“Well,” Braff said during a recent Zoom interview, “Donald and I have known each other since — ”
“Day One,” Faison said.
“For 21 years,” Braff continued. “Like any best friends, we have our fights. We certainly weren’t intending to have it in front of Danl and Joelle. But it was time.”
They both laughed at the memory — and while they may never release the recording of their spat, they were more than happy to tell listeners what happened in the following week’s episode. Some celebrity-hosted podcasts may have held back on those details, but it would never occur to Braff and Faison not to share almost everything.
After all, their best-friend dynamic is part of what has brought an enormous number of listeners to “Fake Doctors, Real Friends,” the iHeartRadio podcast (available on every podcast platform) that launched last year. The show features Braff and Faison re-watching each episode of “Scrubs,” NBC’s beloved — if eternally underappreciated — medical comedy that ran from 2001 through 2010. “Fake Doctors” is now one in a series of popular early 2000s re-watch podcasts hosted by the show’s actors themselves, from “Office Ladies” to “Welcome to the O.C., Bitches” to “West Wing Weekly.”
The surge of these podcasts has led to new opportunities for the stars of “Fake Doctors,” as well. Braff and Faison are achieving one small dream this weekend, as they — as well as Monique and Goodman, integral personalities on the podcast, and “Scrubs” creator Bill Lawrence, who has become a fan-favorite guest — will appear on “Celebrity Family Feud” on ABC on Sunday night. They’re all longtime “Family Feud” fans, and Braff was desperate to give an answer so terrible that it would result in host Steve Harvey’s classic deadpan stare to the camera. (Instead it was Goodman who offered one such answer.)
“I'm very grateful for how my career has switched a bit. Since we started this podcast, I've gotten a bunch of offers for things which didn't necessarily come before. And I sold something for the first time, which I had never done,” he said. “I think it's appealing to other people in the industry, where they might have said, ‘You know, I don't know if I want to go with Donald Faison.’ Now they’re like, ‘We listen to his podcast, and he's funny … so why not?”
The appeal of these podcasts banks on our culture’s early 2000s nostalgia obsession, but “Scrubs” fans probably flock to “Fake Doctors” because of Braff and Faison, whose characters’ friendship mirrors their real-life relationship to a startling degree. Braff may not jump on Faison’s back and yell “EAGLE!” like J.D. the doctor would to Turk the surgeon. But the pair, who met on set, finish each other’s sentences, constantly crack each other up and have an endless list of inside jokes and memories from working together for a decade. They tell countless stories from “Scrubs” and their lives during the podcast, and have let in fans in a way they never did before.
“I do think that this is really the most honest version of who Donald and I are as people, and I don’t think we’ve ever broadcast that out before. I mean, why would you? When would you? You see us on a talk show, it’s all sort of prepared anecdotes,” said Braff, who made his movie star turn and directorial debut in “Garden State” while still on the NBC comedy. “I think people are responding to how this really is our friendship. … We’re silly, we love to laugh. We really have big hearts and really have a lot of empathy for people and for our fans.”
Over 90-plus episodes the actors have discussed their favorite jokes, analyzed story lines, and enlisted fellow “Scrubs” co-stars to stop by, including Sarah Chalke, Judy Reyes, John C. McGinley, Ken Jenkins and Neil Flynn. They have interviewed the show’s writers, directors, and even their own stand-ins. Then every podcast ends with a fan caller who asks questions about the show or anything else; afterward, Braff and Faison offer to fix their lives during a segment aptly titled “Fix Your Life.”
Advice seekers look for input on anything from parenting problems to relationship issues, such as a recent couple who was happy to talk about their newly open marriage, in which the wife has a “friends with benefits” situation with her husband’s best friend. (Braff and Faison had many questions. This podcast can veer into the raunchy side.) In addition to “Scrubs” content, Braff and Faison are completely fascinated by the fans and their own lives, partially inspired by their years on the press circuit.
“You go on press tour, and every actor knows this, but you’re going to get the same four or five questions over and over and over again. Occasionally, someone asks something that’s interesting that makes you stop and go, ‘Huh.’ I think of that and I think we aspire to do that,” Braff said. “We want to ask the fans about their lives that they probably weren’t expecting to talk about on the show. But we find it interesting. And our only gauge for what the audience will find interesting is what we find interesting.”
The two joke all the time that they never expected the podcast to have many listeners beyond their moms (who, incidentally, have both made guest appearances), but listeners proved them wrong: “Fake Doctors, Real Friends” debuted in the Top 10 of the Apple podcast charts for three consecutive weeks and has seen more than 53 million downloads. It took off more quickly than expected due to the coronavirus pandemic. Suddenly, Braff and Faison were stuck at home, and the podcast went from once to twice a week. The show also became a place to pay tribute and appreciation to health-care workers; one episode featured real-life doctor John Doris, Lawrence’s best friend, who was the inspiration for J.D., talking about covid-19 and vaccines.
Overall, “Fake Doctors, Real Friends” is a lot like “Scrubs,” which, despite being known as the most medically accurate TV show and had wrenchingly emotional story lines, was also deeply silly. (It’s just an accepted fact that a manatee named Julian lives under the hospital, and he doesn’t exchange pleasantries.) Likewise, the podcast’s tone veers wildly from rapid-fire jokes to emotional conversations. That’s mostly because Braff and Faison are bringing the same energy they brought to the show. And while they have been close for years, embarking on the podcast journey has added a new layer to their friendship.
“We’ve always been best friends, but we didn’t necessarily talk every week and now we can literally talk every week,” Faison said.
“It’s definitely increased our communication a lot,” Braff said. “[Friends] can lose track of each other. But now it’s like, no, this is an appointment, this is like therapy. Every Sunday, you are here. And I think it’s great.”