Talking to Jake and Amir About Their Web Series, CollegeHumor, and More
If Facebook Likes, YouTube views and autotuned remixes are to be believed, Jake (Hurwitz) and Amir (Blumenfeld) are two of the most popular people on the Internet. Since 2007, they’ve been producing their eponymous web series for CollegeHumor, which follows their comedic double act as mismatched cubicle mates through some truly absurd and ironically not-safe-for-work situations.
Over the years, their show has grown up along with the Internet: transforming from a low-budget hobby to a legitimate comedy force. Through their prolific output, they’ve found a dedicated following, created hundreds of truly hilarious sketches and shown every other web series how it should be done.
Tell me a little about the first episode you guys ever made.
Jake: I guess it was like five or six years ago, and we made it on one of those little handheld digital cameras. I think it was like a Sony SD700 or something? It was ten seconds long, completely unscripted and I think me and Amir just sort of — I held the camera on myself and we panned back and forth to each other — so it was very low budget and probably not funny if we watched it now.
Amir: Well when we were first making the first ten videos, it was very bare bones. We were using Jake’s digital camera, like a Cannon PowerShot and I was using iMovie. We didn’t really know how to act, we didn’t really know how to edit, we didn’t know how to shoot anything. So the audio was awful and the video was barely watchable. Somehow we were able to evolve from there.
So how long was it before CollegeHumor decided to put out the series?
Jake: We’d been making the series maybe for a year or two before we started putting them on CollegeHumor.
What’s it been like working for CollegeHumor? The site has changed so much since you started working there.
Jake: Yeah, it’s true. I think, when I first started there it was sort of like the Wild West. You know, we didn’t really know what we were doing. That was really fun. It was fun and exciting when we started making our own in-house office videos. It was super fun just collaborating with everybody and making all of the weird comedy that was coming into our heads. We could brainstorm some idea and then shoot it in an hour and it’d be on the site the next day. I think now just because it’s grown so much it’s much more of a process of script approvals and casting and a lot more time and effort goes into all of the videos. So, they look great but it’s a little less free flowing and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants.
Amir: Yeah, it’s true. When we started there it was like fifteen people in an office, we weren’t even making original videos and now we have a production department that’s like fifty to eighty people and it’s a well-oiled machine with so many producers and directors and editors. It’s been kind of fun to watch CollegeHumor to go from a website that had no videos to one of the finest online production companies on the internet today.
I think it’s probably in part because of you guys and your series.
Amir: Well, that’s a nice thing to say. We certainly like being a small part of the enormous undertaking that it is to create so many videos. Jake and I are sort of off doing our own thing though, like we’re shooting in the office mostly, we have a very small crew compared to the CollegeHumor Originals and a much smaller budget too.
How would you say the series has evolved since you first started?
Jake: I think in my favorite way it hasn’t, which is me and Amir sit in a room and we make each other laugh for an hour or two and somehow we leave with a script. Also, our production value has gone up a lot. We’ve gone from filming on one digital camera to 7Ds and we have professional sound guys and we’re editing on Final Cut rather than the free editing software on a Mac. Also Amir and I have become better video editors because we basically have been practicing for the last five years.
Is your job there now just totally to produce Jake and Amir or do you do other things too?
Amir: Yeah, right now our job is to just make one video a week so however we want to spend our time, we get to decide that but as long as on Tuesday at 12:30 there’s a new Jake and Amir video up then we’ve done our job. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s not up to us to decide. It could be the world’s worst episode and they’d still have to pay us.
You kind of touched on how the series has evolved as a whole but how would you say your characters have changed since you started?
Amir: When we started it was very two-dimensional. It was Amir, like, my character was super needy, weird. He was sort of an insecure person and Jake was just a deflecting board. He heard Amir and retorted. Now I guess the root of my character is still the same, the insecurity of it. He sort of evolved. He’s probably a little crazier, we’re able to make him a little smarter sometimes and Jake’s character has also matured in his own way. He has his own insecurities as well. He’s probably insecure about ladies and style and fashion as much as Amir is about everything else, but he’s still able to be the straight man to Amir’s crazy character.
