PROFILES

Jake and Amir's Decade of Perfect Timing

How the internet’s favourite outsiders keep winning, in every regard.

by Isabelle Hellyer
27 April 2017, 2:56am

Add it all up and Jake and Amir's videos have around one billion views. That's a big number—a scary one. The amount of time people have spent watching two best friends fuck around in their office is, combined, longer than human civilisation has even existed. Why? Because they are very, very funny people.

The pair's story is interesting because it's also the story of internet humour itself—their success runs parallel to the rise of outsider comedy online. They grew up with the web, always one step ahead of internet trends: the poster boys for CollegeHumor in the site's infancy, YouTube class clowns before it became the behemoth it is today, podcasters before every man and his dog were peddling Squarespace discounts. Today Jake and Amir have their own podcast network, HeadGum, and an LLC in their names.

The duo have painted a picture of what comedic success can look like without a TV show. They've laid a path we're going to see a whole bunch of their teenage fans follow in the years to come. So before thousands of comedy clones emerge, we're retracing the surprisingly influential footsteps of the internet's original best friends that could.

Not Like Other Bros

In 2004, this is what Google looked like. This is what then one-year-old Myspace looked like. VICE wasn't online. People used Lycos, and the most searched thing on Lycos was Janet Jackson's Superbowl nip slip. And when young people wanted to read something funny, a lot of them would go to CollegeHumor. Jake and Amir started writing for the site in 2004 where, in June of that year, the front page was a story called "Dear Yahoo, I'm changing my homepage to Google."

Working on the internet at that time was still fairly radical, but it's what both Jake and Amir did—and it's how they met. "I wrote freelance [for CollegeHumor] for free throughout college," Amir tells us when we met in a small restaurant in Melbourne's north—they're in the country for their second Australian tour. "The first article I wrote, I think, was things to do at a boring party to make it more lively. It was always lists and things like that." One 2004 Amir joint called "Countdown of Countdowns" is purported to be a list of hot new VH1 countdowns. "Unless you've been living under a rock (or living under Iraq—Kuwait) you are very familiar with the myriad of countdowns VH1 has aired this year," he wrote.

Jake Hurwitz joined CollegeHumor as intern. "That was just me being proactive at 20," he says. "Actually the last time I ever was proactive. My first email to CollegeHumor was from my college paper. It was about cheap dating ideas you could do in New Haven, Connecticut. And [former CollegeHumor editor] Streeter wrote back like, 'It's a little specific for CollegeHumor, but if you make it more general we might be able to run it.' So my first article was called The Lost Art of the First Date. I don't recall how funny it was."

Early Jake stories were all about romance in the broadest, most dude-centric sense. Like this one from 2005: "Assessing Risk: When and When Not to Beat It."

"We used to hide some stuff [by writing] under 'CollegeHumor Staff'," Jake remembers. Amir does too. "Oh! Wasn't there a fake lady we used to write under? I remember she was really attractive, and whenever we wrote something that might be offensive we would be like, 'Hey look, a lady wrote it, you can't get that mad.'"

"There's plenty of stuff I'm ashamed of writing for CollegeHumor," Jake admits now. Still, the pair considered themselves outliers in a frat-bro world. "For a long time at CollegeHumor we were working to subvert bro culture by making extra bro-y jokes. I don't think that made it any funnier. But in 2006, that was slightly forward thinking."

That's Not Terrible… It'll Go Online Forever Now

While we can thank CollegeHumor for introducing Amir to Jake, the credit for their eponymous series goes to Vimeo. "Vimeo and CollegeHumor and Busted Tees were all started by the same people," Jake explains. "We shared an office with Vimeo, and there was a tonne of encouragement from them to create more user-generated content." In 2004, Vimeo was just where founder Jakob Lodwick would dump videos of his friends, but over the next year, it became a proto-YouTube—a place where anyone could upload something weird. Which is just what Jake and Amir did.

