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Interview: Jeff Rubin of College Humor and Jest – Part 1

Jeff Rubin

Over the last decade, College Humor has become one the Internet’s biggest comedy websites, featuring a mix of sketch comedy, animated shorts, interviews and lots, lots more. It dared to incorporate geek culture – especially videogames – into its content before almost anyone else, and in smart, non-pandering ways that earned it significant cred among comedy and game aficionados alike.

A big reason for College Humor’s success is Jeff Rubin. One of the main creative forces behind College Humor, Rubin has been writing and performing for the site almost since the beginning. His sensibilities, including a deft comedic touch and a love of gaming and pop culture, have played a large part in influencing the site’s tone and content. Lately, the performer has expanded his online offerings to include a podcast, The Jeff Rubin Jeff Rubin Show, and is now shepherding the recently-launched College Humor spinoff, Jest, which is targeting an older demographic. In part one of our interview with Rubin, we discuss the early days of College Humor, the legendary Street Fighter: The Later Years series of sketches, and why he’s not like The Wizard.

Flightpath: How did you come to be involved with College Humor?

Jeff Rubin: I started here as an intern. I had been out of college for a few months, and I actually found the job on Craigslist. And I was the first employee hired for the company past the owners themselves. They were looking to kinda kick things up. They had been in San Diego for a year and they moved to New York, and they were trying to grow the site and they were looking for someone to help out. I guess they hired me as an intern to help with a lot of the content. It was pretty clear that they were looking to grow and that if I didn’t mess up, I could have a job, maybe. And I’ve been here for seven years since.

Flightpath: How did your role evolve from intern to Executive Editor?

Jeff Rubin: I guess, initially, I had been involved more in curating the content and looking for other funny people online that we could maybe work with or feature their content, and sorting through these submissions. And I still work on those things to an extent, but that was among my first responsibilities. Then it became more about putting together a team to make those efforts even more successful, but also creating our own content – writing, and occasionally acting on camera in stuff that we were making.

Flightpath: That’s one thing I wanted to ask about. College Humor evolved to have such a breadth of content. There’s interviews, there’s sketches and animation like The Jersey Shore RPG. What’s the creative process in funneling all this different content into the whole that is College Humor?

Jeff Rubin: That’s a good question. I don’t know. You know, I guess we don’t think about it much. To me, they’re kind of one product. We try to give everything a similar sensibility, whether it’s something you have to read, or something you just look at and immediately get, or a video you watch for a few minutes. I hope that they’re all cut from the same cloth and are all from the same type of people – and in many cases from the same people.

There’s a surprisingly small writing staff. Everyone knows each other, so we have a shared sense of humor. We’re into a certain type of thing, and I think you can see that represented in all the work we do over different types of mediums. We didn’t used to do original videos, we used to have a bigger focus on pictures, we didn’t used to write as many articles, we didn’t take articles as seriously as we do now. There used to be naked girls. So the site’s evolved a lot over time.

Flightpath: So for something like The Jersey Shore RPG, how does that come to be? Because it’s very different from writing man-on-the-street interviews or sketches.

Jeff Rubin: Yeah, I mean, it’s not that different from writing a sketch. I know it’s animated, but it follows the same structure, I’d say, as one of our live action sketches – where there’s a viral idea, taking something that’s popular, and putting a fun twist on it. Taking this idea and exploring all the different sides of it. We also react to the zeitgeist and whatever’s popular, and I think there was a time when everyone had to have a Jersey Shore sketch. So we knew we had to do something about Jersey Shore. I don’t know how we really came up with the idea to present it as an RPG, to be honest. I think we were just looking for a unique angle on Jersey Shore, and I feel like we like doing things that a lot of people are into, but you wouldn’t necessarily see on Saturday Night Live. They’d never do an RPG sketch on Saturday Night Live, even though there’s a large, large number of people out there who are familiar with the tropes of the genre and the format.

Flightpath: I think my first exposure to College Humor was Street Fighter: The Later Years.

Jeff Rubin: Oh, that’s interesting, because that’s one of our first original videos. We had done a few that starred us, and were kind of low budget – us going out with the camera kind of thing – which are still on the site somewhere. Then we started making videos with the idea of getting them spread around.

Street Fighter: The Later Years was a huge, huge hit for us. It’s still one of our biggest hits. I think it was like the third or fourth video we ever made. I feel like a big moment in that video is with Dhalism – who was a character in Street Fighter that could extend his limbs to two or three times their length, and it was a fighting game, so he could punch people from across the street. Everyone’s kind of down-and-out from their street fighting days, and Dhalism, who is now a cab driver, I think…Maybe he’s not a cab driver. For whatever reason, he’s driving –

Flightpath: He was a cab driver.

Jeff Rubin: Okay good. I was afraid I was being racist just because he’s Indian. So they’re turning a corner, and he reaches his arm out, and he has these kind of extendo-arms, and he grabs this lamppost to swing the car around the corner. I think that was a big moment because it’s a fun special effect, and that was at a time when you weren’t seeing a lot of special effects with that kind of production quality in Internet videos, additionally in a funny video. Also, that’s where we started to hit upon this idea – that’s a nerdy example, but there are also non-nerdy examples – of doing these things that are out there that people are into, but you wouldn’t see a Street Fighter sketch on Comedy Central, necessarily.

Flightpath: I was wondering if that was a conscious decision. I love the Street Fighter: The Later Years sketches, I think a lot of people did, with all the in-jokes. One thing I’ve noticed about College Humor, and I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but it seems like it filled a niche, or created a kind of gaming-slash-pop culture influenced form of comedy?

Jeff Rubin: That’s definitely true, because a lot of us are dorky and we think that stuff’s funny, and it was often successful. Videogames are like movies and music, but they’re still a little underground. And [the videogame sketches] were so successful, in fact, that we spun them off into another site called Dorkly, which I also work on. Dorkly is just pure videogame humor, and we do two videos that take place inside a videogame every week, and every day there’s comics and articles about videogames.

My favorite things on that site are articles that you have to have played the game [to understand]. There was this great one, “The 7 Most Difficult Cases in L.A. Noire.” One of them was like, “Murder At The Beer Bottle Factory,” which if you played L.A. Noire, is funny, because in that game there’s a lot of picking up bottles and examining them for fingerprints. And you have to have played L.A. Noire to get that joke. But it was a very popular thing and there’s an audience for that kind of humor.

So it wasn’t intentional, but it was something we liked doing, we were proud of, and we recognized that there was a very hungry appetite for that kind of material on the Internet.

Flightpath: Are you as big a gamer as you used to be?

Jeff Rubin: I’d say that’s true. I do a lot of videogame humor, but I think I play videogames less than people would expect. It’s almost like a book to me. I’m not always playing videogames; I’m not like The Wizard, I’m not like, incredible at any game. But when there’s something out that’s good and has a lot of buzz and gets good reviews and people say is interesting, like L.A. Noire, I’ll check it out. Right now, Arkham City, the new Batman game, I’m totally obsessed with. I very rarely get obsessed with a game. But yeah, I’m still playing videogames. I’ve always done it my whole life – enjoyed it like that.

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Click here for part 2 of our interview with Jeff Rubin!