Jake: I guess Amir has sort of always been insane. I think the Jake character has become a little more wacky, which is fun for me. We’ve given me triggers for my insecurity and then I get to be a little weird which is cool.
That’s kind of what my next question was: Amir becomes the straight man sometimes, notably when you’re going shopping or trying to meet girls. Is this just out of being tired of being the straight man or was it always in the plan?
Jake: That came from the actual writing process, because when we’re writing together we do each other’s voices sometimes. We basically slip into character and go into weird bits when we’re writing and I think it was just making us laugh a lot when I was doing the crazy/funny man and he was doing the straight man when it came to fashion and girls. Maybe that’s why it’s a little more natural.
That and freestyle rapping?
Jake: Yeah, freestyle rapping. You know in real life that’s actually something I’m incredibly confident in, so that’s totally movie magic.
How would you say you’re different or similar to your character?
Amir: Hopefully very different but maybe at the root of it we’re the same person. I’m probably a little smarter than the character though. Maybe the things that he thinks I also think but I’m able to suppress them. And I shit my pants in real life a lot less.
Jake: I think my character is a little bit boring. I think in real life I would probably get a kick out of Amir rather than being incredibly annoyed. I guess I have a better sense of humor than my character. But also all of those insecurities I share, I’m just not as loud and vocal about them when it comes down to it.
I feel like the concepts of the episodes have gotten more absurd every passing year. Is that conscious or are you guys just getting bored or slowly losing your minds?
Jake: I think it’s probably a little bit of both. We always try to write stuff that makes us laugh and I think our senses of humor, especially when it comes to these characters just takes more zaniness and more craziness to make us crack up when we’re writing. So I think the concepts are definitely getting weirder but I think that’s the only way for it to keep on growing.
Amir: Maybe a little bit of both. I guess in one way after writing a hundred videos in one year you want to take it to the next level the next year. Then in some sort of subconscious way what we’ve found funny has changed. What makes us laugh are these crazy stories Amir’s involved in, these wacky adventures he goes on. Also how mean and awful a person can be. If someone sends out a triathlon fundraising email, how would the worst person in the world react to that?
Jake: We just take those opportunities as they come. Our boss was like, “We want to try to make a twenty-two minute episode and we’ll pay for it and we want you guys to do it,” and we were like “Yeah, of course.” Then as to the the Double Date series, we had an idea for an episode that was about a Double Date and we just liked writing it so much that we wanted to make a part two then a part three then a part four. I know we want to do a sort of sequel to the Double Date series since there’s two proposals at the end of it; we wanted to do a big wedding extravaganza, but we’ll see.
Amir: We love doing those multi-parters or thirty minute stuff because you get a little bored doing the same two minute videos over and over and maybe the audience does too. I thought of something recently that would be kind of fun where it’s just like four to eight episodes that take place with me and Jake stuck in a closet or something. Or stuck in an elevator.
And obviously you would shit your pants if you were stuck in an elevator.
Amir: Yeah, I would shit within like thirty seconds though. Like, “This is how long it would have been if the elevator was actually working. How are you already shitting yourself?”
Do you have a favorite episode?
Jake: Man, I don’t know. There’s so many that I really love, but when people ask me what my favorite episode is for some reason I always think of Prom or Snakebite, which I think Amir is really funny in. And aside from those I love all the episodes with guest stars.
Amir: I don’t know if I have like one specific favorite episode but sometimes I’ll re-watch one and I’ll be like, “Oh, man that was actually pretty funny.” Any ones where Jake is kind of the weird person I really like. Like, I love Muscle Tee.
This isn’t even a question at all but I just love that you guys adopted this weird format of just talking in limericks for just whole episodes.
Amir: Every time we have a video that we like, it sometimes spawns a format. So like the scroll episode, it’s like, “We could do another scroll episode.”
Yeah, or like the ones where Jake is just recounting some insane night that you had like you’d never been there.
Amir: Yeah, exactly. It’s so unnatural. It’s funny cause like nobody would actually talk like that. Like, you don’t have to recap the entire evening to me. I was there. But it’s like funny to do I guess. “You don’t remember what you did last night? Well, I do. Here’s a two minute speech of what went down.”
Are there any ideas that you guys have just found unworkable and rejected?