Amir edited the first episode of Jake and Amir on iMovie. Jake played a CollegeHumor employee perpetually disgruntled by the never-ending verbal assaults of his petulant desk-mate, Amir. "We thought it was about as funny as you might think a Snapchat is these days," Jake recalls. "Like, 'Ha, that's not terrible… it'll go online forever now.'"

At the time, It didn't feel like the start of something special—"More of a business partnership," according to Amir—but the Vimeo community was receptive enough for them to keep at it.

As they continued shooting, the wordplay grew denser and more bizarre, and the library of Jake and Amir-isms became highly quotable. Fans constantly repeat phrases like "I'm beefing" to mean, "I'm crying," and still appear in the comments of actor Thomas Middleditch's Instagram to shout "DOOBS!" (the name of a character he played years ago in Jake and Amir). Neither ever considered slowing the pace of the episodes, or making the jokes easier. "The audience has always risen and elevated themselves to getting the jokes that we thought they might not," Jake says. "You just have to trust people, and if they don't get it, that's fine."

As much as the pair downplay how much thought went into Jake and Amir, the series preempted some major digital trends. In a pre-Snapchat and pre-Vine world, the length of their first videos—60 seconds or so—was unique. They crammed so an unbelievable amount of narrative into such a short time span: a format familiar to all of us now. Eventually, CollegeHumor started paying them to do nothing else but produce episodes of Jake and Amir.

The duo started their podcast If I Were You in 2013, establishing a level of creative independence from CollegeHumor. Jake was the first to fantasise about leaving the site entirely. Amir liked the idea, in theory, but also liked having health insurance. They stuck around as If I Were You began to take off, simultaneously producing some Jake and Amir fan favourites, like "Compost," "Tinder," and "Real Estate Agent."

In 2015, Jake and Amir announced their CollegeHumor series was over. Thousands of commenters grieved, a testament to the show's wide fanbase. Considering how quickly comedy trends get metabolised online, it's remarkable Jake and Amir avoided being a fad—let alone becoming something people sincerely mourned.

While there was no bad blood with CollegeHumor, Jake and Amir say they were ready to leave. "I rush into most things," Jake says. "I've moved in with a girlfriend too early, I've said 'I love you' before I meant it. With Amir, it felt like all the milestones were happening at the right moment... It always felt like we were really ready for the next step when we took it."

Nerds Will Inherit the Earth

The next step was focusing their energies on If I Were You, an advice podcast which sees the pair answer fans' personal quandaries with brutal honesty. A couple months into their post-CollegeHumor lives, they've also started their own podcast network, HeadGum. Again, their timing was perfect: Serial's first season had wrapped earlier that the year and soon everyone would have a podcast. HeadGum now averages 100 million plays per month. If I Were You alone averages one millions plays each month. "For whatever reason," Jake says, "we've been really fortunate to say yes to the right things at the right time."

Questions on If I Were You tend to come from teenage boys navigating relationships and sex for the first time. "We try to keep it balanced, but even when we answer more guys' questions, at least we expose enough of those male patterns for female listeners to think about and comment on," Jake explains.

It's not weird to advise a young fanbase? "I always say that we're like, the oldest millennials," Amir explains. "15 to 34 is the area we play around in, and I'm 34, so I'm pretty comfortable with that." Jake adds, "It's way easier to answer questions for those kids because we were there, and we came out the other side. And I don't think people tune into our show for thoughtful sombre advice anyway."

That's true. People tune in to feel like they're part of Jake and Amir's symbiotic, idiosyncratic friendship, to hear from adults who genuinely seem to be having fun being, well, adults.

For the pair's teenage fans, who are probably a lot like Jake and Amir once were, it's comforting to hear things will get better. "I think when you're a nerd in high school you have to survive by believing your best years are ahead of you, you know, that nerds will inherit the earth," Jake says. "It's nice that we can be nerds that sort of embody that truth. We're like a little beacon of hope for loser that are told they're gonna be cool in ten years."

A New Universe

At this point, it sounds like Jake and Amir have had a perfect career run. Every small thing they're started has snowballed into a bigger, more successful thing. Except their TV show.

