The End, and Beginning, of ‘Jake and Amir’
About eight years ago, two boys with a dream and some spare time after work started making short, funny web videos. Those boys were Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld and their little web series, Jake and Amir, grew to become one of CollegeHumor’s longest running series, amassing more than half a billion views over some 750 episodes. This week marks the first of the final eight Jake and Amir episodes. I talked to the duo about the evolution of the series, the final countdown, a possible TV series and their plans for the future.
Looking back over the life of the series, what are some of the benchmarks where you feel the show took a creative jump, either in character development or as a whole?
Jake Hurwitz: That’s already the most thoughtful question we’ve ever gotten.
Amir Blumenfeld: We’re going to pass.
JH: Are you sure you don’t want to know if Amir really likes chicken nuggets?
AB: I’ve got an answer. Let’s see if this matches Jake’s. When we stopped shooting ourselves on digital point-and-shoot cameras and added cameramen with HD cameras, that was a big leap up.
JH: That was my first thought as well. Also, at that same point, we went from filming by ourselves after work to it becoming a regular part of our job. That helped the series too because we had dedicated time to write at work, instead of sticking around after to write scripts and shoot them in the dark.
AB: The second big step is when we actually started writing scripts, instead of just notes.
While we’re talking about the technical side of things, did those improvements come as a result of you finding a way to make money from the show, or did you have to pay for the new cameras and crew out of pocket?
JH: I think that came as a result of CollegeHumor offering us… we were under the impression that Jake and Amir was just a side project, a hobby. About a year into it, they let us know that they owned it and that we were going to be making it once or twice a week. With that came a bump in our salaries and…
AB: Access to their resources.
How about characters? Both characters have grown to some extent. Sometimes you trade positions back and forth. Are there any episodes that mark a shift in character development?
AB: Maybe the first episode where Jake started showing a bit of his insecurity was the Ping Pong episode.
JH: Or the Magic Trick episode. Actually, in the earliest episodes when I would talk to Hallie and Sarah I would get kind of weird.
AB: I guess it’s been kind of gradual.
JH: Yeah, but I would say the first full-on episode with me being pretty much weird the whole time was when I pierced my ears. It’s funny to us, because when we write episodes, we trade characters. We do bits in each other’s voices. I was always the funny man to Amir’s straight man in the writing process. So I guess that when it finally showed up on camera it didn’t feel like a big deal to me. But for the audience, not everybody was warm to it right away.
You have a pretty large, dedicated fan base. Has there ever been anything you’ve done on the show that has generated a backlash from fans and caused you to rethink your decision?
AB: We definitely hear everything, but I don’t think we’ve ever changed our minds on anything because of feedback. Although, recently on our reddit page, someone said, “Amir has to start showing more human emotion to Jake. Otherwise, we’re going to lose complete emotional investment in these characters.” That was one thing where I was like, “I guess we can tone back the cartoonishness and wackiness of how awful he is.”
JH: It depends a lot on how eloquent and thoughtful the writing is. Comments on reddit tend to be more thoughtful and come from our most loyal fans, so we read those. Comments on YouTube are like…
AB: The bottom of the barrel. You can’t really take those guys seriously. Sometimes they’re just trolling for fun.
JH: That’s the thing. Sometimes you read those comments and see that we don’t even have to defend ourselves because fans will jump to our defense. Every video we post is going to get hate and love. But if we like it…
AB: That’s been our guiding principle from the beginning. As long as we are laughing when we’re shooting and editing, then we’ve done the best that we can do.
JH: There was an episode about a year ago that we weren’t even in. It was our CEO and CEO’s Assistant characters. We thought it was one of the funniest ones that we had done in recent memory. It was almost universally hated. I wasn’t like, “Oh, man. We should never do that again.” I remember going into the comments and actively defending our position of how funny we thought it was and a lot of people changed their tunes. I think coming into that situation with positivity and earnestness about why we made those decisions encouraged people to be human back to us.