Amir: Yeah, occasionally we shoot a script and we’re not in a great mood when we’re shooting it and it’s just not very funny. So sometimes we’re able to shoot enough videos to where we don’t have to release it and then we end up shooting more videos before we have to release it and we just keep pushing it and pushing it until it finally disappears. So there were a couple we shot that I didn’t end up loving. But that’s good. It’s good to shoot ten percent more than we need so you don’t post the bottom ten percent of the episodes, according to you.
Jake: I think we have a lot of ideas that I think we just don’t have the money to actually make yet. Like, Amir freaking out on a really crowded subway car, Amir getting hit by a taxi. They’re really funny to us, it’s just the production budget isn’t there yet so we don’t want to waste it. Maybe one day we’ll have the budget to make a movie and we’ll get to make all of these absurdly large things.
How did you guys start working with Ben Schwartz?
Jake: He was in the very early episodes. He was around New York, he was at CollegeHumor and he asked us if he could be in an episode and we thought he was very, very funny so we were like, “Of course.” He did such a good job so we wanted to have him back. I think it was his idea to always play a different person but kind of the same guy doing a different thing. Then he became so successful he’s doing us a huge favor being in them, so it’s kind of cool.
Is it the same situation with the other frequent guest stars like Allison Williams or Hoodie Allen or other people?
Jake: Thomas Middleditch and Rick Fox are two other people we love working with. Most of the time it’ll be like a one off thing, and that was definitely the case with Allison and also the case with Rick and you know Thomas and Hoodie too. But like they’ll come and we always end up having so much fun and the episodes turn out so well and I think people see it online, they see the feedback and the animated GIFs start coming out and it’s so fun so we’re like “We should do it again.” So the next time they’re in New York we meet up and they just become a beloved part of the series like Cheryl.
Amir: Well, Hoodie Allen I didn’t really know who he was when we started working with him and since then I’ve grown to become a big fan of his music, so I’m retroactively excited to work with him even though I’ve already worked with him. It worked in the opposite way where I met him as a human first and then became a fan of his. So it’s been awesome to watch his career blow up to the point where I feel excited to get emails from him, then I’m like “I’ve already worked with him. He’s just a normal dude just like me.”
With Rick Fox it was the complete opposite because I grew up a huge Laker fan. So when Rick Fox, one of the basketball players I’ve grown up watching and love and have this great amount of respect for wants to be in a Jake and Amir video, it’s kind of like a dream come true. He was just so funny and so cool and so handsome and so tall, he’s like the perfect person. It’s just so funny to me that he wants to do the stuff we ask him to do.
So he came to you guys?
Amir: Yeah, his son is a fan of Jake and Amir and Rick Fox met our boss at something or other and he was like, “My son is a huge fan of Jake and Amir,” and he was like, “Oh you could be in a video,” and he was like, “My kids would love me for that.” It’s funny to imagine if you won three NBA championships and your kids would love for you to be in a Jake And Amir video. Like, playing for the Lakers and Kobe Bryant and Shaq isn’t cool enough.
Can you just give me like a “Behind The Music” type story about how the Aardvark Cum rap came to be?
Jake: I don’t know, that’s so much like Rick Fox loving eggs. We usually just need a quick line. Like, “Give me one quick thing to say before Rick comes in or just one quick thing to say while I’m rapping at Hoodie.” And we say something accidentally and Amir made some line about aardvark cum and we were like, every time you rap it should be about aardvark cum. It’s just one specific thing that you don’t even get right. I don’t know who said aardvark cum was cold and now I’ve said it so much that I actually believe it.
Can you just explain to me the process from concept to completion of making an episode?
Amir: Lately, Jake and I have to write four or five episodes and that takes us like two or three days and then we send it to our producer. He’ll read it and sometimes there’s props and sometimes there’s extras or sometimes there’s locations that we have to get, so they have a week to do that. Then after a week we shoot it. We probably shoot two to four a day; if we’re in the office sometimes we can shoot three or four but if we’re on location we can shoot one or two. Then the next day we can start editing them and we can edit two in a day. So if necessary, we could write, shoot and edit and post a video in about three days. Usually the process is we write four, shoot four and edit four and release them over a month.
