Josh Abramson and Ricky Van Veen's story starts a little too perfectly; more like a standard issue romantic comedy than an unlikely success story. They would have never written it themselves, that's for sure. That is, unless the punch line involved something much more ironic or slapstick than two college kids crafting a million-dollar business by posting videos of drunken dorm room charades online. They couldn't have known that day in junior high, when they first met and shared a laugh over a Saturday Night Live clip that Van Veen had taped and surreptitiously shared with Abramson, that together they would eventually become the little-known pioneers of a revolutionary industry. It was a more innocent time, before sites like YouTube and Hulu were household names and words like viral video and user-generated content had yet to be uttered.
Now, almost 15 years later, the founders of 1999 startup CollegeHumor, a TV-network-like empire of hilarious web content (including original and user-generated videos), games, blogs, columns, several web series, a production company and a show on MTV, still get their laughs--and money--sharing all things funny. However, as Abramson recalls, the catalyst that got them started was neither that day they met in social studies class nor their childhood passion for comedy, but a basic entrepreneurial instinct.
Over the years, they've had to mold themselves from entrepreneurs into comedic geniuses. Ask them how they became who they are today, and they'll probably cite YouTube's rise to stardom and their subsequent scramble to stay relevant.
But you'll probably get more laughs if you just go online ( collegehumor.com ) and see it all for yourself.
Just a Day in The Office
Ten videos into my research for this article, I began to realize what all the buzz was about. I must admit, it only took two videos before my commitment to "research" gave in to pure entertainment and the piles of work on my desk remained tilted at the corner. Though these guys are clearly all about the college crowd, there's hardly a funny genre to be missed in their hilarious collection of webisodes.
The one I can't stop watching is called "Bug" (from CollegeHumor's "Hardly Working" series). It starts with the company's editorial manager spotting a bug on her desk and quickly escalates into an equipment-smashing free-for-all, rivaling the famous fax machine torture scene from Office Space. "One of the things that's become very popular in videos is taking broken office equipment and breaking it more," says Abramson. "I'll be sitting at my desk on the phone or interviewing somebody or having a meeting, and then I'll see somebody take a swing at a telephone, hitting it across the room."
This is a fairly standard workday occurrence for Abramson, 27, and even more so for Van Veen, 28, who oversees content for the site and often has cameos in its original web series, which are often filmed in the pair's New York City office.
Over the years, Abramson and Van Veen have done a lot to get College-Humor in front of viewers. Not that they have ever really fallen on hard times. Even at age 18, when they launched the site as a way to earn money for beer and clothing without having to stoop so low as to work at the college library, success came fairly easily. Says Abramson, "On our third month, we got a check for $8,500 from the company that was selling our ads--$8,500 in one month for two 18-year-olds starting a little website is pretty crazy."