It’s nice of you to keep a dialogue with the fans. You’re doing the things you want to do creatively without being insensitive to the fans you’ve built up over the last eight years.
JH: It’s a grey area. You have to know when to listen and when to just do your thing. There were people who — at first — didn’t like when I was the wacky one. Now it’s their favorite part of the series.
So, it’s the final countdown for the web series. You’ve got eight episodes left. Tell me a little bit about the decision to wind it down.
AB: We looked at the calendar and felt like everything was coming to a close. We’re going to have been doing this for eight years and we were still pursuing other opportunities. It just felt like the right time, creatively.
JH: We’ve been pursuing longer form stuff. We want to write TV and movies. As much as we love Jake and Amir, it takes constant attention. It’s a thing that’s been a part of us for eight years. We constantly have to turn in scripts, edit video, shoot and constantly promote. All of our other projects take a backseat. We thought it was time to let those projects take the front seat and let Jake and Amir just rest.
AB: It’s always good to end creative projects when some people are sad about it, rather than waiting so long that people are like, “Great,” or, “Finally,” or, “Thank God!”
JH: That still happens to us. Sometimes a 25 year old will come up to me and say, “Hey, I used to love you when I was in high school. What are you doing now?” I’m still doing it.
AB: Like, “Whoa, aren’t you middle-aged?”
Are you planning a big finale?
AB: We have an eight-episode story that we’re looking forward to telling. We didn’t want to do some big, crazy thing that didn’t feel like Jake and Amir. We wanted to end it with episodes that felt like every other episode.
Any chance on an appearance from Amir’s dad?
AB: No spoilers. We tried to fit in as much as we could. There were so many random loose ends that we tried to tie up but I don’t know if we got to everybody.
JH: Now I know how they felt when they were writing the ending to Lost.
AB: Or Seinfeld. Only this is a much bigger deal because it involves me.
A while back there was news of an adaptation for TV on TBS with Ed Helms producing. Shortly after, the #GreenlightJakeAndAmir campaign launched. Was that started by you or your fans?
JH: Sort of a mix. It was both. We accidentally started it. We made a joke about it on our podcast and then our fans…
AB: The loyal, fervent people that they are…
JH: Those beautiful, beautiful beasts… picked up on it.
AB: I’m still getting multiple tweets every hour.
I saw that Ed Helms got behind it. Did you get any other big name support?
JH: Ed is literally the man. We thought he would just be passively involved with the project and that his name would help us get some clout, but he’s been a very thoughtful father figure. He helped us get some more Twitter support from people like Rainn Wilson and Moby.
AB: We had Rick Fox and Hoodie Allen show their support as well.
You already have the pilot written, right?
AB: It’s already written. It’s just about TBS deciding whether or not they want to pay us to shoot it. We thought that if they knew what a big following we already had, we could tip the scales in our favor.
JH: At the very least, we can have a swift death so we can start thinking about the next thing, rather than have this lingering in our thoughts forever.
If this does move forward, what would you do with a full length series that you couldn’t do online?
JH: The most exciting thing about a full-length series is getting to expand the world. We know how Jake and Amir would react in any given situation, but the script we wrote for TBS has an ensemble cast, so it would be exciting to see how Amir and Jake play with their other co-workers. We have scenes where I’m without Amir or, Amir is on his own adventure.
AB: Same liquid, different bottle.
Any other news, anything else you can tease about the final episodes, the possible TV show or other projects that we can look out for?
AB: We’re excited about our podcast [If I Were You]. We’re going to do some new and cool things with that over the next year.
JH: And whatever the next web thing we do is. We’re not going to leave the internet any time soon. TV development takes so long.
AB: We’re too addicted to shooting, editing and posting it the next day.
JH: We don’t quite know what the next thing will be and where it will live, but we know there will be something.
AB: Oh, yeah! We’re touring Australia in the summer, or should I say the winter? We haven’t even announced it yet. We’re doing a five-day Australian tour…
JH: In June.
AB: We should probably post that to the website soon, huh?