Jake: It basically starts from text messages. We’ll text each other random ideas. We have a Jake and Amir idea thread email going all the time so that’s kind of where we come up with ideas. And then we basically sit in a room and go into a bit and try to write a whole entire episode and after we do that we film it and we film everything three times. So one time where we’re sort of learning the script, a second time where we are slightly better and a third time when we improvise a lot. We usually end up using the third take and we edit everything so usually I’ll take the first half and Amir cleans it up or Amir takes the second half and I clean it up. Then we post it. It’s pretty simple.
How much of your improvised takes would you say get into the series?
Amir: Oh, good question. A lot of our improv takes might get in but I’d say 80% of the final video is what was written and then 20% of it is a little extra, we kind of add a little humor where we can.
Do you have any kind of background in improv?
Amir: No, no background in improv but Jake and I kind of drift in and out of character all the time so it’s kind of like we’ve been improvising with each other for six years in these characters so the lines of reality are blurred.
Jake: Improv terrifies me. I’m scared enough when I get up there and I know what I have to say. So going up there with nothing is very scary. I was in a talent show in fourth grade and that was the only time I’d ever performed anything and I didn’t do it again until I was twenty-two.
Jake: I just get scared being on stage. But luckily I think Amir likes it and his confidence boosts mine so I can get out there and make it happen.
So tell me about the CollegeHumor Live shows you’re doing.
Jake: They’re super fun. We’ve been doing them for a few years now, but only in the last two years do I feel like we’ve really gotten it down. We go on tour with some comedians from CollegeHumor and sometimes just some great stand ups from the city and me and Amir will open the show, we sort of host it and we do fifteen to twenty minutes. A comedian comes out, then we come out again. At the end we do this game show type thing involving the students, because most of these shows we play are at colleges. The biggest thing is we stay after every single show and meet everybody who wants to meet us. So it’s been really amazing to get to meet fans that aren’t just in New York, but also fans from Berkley or Michigan or Missouri. We just get to travel around and meet everyone who watches our videos.
Do you like performing live?
Jake: To be perfectly honest, I’ve always hated it. I never really signed on for it. I never thought I’d have to be in videos, I never thought that I’d have to be on stage. I always thought I’d be just a writer, but it’s definitely grown on me. I used to get too nervous and I still get very nervous before performing live, but it’s one of those things where you’re so nervous before and you say, “I’m never going to do another live show.” Then you go out and it’s fun and you meet everybody after and you feel totally relieved and excited and you say, “Ok I can do it again,” and you don’t feel nervous again until like ten minutes before you go on.
Amir: I do [like it]. It’s a little nerve-wracking and it’s a little hard to write but while we’re doing it, it’s very exciting and afterwards meeting everyone is very fun. It’s good to flex that muscle. We used to be nervous but we’re getting more and more confident after all these years.
You guys have a really intense fan base. What is that like for you?
Amir: It’s awesome. It’s great that we’re able to make this stuff and people will watch it and we can go to a college in the middle of America and have people there who are excited to see us. It’s a cool feeling and it’s a huge point for the internet that we were able to build up this fan base without television or without movies but just doing our own thing and putting it online and finding an audience that way. The power of the web!
Jake: It’s so weird because I definitely don’t consider myself famous and I don’t feel famous but every once in a while people will come up to me and they seem very excited to meet me or see me and Amir together. I guess I’m glad that it doesn’t happen all the time because then it might go to my head.
I’m surprised it doesn’t already because those remixes that guy makes would probably make my ego swell.
Jake: Oh man, I’m that guy’s biggest fan. I think he’s amazing. I’ve always wanted to be in a band, and that’s the closest thing I’ve got.
Amir: Those are awesome. The last one was amazing.
Which was the last one? The Milkman one?
Amir: Yeah. [singing] Listen up everybody, this is the guy who sucked my dick!
Jake and Amir will be performing at CollegeHumor’s monthly CollegeHumor Live show at UCB (Chelsea) this Thursday, 2/21 at 9:30. Reservations are sold out, but there will be a stand-by line.
Their most recent episode is “One Almond”
Deidre Davis is a writer and beer wench living in Chicago.