If you have a Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube account or just access to the internet, chances are you have seen a CollegeHumor video. CollegeHumor is a comedy website that features original sketches, writings and other funny forms of media. The content is written and produced by an in-house team that also helps operate their sister site, Dorkly as well. During NYCC 2018 I had a chance to sit down with video director Sam Reich and writer/actor Mike Trapp. We discussed what it was like getting into the entertainment industry, creating content for both YouTube and big TV networks, as well as there latest endeavor, Dropout. Dropout is their subscription service that will bring back fan favorites in all their glory as well as new content over several different forms of media.
I was also able to attend the Um, Actually panel where Mike Trapp told lies and allowed panelists and the audience to correct him. The catch is that every sentence has to start with the phrase, “Um, Actually”! The show features questions that focus on nerd related fandoms like Harry Potter, Star Wars, video games and much more. There are slight differences to the statements that are meant to slip up the panelists, but true fans will be able to sort things out. The panel was truly hysterical and kept everyone laughing from beginning to end.
Julia Roth: How did you get started in writing?
Mike Trapp: It was actually in college. My college had an improv group that I was apart of and at one point we decided to try some sketch too. So we fell into that and I really enjoyed writing it, it was like improv without the pressure of needing to be on all the time, I could go back and fix everything. I wrote some truly, truly awful sketches as you can imagine from a college sketch group might look like. It was that with someone else who was in that group who was a senior when I was a freshman that graduated and went into entertainment. Before that I believed nobody does that no one goes entertainment that’s a flight of fancy for rich people and bohemians and I had never seen anyone I knew find success with it. I thought well maybe I’ll give this a shot and keep trying my hand at it.
JR: So why comedy?
MT: Well now we are going to get into deep personal issues. I think a lot of people who flock to comedy probably have something a little broken in them. For me there is a sort of, I was a military brat and constantly moving around all the time and had to constantly reintroduce myself to people and making people laugh is a really easy way to really endear yourself to people and also a good way to cover your own faults a little bit by pointing them out before anyone else can and do the little dance and seem harmless and fun. It started as a defense mechanism and sort of became something I enjoyed doing.
JR: So how did you find yourself with CollegeHumor?
MT: I found myself with CollegeHumor after doing a… I graduated from college. When I was graduating I was looking for advice on how to get into entertainment and someone told me take classes at the UCB because you will be around other people trying to do the same thing and you will meet people to help you and get a job you hate. I did both of those things. It wasn’t CollegeHumor I had a different job then that was grinding me down to bones. In that time after a couple years of doing that a friend of mine, Owen Parsons who had been a sales planner at CollegeHumor was just starting up Dorkly, a sister site to CollegeHumor with nerd stuff. He was leaving his small entry job and I grabbed him by the lapels and was like, I will do anything it doesn’t have to be in comedy but if I could just be at a more fun place that would be enough. He was able to get me an interview and I guess I charmed my way through the interview. So I started as a sales planner at CollegeHumor and then just sort of muscled my way into editorial and video.
Sam Reich: I would just like to interrupt and say, talented his way not muscled his way.
MT: I knocked a bunch of heads together, I threatened people, I extorted people. I blackmailed people…you’re not recording this right.
JR: I’m gonna use that as a quote! So how does it feel to not only write for it but you are on it too? You act in a lot of the sketches as well.
MT: Yeah it is interesting, I think among the CollegeHumor cast there are folks who see themselves as an actor first and writer second and some see themselves the writer first and actor second. I am definitely more in the latter, it is fun to perform and it’s fun to have that out there. You get those little tiny drops of fame that can be fun every once in awhile and have people have to meet you on the street can be fun. If I am being totally honest I would be totally happy to slink into the background instead of going on stage in front of a bunch of rabid fans and ask them to correct me. There is enough fun to perform to keep me going.
JR: So what is your favorite thing that you have done with CollegeHumor? A favorite script or sketch?
MT: Ohh that is a good question because I am self deprecating enough to hate all the stuff I do.
SR: What is your least favorite thing?
JR: Oh don’t worry that was my next question!
