Arby N’ the Chief… Who doesn’t remember Arby N’ the Chief? The dirty mouthed but lovable Chief; the all-knowing but sensible Arbiter, it’s mixture of absurdity and internet humor and in later seasons, storylines. Jon has been making Arby N’ the Chief since 2007 with the start of his “Master Chief Sucks at Halo” shorts that would evolve from its initial antics and develop into something that resembled the series we all know as Arby N’ the Chief. In 2020, he is defined by his confident exterior and exceptional production skills but back during the dawn of the social media age, he was just another overly optimistic person in Vancouver who happened to have a fascination with filmmaking and gaming.
Jon “C.J.” Graham has always been an elusive figure, with only bits and pieces of his history available at any given time; same goes for his entire being. Compared to the modern Jon, early Jon was more self depreciative and doubtful on where he was going to go with his life; he was impressionable and optimistic like all kids, believing that the entire world was a peaceful and cool place, never realizing what life had in store for him. He was not the Jon we all know and respect, he was “DigitalPh33r”, a persona he created to get on “Return to Castle Wolfenstein” back when he thought such stuff was cool and awesome according to his own words in a machinima tutorial video that was informative, helpful and funny.
Through Wolfenstein, Jon got his first taste of gamer culture; which is to say it’s savage, ruthless and not for the faint of heart. He went down the path that every gamer goes through; having to learn through hard work and sacrifice, getting called names and being put down for reasons that barely made any sense and during that time, DigitalPh33r evolved from optimistic to bitter & angsty, feeling like the world is against him. This would continue until he got his first taste of Halo and with that, a world opened up to him.
With his newfound knowledge of gaming culture and a desire to become a filmmaker, he started the series now known as “Master Chief Sucks at…” series where he would create the character that embodied all the stupidity on the internet, that embodied his experiences playing Wolfenstein and Halo, that perfectly embodied every inexperienced player out there… that character was “Chief”.
I discovered these shorts as I was getting into Halo 3 and boy were they laugh out loud funny. Jon was creative with using Microsoft Sam to embody his past self and by exaggerating the personality, he was able to create something that was truer than life. While the shorts were popular, Jon still felt his artistic need being unsatisfied and with it, he sought to add some flavor; a sidekick who would also be the straight man to Chief’s antics. Enter “Arby”, the person who Jon is compared to “Chief” who is the person Jon was before. With the introduction of Arby, the series changed drastically and evolved into “Arby N’ the Chief”, which was more of a series than the shorts that preceded it.
Like “South Park” before it, “Arby N’ the Chief” was a platform all in itself. A platform that could do social commentary while showing the behind the scenes happening of Jon’s mind. Through it’s world, it told stories relating to the online gaming culture, critiquing their behavior and the way we play games; he even went as far as to deconstruct gamer culture into absurdist terms, paralleling the reality of gamer culture that actually exists. Despite it’s humor being limited in comparison to South Park, it actually managed to carve out a similar type of fanbase that still exists to this very day; a fanbase that is admittingly talented, friendly though risque and devoted to the art of machinima.
As the years went on, Jon wanted to branch out to prove he was just more than the “Arby N’ the Chief” guy and so he launched several machinima series that featured different concepts such as a rookie trying to make his way in a Halo version of a police precinct. Not much exists of these shows but from what I remember, he was competent in his writing and world building. While he could of done a bit more to stand out, the main problem with these shows wasn’t that they were bad or forgettable, it was that it wasn’t “Arby N’ the Chief”; in comparison, ANTC felt like a passion project that only someone like Jon could make despite his self-admitting admission that he was getting tired of doing it.
As the years went by, Jon developed more and more of a confident persona even hosting several E3 events. He had transformed from nobody to superstar within the span of 2-3 years which is a significant achievement for anybody to experience. In the Halo world, they had become their savior, a comedian who could poke fun at himself and poke fun at gamers at the same time, and it was not thanks to the attempts to branch out but thanks to “Arby N’ the Chief”, it was his festering frustration and his desire to make fun of the scene that would give Jon a purpose, a purpose that helped him to manage his inner peace.
Flash-forward to today… While he may not be as popular as he was before; he still has his fanbase, he still has his confident exterior and he still has the desire to continue what he loves to do best; which is making the machinima/live-action/stress release hybrid show that has spawned a lot of episodes and even a movie. During this time, he even released a moderately successful podcast called “See Me After Class” that talked about his experiences about the university he went to and it was through that podcast that “Jon C.J. Graham” managed to step out of the shadow of both “DigitalPh33r” and being known as the “Arby N’ the Chief” guy.
He may never be able to reclaim his former popularity, he may never get past the conflicts but he is happy with what he is doing right now and in the end, happiness is all about finding the something that you love to do. To get to happiness, you must go through trial and error of experimenting, producing and even losing interest in projects until you find the one that makes you think “hey, this is the thing I want to do for the rest of my life.” This is what Jon did to find his groove, to find the enjoyment in life many people are still looking for; instead of chasing success, he chose to stick to the thing he did the best and doing the things he loved instead of things that felt like work. Every person’s path may be different but if Jon can do it, so can you.