few weeks, so I started a group chat with myself, Michelle and Maria. 

It started as a simple panel idea with a possible Couch Soup focus, discussing the Power of Saying Yes and Content Creation.

Then, Maria had the audacity to suggest the best idea ever. Why not see if Nolan North, one of the co-creators of Retro Replay / Couch Soup would want to be on the panel? Even for a moment?

Because of the years of working on a close relationship and getting to know him on a personal level, Maria reached out to him to see if he would be interested in joining our panel. With a solid panel structure already in place, including some of the panelists attending (Erika, Michelle, Maria, and Louie), we pitched our idea to Nolan. 

From there, we started to morph the panel into a specific Couch Soup subject, building upon community and how it morphed from Retro Replay into Couch Soup.

As things felt more “official,” I reached out to Drew and PJ, the heads of Couch Soup, to see if they were interested in supporting us in representing Couch Soup and what suggestions they may have for us. They were happy to help us, and we got on a group call shortly after!

Around this time, I started working with Blake Casselman, the Director of Programming of FanX and the panel organization whom I met through previous convention contacts. We had submitted our idea with the possibility of Nolan joining us.

Maria got a message not long after from Nolan informing her that he would need to work with his agent to identify the possibility, but he would love to. Then, between Erika and Maria, communicating back and forth, we were able to complete the puzzle and have our very own Uncle Noly join our panel!

Once we got the ok and ideas from Drew and PJ, things started to get bigger and bigger. We needed more panelists! That’s when Brandy and Dan joined us! We opened a bigger group chat and started blazing through ideas for making this enticing for people to watch the panel. Whether Nolan could join the entire panel duration or not, I started work with his booker directly as well as Blake and PJ to finalize the details and schedules so we would have the best possible chance of Nolan attending.

To spare you the boring back and forth as the months went on… we did it! Nolan was approved and on the panel, and we had all our panelists lined up and ready to go.

Now for the fun bit! The panel itself!

Did you know nearly all of us (Myself, Maria, Michelle, Louie, Dan, and Brandy) hadn’t met in person before? We’d known each other for a range of five years, and we were absolutely ecstatic about the prospect of meeting each other!

Erika, Maria, Michelle and Jake picking up Louie from the train!

To me, it was a flawless transition of going from internet/zoom friends to IRL best friends. There was no weird awkwardness in the first meeting. It just kinda… flowed! Hugs and crying were abundant, making the next few days even more special.

We were all at different levels of nervousness and excitement on the day of the panel. As to be expected, of course. But we knew it would all work out as we had been through the plan of how the panel would be structured, and we had amazing chemistry together as we had all worked on many, many projects together already.

Post Panel photo by Charlotte Merritt. (Erika, Michelle, Nolan, Maria, Brandy, Dan, and Louie)

Nolan was an absolute treasure and the final piece of the puzzle to the panel! He may have come in a few moments late, but we won’t fault him for that. We talked about Couch Soup and how it morphed into what it is today. We had a few fart jokes, goofiness, laughing, and sincere moments. Each one of our personalities shined. We had a beautiful crowd of nearly 75, and many of those people were Replayers and fans of Couch Soup!! What a beautiful thing to see.

I don’t want to go toooo much into the panel because we want you to watch the video for yourselves!

It’s the after panel that was one of the most memorable moments. Nolan wanted to take some time to talk with us (both panelists and the other Couch Soupers who came to support us), and Maria gave him the most beautiful art that all of us signed. And boy, did he love it! He gave each one of us a heartfelt hug!

Group signed photo for Nolan drawn by Maria

After a few minutes together, he got a little worried look on his face… he asked us, “Do you know how to get back to my booth?” and, of course, we knew how! He asked if we could escort him back because he had no idea.

We took the opportunity and immediately surrounded our Uncle Noly like bodyguards, which allowed him to not be bombarded by Con passers-by who may recognize him. We heard him mention, “So this is what it’s like?” as his head turned back and forth, taking in the Con floor and what it had to offer.

After leading him back, we got into his line to have him sign our panelist nameplates. (we all ended up signing each others!)

Signed Panelist name plate by all panelists

Afterward, we gathered in the Mezzanine for our first-ever in-person podcast episode! You can also watch/listen to the podcast and our afterthoughts on the panel!

Can you spot part of Nolans North’s booth behind us?

This was a massive accumulation of teamwork, meeting, emails, and discussions to make this first-ever Couch Soup panel work as well as it did. Lots of happy tears, hugs, and moments with friends.

We at Couch Soup can’t wait to bring more panels to you at many other Cons in the future! So, keep an eye out, friends!

BUT don’t worry! The article isn’t over yet! Each of the panelists has a few things to say:

Michelle: Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, there were a few idiots who had an idea that miraculously turned out to be the best few days for us all. Ok, but seriously, what Erika has already stated was the work that went into getting this put together. The best part was doing it! We all organized our travel plans. Erika was incredibly dumb nice enough to host us and be our guide. Not only was I going to another con, but I was also meeting people I had only ever seen on a screen for the very first time, and I got to experience the first-con excitement through the eyes of 2 first-time con-goers! Add in Nolan, and we have a recipe for a ridiculous, exhaustive, tear and laugh-filled adventure.

