On Thursday, Feb. 5, the spacious lobby of Barry Diller‘s IAC iceberg building along the West Side Highway was filled with shaggy-haired 20-something guys in ill-fitting suits and 20-something tattooed girls in H&M dresses, who were there to celebrate the premiere of MTV’s The College Humor Show.
The show is based on the 10-year-old College Humor Web site of which, in a piece published in 2005, the New Yorker‘s Rebecca Mead wrote, “Girls without their tops on are one very popular source of college humor, as are girls kissing each other.” Also: beer cans, funny T-shirts, vehicular mishaps and cute animals.
But the show, which premieres Sunday night, is something different. The invitation for the launch party described it as a “scripted off-beat look” into the office lives of the people who create the Web site’s content and “play themselves” in story lines set within the company’s actual offices on Park Avenue South.
The Daily Transom asked one the site’s founders, 28-year-old Ricky Van Veen, who had paired his suit with his customary Converse sneakers that evening, what it meant for him and his eight colleagues—Amir Blumenfeld, Dan Gurewitch, Jake Hurwitz, Jeff Rubin, Patrick Cassels, Sam Reich, Streeter Seidell, and the one female cast member, Sarah Schneider—to “play themselves.”
“We’re playing exaggerated version of ourselves. So we’re basically taking our real selves and making them dumber and more vulnerable, and basically taking our worst qualities and blowing them out,” he explained. “So I’m just like an absentee, unjustifiably arrogant, name-dropping boss. I guess in real life, that’s what I work on not being. And Jeff, for example, is a video game guy so he’s like the nerd character.”
Mr. Van Veen continued: “Comedy writers tend to look the same. We’re all just kind of pale white guys and most of us are Jewish. There’s not a lot of character differentiation appearance-wise so we kind of had to be like, O.K., you’re going to be the shy guy, you’re going to be the nerd, you’re going to be the fat guy.”
The term “scripted reality” and the idea of playing oneself brought to mind two of MTV’s other reality shows, The Hills and The City, in which “characters” like Lauren Conrad and Olivia Palermo, respectively, get to “play themselves.” But Mr. Van Veen suggested that The College Humor Show works in an almost opposite way.
“I think The Hills is like, they put these girls in certain scenarios and see what happens whereas we’re already in this scenario, and then we script it,” said Mr. Van Veen. “So whereas The Survivor is like, let’s script this premise and then the execution will be real, we’re actually working from a script.”
Later in the evening, Mr. Diller, whose green- and red-lighting decisions for his many companies come as down as weekly orders, not suggestions, came down in good spirits from his sixth floor office to say a few encouraging words.
Mr. Van Veen seemed to think his 67-year-old boss (whose birthday was Monday) was still hip to what the kids are into these days. “He gets what the show is. And you know, he has an entertainment background. While he’s not focused on this, if I give him a DVD to watch, he’ll watch it and tell me what he thinks,” said Mr. Van Veen. “I gave him the episode today and I haven’t heard from him yet, but he and I get along pretty well. We’ll see what he says, but I’m not too afraid.”