Thanks for the Laughs: A Love Letter to CollegeHumor

The sketch comedy YouTube channel CollegeHumor stopped being about college long before two young women — one a sophomore at USC and the other a freshman at the University of Memphis — started watching it (kind of) together. Yet that didn’t stop us from hardcore fans of the YouTube channel. What started as a link sent in a Twitter group chat spiraled into mutual obsession, matching t-shirts, and a hivemind-like friendship. With the recent news of CollegeHumor layoffs, Flip Screen’s two resident CollegeHumor fans would like to take you down the rabbit hole with us, to tell you about our favorite shows and videos, while also convincing you that a subscription to the company’s Dropout streaming service is just as valuable as a Netflix or Hulu account. 

CollegeHumor’s cast and crew in an instagram post from former CH cast member Katie Marovitch (@katiemarovitch)

ANTONIA: First off, I’d like to ask, did you ever think you’d get so obsessed? Because I didn’t. The first video I remember watching as “Are You Asian Enough?”, but I’m reasonably sure that my story begins with “Is Grant Keith from BuzzFeed?”. After randomly finding that video, I went on a spiral, finally getting irreversibly hooked with the Heist Night series. However, it wasn’t until I got the both of us obsessed with Dimension 20: The Unsleeping City that I started actively giving this company my money and trying to convert others to the cause. What about you? When did you first feel yourself falling in love with CollegeHumor?

BETHANY: If I’m being honest, the last thing I expected was to get obsessed. Who knew a person could get emotionally attached to sketch comedy? I’d heard of CollegeHumor before, of course, but like you said, getting into Dimension 20: The Unsleeping City was the catalyst to all this. The concept of Dungeons & Dragons is something that’s always fascinated me, but I would constantly hold myself at a distance from it because of how intimidating it was. What Brennan Lee Mulligan, the Dungeon Master for the various campaigns within the Dimension 20 canon, has the innate ability to do is craft an entrance. His modern takes on high fantasy environments make the game perfectly accessible to newbies and seriously refreshing to oldies. Dropping elves and orcs and goblins into the ‘80s scene? Bringing magic to the city that never sleeps? I could listen to that man effusively describe either of those for hours on end and never tire of it.

The cast of Dimension 20 (L-R): Zac Oyama, Brian Murphy, Emily Axford, Brennan Lee Mulligan, Siobhan Thompson, Ally Beardsley, Lou Wilson

ANTONIA: I feel the same way. I never thought I’d be the kind of girl who’d spend her entire winter break watching a D&D show, but this is who I am now! I’m so thankful to Mulligan for developing Dimension 20 and giving me a show that has turned me into a D&D player and (more importantly) a better person. Yet, I also feel like I should say that Dimension 20 is not just him, and CollegeHumor/Dropout is not just Dimension 20.

The faces of TTRPG (tabletop RPG) and comedy are very straight, and white, and male. In my formative years, when people talk about those who play D&D, they’d talk about straight, white men with no lives outside of an improvised Lord of the Rings ripoff. As a bisexual Vietnamese-American woman, that’s not me. I’m not what you think of when you think of D&D. Dimension 20 changed my perception of D&D, however. It gave me worlds I could understand. It gave me an Asian-American firefighter himbo, a mentally ill elf, and a deity-creating lesbian. It told me that there was a place in the world of D&D for someone like me, both as a player and a character. 

As for comedy, there’s been a voice in my head telling me to become a comedy writer since I was in high school, but I didn’t pay attention to it until I started regularly watching CollegeHumor videos. Seeing people like Rekha Shankar, Lily Du, Tao Yang, and Ally Beardsley on screen made me start listening to myself. The CollegeHumor cast as a whole, with their commitment to uplifting diverse voices and uncanny ability to make me smile on a bad day, was my support system when I felt like I had none. But what about you? Tell me about the cast member(s) that you gravitate to. 

BETHANY: I want to take a moment to echo your thoughts on the faces of TTRPG because I completely understand. If anything, I think it goes back to what I was saying about D&D being so hard to approach in the first place. There is always gatekeeping attached to things like this, and that’s ironic to me because the game is fronted, first and foremost, as a welcoming space. Many D&D shows out there deserve the widespread attention that they garner. I mean that. They make the magic happen, after all. They get people into the game.

But when it’s the same faces at the table, not a single one looking like you, a question of whether or not a seat is left for you arises. Watching Dimension 20 rooted that doubt out of me. Not only are the characters different, but the cast is different as well. Zac Oyama and Lou Wilson create their reflections in Dimension 20, and they make for perfect representations of the greatest parts of themselves. Meanwhile, Ally Beardsley goes insane with the characters they create. It’s shocking to know that their first experiences with D&D happen on camera, considering how some of their rolls are pure poetry carved into the sides of dice.