Being able to sit on a stage with Nolan was an absolute highlight, but I want to be sure it’s clear that being able to sit on a stage with these chosen family members and share in our reciprocal joy of knowing and sharing a stage with Nolan was just as special. We learned a lot about each other, smelled each other’s farts, listened to each other’s burps, had hour-long discussions about random questions that popped into Brandy’s head about male body parts (sorry-not-sorry Brandy), and got to share in our passion for this community. It was a gathering and celebration of Couch Soup as a whole, as other community members made the cross-country trek to join us and were sure to meet up with each other as well! All in all, it was one of the best experiences I could have hoped for. I cannot wait to see where our connections, passion, knowledge, and drive take us and Couch Soup in our friendship and participation in the community as a whole.

Maria: This panel really was a testament to this community and how we, as friends, came together to create something we never believed would happen just because we were passionate. I got to meet my friends for the first time that I had spent years working with online. 

We laughed the whole weekend like a big family that had known each other forever! Sitting up on that stage with some of my favorite people was a real-life high! We were our dumb selves sharing our community with the world between fart jokes and us just being us!

We made connections! We felt like VIPs! And people wanted to listen to us! The whole weekend was such a great moment and made us believe we could achieve big things going forward. As Nolan once said to me, “this is the first of many for you!” I feel like this will be the first of many… for all of us! And I look forward to seeing what our next big thing will be! 

Brandy: I was lucky enough to be asked to be a part of a panel at FanX Salt Lake for Couch Soup due to my experience as one of two senior editors. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. This was the first time I had been on a panel. Being an introvert, I questioned everything I may say and was worried about what I would be asked, but once I was up on that stage, and with these people, I was able to talk about my experience and my passion for everything Couch Soup. The fact that every one of us has different experiences and backgrounds and can still come together for a common purpose and do something we are all excited about is truly remarkable. 

I loved being with these crazy people, getting closer to them, and experiencing Dan’s first actual convention with him. It was exhausting but so much fun, and I would do it all again with these wonderful dorks. They lifted me up and talked me through my nerves, and Louie is the ultimate hype man. And to Michelle’s point, I cannot control what happens in my ADHD brain. If I have a question, I ask it. 

Post panel Podcast recording. Dan, Maria, Brandy, Erika, Louie and Michelle

Dan: Salt Lake City. FanX 2022. My first ever comic con. My first time meeting Nolan (in person). Meeting a group of people face-to-face that I have gotten to know and love over the past two to three years. Being a part of a panel to share and promote Couch Soup, Nolan was there, too, I guess. Having access to special guest badges and recording my first in-person podcast with amazing people.

These are some of the most amazing events that took place over the course of those magical four days. When we (Brandy and I) were invited to attend the Couch Soup panel and meet some of our closest internet friends and cohorts, I told Brandy, “we have got to make this happen!” It wasn’t easy, but we managed to get it done. Erika so graciously housed and fed many of us, and we had a very crazy but fun few days in SLC.

We were winging all of it and didn’t know what to expect, but it somehow came together. I lugged all of my gear around the convention hall until we got access to a quiet space to record a makeshift podcast. There were lots of technical difficulties, but we did it. As someone who has been podcasting 100 percent virtually and remotely for more than three years, this was a highlight of my career. 

I spent 4 days with some of the most wonderful people. We laughed, we cried (Sorry, Michelle), and we busted our butts. It was amazing!

Louie: There is much that can be learned from seeing the panel, and Erika covered a lot of ground in this article. However, conveying the absolute magnitude of this event and, by extension; the impression it left on me would be impossible in a series of books, much less a blurb. I find myself saying to those I meet in person, “You’re real!” and, “You’re not just a screen.” I don’t mean to say that I find we live in a simulation, and reality is only what the machines allow us to see while we’re plugged into the Matrix (PROVE ME WRONG), but instead that it is something else entirely when a person is corporeal and not just an avatar or video box on a Zoom call. Being able to reach out and touch someone’s shoulder and tell them how you feel hits differently than telling them for years over your internet provider. 

That being said, the thing that left the biggest impression on me was Nolan’s reaction to seeing us for the first time. Not because he remembered who we were, and he totally did (even noticing they spelled my name wrong), but because I saw Nolan get blindsided just as much as I did getting off the train to see everyone for the first time. Keep in mind that there were more than just us panelists there to meet him. There were a total of 10 of us, at first (we made another friend at the panel), who went up to him. He paused for a moment and stared at us like he had been standing in OUR line. I could see the realization hit him just as it did us when we saw each other in the 3rd dimensionally charged electromagnetic spectrum we call reality. That’s when the importance of not just this panel but the community Retro Replay, now Couch Soup, has fostered to fruition. And I got to see that realization hit Nolan at the same moment it hit me.

That’s why I call the experience “life-changing.”

What have been some of your favorite con moments, and where do you think Couch Soup should have a panel next?

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