MT: Actually it is weird to say, well maybe it is not weird to say this. The thing I am most excited about right now is something that we haven’t put out yet. So it is weird to say that the thing I like the most, but maybe that isn’t weird because it is still in that early stage where you are totally in love with the new thing you are working on. Yeah you can’t see the faults yet and everything is bright and shiny.
JR: No one has told you that it looks bad.
SR: Have we announced it yet? Or is it part of the announcement?
MT: The Ultramechatron.
SR: Oh we haven’t.
MT: Am I allowed to talk about it? It is just going up on the site.
SR: Eh, I don’t think we can talk about it.
MT: Well I will pick something else then. Hmm
SR: You know what, you can totally talk about it because maybe we will do it for Dropout. So go ahead.
MT: Yeah the stuff that we shot is just going to the channel. So we shot a couple of sketches that are sort of like loosely linked together but basically is sort of a Power Rangers kind of thing, but that is imagining Power Rangers as if they actually had to live inside the giant robot and are terrible roommates to each other. Like you are tasked with saving the world but you are just young adults who are very different and don’t get along. We shoot some really fun stuff, the exteriors are sort of like robot marching in the city and we just have a guy in a robot suit and moving through, very cheesy but in a fun way, cardboard skyscrapers and stomping through. It was one of those shoots that when everyone was on it everyone was laughing and having a good time. I feel really good about the script. This is what I am most excited to see the finished product of. Hopefully other people will like it as much as I like it in my head right now.
JR: Jeeze I hope so too. How did Dropout start?
SR: Great question. The sort of infancy for Dropout is sort of end of 2016 and we had been in the TV business for about three years at that point. We had a few successes but of course the thing about TV is you never see the failures. They just get denied and no one ever sees them.
JR: They just get put into a little box and that is where they stay.
SR: Exactly. So on the one hand we had the YouTube channel that we could do whatever we want but budgets and certain economics of video are getting worse and worse. It is hard for us to be quite as outrageous as CollegeHumor has been historically because of monetization issues. It’s just a hard time period with that model. And then there was TV were we had big budgets but we sort of lost all of our autonomy we gave it over to the networks and then the networks would decide if they didn’t want it at all. So we were really looking for some sort of a middle place where we could go direct to our audience where they really decided the fate of our shows. We can create big worlds to play in. Some of that stuff, those web series, are some of the most favorite things we have done at CollegeHumor. With the sort of free side of the internet catering to things like sketch comedy the question was where do we build these types of characters? Dropout is the place. Dropout means dropping out of everything we do, from CollegeHumor into this new place.
JR: Now I know there are quite a few shows you are bringing back that will be as vulgar as I remember them because they don’t have to be monetized. However are we getting anything new?
SR: We are, we are.
MT: This is the moment Sam has to think about what he is allowed to talk about.
SR: I know totally. We announced a six month ish slate of shows we the announcement video. So Um, Actually which never really went away is coming back in it’s bigger and better form. We are bringing back Lonely and Horny after it’s first season, we are bringing back Precious Plum. Next year we will be bringing back Troopers, which is a sort of Star Wars parody which people loved. We also launched with Fantasy High that is our answer to an RPG tabletop series. It is the CollegeHumor cast in this really really cool funny RPG game that sort of imagines, it is kind if John Hughes told an adventure story, kind of Breakfast Club. Nonetheless it is set in a fantasy world in like a fantasy high school. It is led by Brennan Lee Mulligan who is an incredibly talented storyteller. We have already had so many fans that got early into Dropout tell us how much they love out show. Which is so exciting. And then we have a show next year called Paranoia which is sort of a take on Mafia, except two people on the group are stoned and it is the responsibility of the sober people to try and root out who the stoned people are and it is the job of the stoned people not to be identified. It is a really tense and funny game, it is a pretty great game.
MT: It is the kind of content you can do in California where weed is legal.
SR: Yes weed is legal. We have a show that we launched with called Cartoon Hell which is by the Drawfree Creators. Drawfree is our sister channel of cartoon creators. What Drawfree does is a Bob Ross type format but in cartoon while taking suggestions from the audience. They created this wild show that imagines two of them are stuck in hell creating animated shows for all eternity. Every week they get a new suggestion and improvise in animated form, the characters to setting of that show and at the end of the episode you watch it come to life in animated form. The opening theme is done by Weird Al which is fantastic.