This diversity bleeds through to the entirety of CollegeHumor. The cast members get the chance to be the very best versions of themselves in their scripts and in their sketches. It’s people like Sam Reich that give them that opportunity. It’s people like Brennan Lee Mulligan that DM a campaign so well that it leaves the audience wanting more of it. I love him so much for that.

Former CH cast members Emily Axford and Brian Murphy

Really, though, I fell in love with Emily Axford first. That woman is a live wire to watch when it comes to D&D. She is such an impulsive and intuitive creature in the chair and it’s everything I want to be as a player. Not only that, but I binge-watched a bunch of old CollegeHumor videos in between episodes of The Unsleeping City. Her talent for writing and acting out sketches is equally matched. “Everyone’s High School Boyfriend” left me laughing for so long that it was genuinely embarrassing. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Brian Murphy was in it as well. Knowing they’re a married couple, and especially knowing that they met and fell in love while working together at CollegeHumor, warms my heart through and through. It makes for viewing other videos of theirs, like Hot Date, so good. Love isn’t dead until Em and Murph say it is, honestly.

Are there any writers or actors that you particularly like to see when watching CollegeHumor videos?

ANTONIA: That’s a hard question for two reasons. One, I don’t want to leave anyone out, and with a cast and crew (past and present) so big and so talented, it’s impossible not to. Two, I fall a little in love with everyone I see, whether they’re a grocery store cashier or an internet comedian. I mean that in the most innocent, platonic way—in the “You’re so cool, tell me about your life” way. I’ve been a fan of so many people, but I can’t write love letters to everyone or else our editor would hate me.

Since I have to say something, though, I’ll shout out Mike Trapp. I keep going back to his “This True Crime Documentary Will Make Me Famous” video for reasons I cannot explain. He’s magnetic as the host of Um, Actually, and he and Jess Ross’s work on Ultramechatron Team Go! was a major catalyst in me getting a Dropout subscription.

On that note, major props to everyone involved on Ultramechatron Team Go!. A sitcom that asks the question “What if there were four pilots piloting a Pacific Rim Jaeger, but none of them were even remotely drift compatible?”, the show excels on all fronts: from the cast to the production design to the writing. By the time I finished the show, my stomach was hurting from laughter and my heart was broken in the absolute best way.

The cast of Ultramechatron Team Go! (L-R): Katie Marovitch, Raphael Chestang, Rekha Shankar (Back), Mike Trapp (Front)

What made shows like Ultramechatron Team Go! and Dimension 20 so special to me was the love behind them. That heart can be felt in every CollegeHumor video and every Dropout show. You see it in the way that Katie Marovitch has gleefully established her on-screen persona as a woman who defecates in her own pants and annoys everyone around her. You see it in how Grant O’Brien seems to become possessed by a supervillain in his episodes of the Hot Date webseries and the whodunnit episode of Game Changer. You see it in every line Rekha Shankar and Jess Ross write. In an age where everyone and their mom is releasing a streaming service and Walt Disney making all media soulless, I got a Dropout subscription because I was sure that my money was going to people who genuinely love their work. Even if these people will be scattered to the winds in the coming months, I’ll continue to support them in any way I can. 

We became CollegeHumor fans (kind of) in parallel, so do you feel the same way? Why do you watch CollegeHumor/Dropout content? 

BETHANY: Oh, I feel the same way wholeheartedly. While it’s obvious that spaces like CollegeHumor, where freedom of expression is much more acceptable than anywhere else, have grown significantly in the years since first starting, it’s also obvious that there’s since been a stifling of that creativity simultaneously. It’s painful to watch the very landscape we consume get painted by corporations larger than our own selves, so in control of what we see and what we don’t see.

The day that Sam Reich announced the layoffs at CollegeHumor, a result of IAC effectively deciding to no longer finance them, the reaction on social media was subtle. Apart from the two of us, I think a lot of our friends commented on what had happened like they were spectators from afar. It was sad to have to see yet another company crumble and yet another group of star-studded talent suddenly scramble for purchase on unemployment. Others reminisced about the glory days of CollegeHumor, speaking only for the videos from the beginning of the last decade. Still others were surprised to hear that CollegeHumor even existed after all this time, steady enough to sustain the employees that it did.