While Deadline once reported TBS were interested in an Ed Helms-produced Jake and Amir TV series, it's never progressed beyond a script. So when Jake and Amir announced their CollegeHumor departure, distraught fans petitioned the network to get the wheels in motion on the project again with the Twitter-trending #GreenlightJakeandAmir campaign.

Ultimately, TBS said no. But its younger subsidiary truTV noticed the social media groundswell. Jake and Amir kept fans updated on their podcast, with breathless and elated accounts of what it was like to work with a real network. In the end, truTV didn't order a full series either. So, in a nice twist of fate, they returned to Vimeo—who were again interested in original content—and made another web series, Lonely and Horny.

To Amir it felt better, or at least a little more fun, to go back online. "We had to make [the pilot] broad and silly and PG rated for TV. When that didn't work we were like, 'Well let's just do whatever we want for the internet, where we get no notes and can do scenes that would never work on television.' Like the one where I have sex in a jacuzzi by myself."

Jake and Amir have described Lonely and Horny as "a completely new universe"—but that doesn't feel quite right. Amir's Lonely and Horny character, Ruby Jade, was written to be flawed in almost all the same ways as Jake and Amir's Amir. Watching Ruby interact with people outside of the equally-bizarre CollegeHumor universe, in Lonely and Horny's fairly realistic imagining of LA, makes his absurdity more incongruous than hilarious.

At the same time, Jake's character, Josh, another long-suffering straight man, is the most multifaceted role they've ever written. Opposite him, Ruby Jade feels like he's wound up in the wrong show. Jake and Amir could turn anyone into a fan. Lonely and Horny is for people who were fans already, and that's okay too.

Hardly a Consolation Prize

The internet is a young person's medium and you get the sense Jake and Amir, now in their 30s, are beginning to think long term. While television has proven to be the one beast the pair can't tame, they're still trying. "We're pushing the ball forward as much as we can on things like TV and movies," Jake says. "Writing for TV and movies was what I've always wanted to do, but those things are so slow, so it's nice to have podcasting and digital stuff to stay in production." Amir wants HeadGum to create more original video content, and become a fully-fledged production company.

The pair aren't interested in entering a writer's room—their whole career, they've had control over what they produce. "The best example [of us doing TV] would be Streeter writing for SNL, and I don't think I'd be good at that," Amir says. "I could do some acting. We have very narrow wheelhouses though. I just can't be serious or sincere."

One of the more interesting things about Jake and Amir is how successfully they've leveraged their fame to work for them in real ways, like paying a mortgage. All these things that people never thought you could make serious money from—ads on Youtube, podcasts—those are the only way Jake and Amir have ever made their money. The pair have created a whole new template for outsider success. Maybe TV will catch up one day too, and an original series will get off the ground. Maybe it won't. Either way, a massive, dedicated online audience—Jake and Amir could draw the same amount of viewers as Keeping Up With the Kardashians—is hardly a consolation prize.

Yes Dude

There's also the friendship to think about. By branding themselves as a two-for-one package, Jake and Amir will be tied together forever; a daunting prospect for comedians less perfectly in sync. "We've gotten along for such a long time because we have the same comedy head," Jake says. "We basically make the same jokes at the exact same time now."

You can't help but envy that dynamic. After all, it's the essence of their appeal. "I don't think we've ever had a fight where it felt like we were going to end the duo," Jake says. "There was never a time where I was like, 'we've got to figure this out or we're going to lose everything we've worked for.'"

While they aren't roommates anymore, they still hang out almost all the time. There's been no seven year itch. "If I'm in LA and I'm not out with Amir, then I'm probably not out," Jake says. "90 percent of the time Amir is more responsible than me and will check out early—"
"—but that magical 10 percent..." Amir hints. "There have been a couple of those, and those are my fuckin' favourite. I live for it every single time."

Does this mean they're… soulmates? Jake's sure. "Yeah, he's my soulmate. But he won't say it." Amir? "Definitely yes—if I believed in soulmates."

Photography Tasha Tylee
Styling Issy Beech
Grooming Rob Povey using MAC