JR: He will never die.
SR: No he won’t! He was my earliest comedy influence at the age of 7 so that fact that he is now intro-vocals for a show of ours, I’m done. I can die tomorrow.
JR: Now explain Um, Actually. I have seen it, but what is going to change?
MT: Between the original and what is going to air on Dropout?
MT: A lot of it is honestly very similar but it is, I like the core of it, but we thought how can we taffy pole this into something larger. There is more questions per episode for one, and trying to find a good balance between being a game show but also a panel show as well. We will ask these questions and get the answers but also allow these people to talk about things these franchises and properties that these people enjoy. Whether it is a way to riff on it or it is too specific to do a sketch, this is a place we can talk about it and have some fun. Or we can share a memory or something like that. We have scattered slightly into a few different formatted questions where we can use props and sound effects. We get special guest stars to send in videos questions.
SR: There is a special guest question today.
MT: We do!
SR: Would you like a spoiler?
SR: It is Hodor.
MT: Yeah Kristian Nairn recorded a Hodor related question. So he will be making the false statement for others to correct him in the show tonight. We built up a beautiful set where we will like we are in a nice comfortable space, it is very professional. We went from being on a sort of couch we shoved into a corner of the office and slowly added more production props to it.
JR: Like the D20 with the number 21 on it!
SR: The set is pretty cool. Every single prop in that background has something slightly wrong with it.
JR: I know I saw the tweet this morning about the D20 with the 21 on it. I was like now I am going to have to find it.
MT: That is my favorite prop that is back there because the shape isn’t any different so for there to be a 21 there it means a different number is gone.
JR: It can be the 1.
MT: It is like the spinal tap goes to 11 thing, why is there a 12? There are still only 20 sides.
JR: So do you guys feel that because of the way YouTube is changing and the way major networks are you were forced to go into your own subscription service to survive?
SR: That is a good question. I wouldn’t say survive, I mean there are all sorts of ways to survive on. You can survive and be miserable. I think we wanted to because we wanted to create a type of content that was very us. I don’t think that by playing anyone else’s game, be the advertisers game or the networks game, we can be quite as authentic as we want to. Really it is just a conversation we have between us and the audience and no one else. Like there is nothing purer from a creators stand point.
JR: If you guys look back ten years, did you think you would be here at this point?
MT: Hm what was going on 10 years ago.
SR: Who was president?
MT: Was it Obama?
SR: Oh I yeah I think he was just about to be elected.
MT: Yeah 2008. Umm well no probably not. Yeah no but for a lot of reasons I guess. I was just graduating college then. In terms right then for me looking to get into entertainment, the internet still wasn’t something I thought of as a place to expand that. And certainly not you building things like your own creative network on the internet. Like so many things have changed in the world as a whole that it would have been hard for me to think of it.
SR: I remember having a conversation about something like this 8 years ago and the consensus was at the time was that no one pays for anything. No one wants to pay for anything. I think we is interesting about this moment in time is as much as you hear people complain there are too many subscription services, but they do pay for subscription services that matter.
JR: I have about 10 subscriptions.
SR: Wow you have 10! It is people like you that make us possible. So thank you. Yeah if something is really important to you, go for it. And that could be like a Spotify subscription or a WWE subscription. If it is a thing you are passionate about, like there is an understanding. Like subscription services can be Pateron too, these creative people need your support to do what they love to do.
MT: I guess since the beginning of time, art has only ever been supported by advertising or patronage. Those are the models and you can sort of choose which one you want, but I don’t think we found a third thing.
SR: Someone has to pay for it!
MT: Yeah someone has to. Whether it is some brand or a wealthy benefactor or individual people chipping in.
JR: Awesome thank you so much for this. You guys are fantastic!
MT: Thank you!
SR: Thank you!
This interview was fantastic to conduct and kept me laughing the whole way through. It was great to see how passionate CollegeHumor and both Mike Trapp and Sam Reich are about supporting creators and creating content that is demanded by their fans. You can stay up to date with CollegeHumor on their twitter and their website CollegeHumor. To keep up to Sam Reich follow him on his twitter and to follow Mike Trapp on his twitter. Don’t forget that you can subscribe to Dropout now starting at $3.99 here.