Former CH Cast members Katie Marovith and Grant O’Brien

Underneath the surface of comments, though, there lies a whole community of people with their concern for the future of CollegeHumor serving as the one thing they all had in common. A subscription to the Dropout streaming service actually comes with special access to its Discord server, so naturally, the place was alive when it all unfolded on that fated Wednesday. What I love about the idea of the server is that alongside subscribers, cast and crew could be found in there as well. There were questions and answers. There were worries and reassurances. Even Sam Reich found himself in there, speaking to fans and sharing their fears at the same time deals were set in stone and next steps in some direction were taken. There was a point where I suggested that an onslaught of Postmates be sent to the office when he admitted to not having yet eaten lunch. It was a time when an outpouring of support was all that was needed.

CollegeHumor is one of those rare places where you don’t just find camaraderie in the people that work on-screen and off-screen, but also in the people that avidly watch the content they produce in the first place. That’s not to discredit the close relationships that are the core of CollegeHumor, of course. Siobhan Thompson puts it better than I ever could: “It was an ensemble. Everybody made everybody else better. And it was so much fucking fun, even with the challenges and limitations of budget cuts.” The fervor is felt. They know the effort that they put in, and they’re allowed to be proud of that fact. This is how I have the sense that what I’m watching is genuine, versus anything else you get today.

Former CH cast members Grant O’Brien, Ally Beardsley, and Jessica Ross.

ANTONIA: I’d like to go back to when you spoke about sending Postmates. I remember immediately after you sent that message, there were dozens of people chiming in (including me), asking what kind of food would be most appreciated. It was a joke, of course. A funny gag to ease us through the mourning process. We all went through our own stages of grief that day, and being a part of such a wonderful, positive community made that grief more manageable. 

There’s nothing like CollegeHumor or its fanbase. To be honest, I don’t think there will ever be anything like it again. Internet comedy started dying years ago, even before Cracked eliminated its video department and BuzzFeed quietly stopped producing scripted content. On the other side of the equation, the streaming game is competitive, and most consumers would rather pay for services with larger libraries, like Netflix or Disney+. But CollegeHumor isn’t dead yet. Its fans aren’t dead yet. I’m not cancelling my Dropout subscription anytime soon. 

What it lacks in size, Dropout makes up for in quality of material. In recent years, the line between web series and TV show has blurred to the point of nonexistence. Given that, I can say for certain that the shows on Dropout are just as good as the shows on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime, or even just on TV. 

I’m famously unable to sit through a movie longer than ninety minutes, but I’ve watched three 2+ hours long episodes of Dimension 20 in one sitting. My three-second attention span makes binge-watching impossible, but I’ve viewed entire seasons of Dropout shows in a day. My only regret is that I haven’t gotten around to watching more.

They say that the people you love never truly die, and lately, I’ve begun to think that the same can be said for things and ideas. CollegeHumor, constructed with the love of its staff and fueled by the love of its fans, will never truly die. It’ll change to fit into this brave new world. That’s a guarantee. Maybe one day, the apocalypse will come, and there will be no more YouTube videos. But as long as I’m here, I’ll remember CollegeHumor as what it was and as what I hope it will still be in the future—a place that makes me smile. A YouTube channel that changed my life. 

CollegeHumor’s cast and crew at a recent show. Picture taken from the twitter of CollegeHumor producer Cassie Lavo (@cass_lavoX).

BETHANY: From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank everyone who has ever contributed to CollegeHumor. In big ways and in small ways, in the past and in the present, it’s helped greatly to get it as far as it has. I think I speak for the both of us when I say that we’re optimistic of what’ll become of CollegeHumor in the months to follow. There’s a light at the end of this tunnel. With dedication coming in from all ends of the spectrum, it’s hard not to root for this underdog that’s run so long behind the scenes and propelled people to the positions that they’re in today. So many of them have gone on to write for shows, and some even have shows of their own making. They should be allowed to keep occupying that space, for the sake of others that will only have the opportunity to shine here without worrying. I want to thank them from a fan’s perspective, as someone’s who eager for whatever they churn out next.

Check out this trailer to learn more about CollegeHumor’s streaming service Dropout. Curious about the state of it currently? Feel free to read this FAQ moderated by some of the cast as well. Finally, of course, if you’ve been thoroughly convinced by any aspect of this article to take one last chance on this iconic internet sketch comedy company, head to the Dropout website to subscribe and go wild. Tell your friends, too.

WordPress currently does not allow the same post to be linked to two authors at once, so despite what the website says, this post is co-written by Bethany Datuin. Bethany Datuin (She/Her) is a English major currently studying at the University of Memphis who tends to write like her life depends on it. Her heart is committed to the coming-of-age genre. When it comes to favorite films, hers is the soft-spoken Columbus, with guilty pleasure Baby Driver as a close second.