When I told my friends that I was interviewing Jake and Amir ahead of their upcoming London shows, quite a few of them congratulated me. At first I didn’t think anything of it; my friends were just being friends, being happy for me and all that jazz. But after receiving a text exclaiming ‘OMG all your dreams are coming true!!!!!’ and another reading, and I quote, ‘please, don’t hurt them’, I realised it was all getting a little bit weird. I started to feel like some kind of creepy little ginger child on her way to meet the king of all the gingers. I had followed them for years and obeyed their laws; always eat chicken nuggets for dinner, always say ‘Nay’ instead of ‘no’, don’t trust a man in a milkman outfit who doesn’t know his own name and never forget the classic mantra, ‘if you have to ask, then you don’t know.’ Now it was time to bow down before them.
In case I haven’t been clear enough, Jake and Amir are just beyond awesome. They met when working for CollegeHumor, the New York based website that offers a diverse array of sketch comedy, from an elf girlfriend having a pregnancy scare to Batman experimenting with different accents. Without sounding too pretentious, it’s literally a minefield bursting with comedy gold. It really is though. But for Jake and Amir, initially their now infamous videos started out as nothing more than, as Amir puts it, ‘fun videos to just amuse ourselves and to amuse our friends’ as they sat across from each other in the office. I ask them how it expanded from that.
Amir: As the audience grew we said lets try and take these videos a little more seriously and CollegeHumor decided to put them on the website and then they gained an even bigger audience and then an even bigger audience and suddenly before we knew it we were on YouTube and hundreds of thousands of people were viewing our videos and seeing us at live shows and before we could even blink we were international superstars!
Jake: Woah, woah, woah, you ended that with a lie, everything was true except for the last line... also I don’t think you breathed the entire time.
Exaggerating slightly he might be, but the popularity of Jake and Amir certainly cannot be ignored. On YouTube, their videos regularly attract an average 300,000+ viewers, their most popular gaining an impressive 2,000,000+. An example can be seen below. It’s classic Amir and one of my favourites; he manages to come across as both creepy and oddly infantile. I’m probably not selling it very well, but I do remember, without wanting to sound too much like a 13-year-old girl, LOLing when I first saw it.
The more videos you watch, the more random, layered, mental and brilliant they all seem. Only Jake and Amir could go from dancing around in a penguin suit to sitting calmly in an office with a deranged couples councillor (courtesy of the superb Ben Schwartz) as Amir desperately tries to become even closer to his ‘best friend’. If that is even physically possible. So, they must have had a pretty wide variety of influences?
Amir: The Queen... more than even in terms of comedy, just the way she handles herself
Jake: Wow that’s beautiful... I think that we inspire each other, don’t we? I think we look up to each other... wouldn’t you say that, bud?
Amir: I would say Larry David, but...
Jake: And Amir would say he looks up to me-
Amir: Jake’s answer is Amir and mine’s Larry David
Jake: Well, no, hold on a second, Amir looks up to me-
Amir: That’s fine, we all look up to different people, mine just happens to be someone who is actually successful.
Jake: Ok. Wow. My answer is Arrested Development.
Q. Apart from each other then, as Jake hopes, where does the inspiration for the Jake and Amir characters come from? Is it from specific people or just lots of different characteristics from people that you meet put together?
Amir: I think more the second one.
Jake: Yeah, there are also times when somebody will do something or say something or write a weird email and apply it to our characters... it sort of takes on a new life when somebody says or does something and that’s their own insecurity. Then we can take that and make it Amir’s and sort of add on to it the existing things that we’ve already set up with Amir.
Q. How much of your own personalities are actually in your characters?
Jake: I think the character Amir is exactly like you. ‘Cos that’s you right, 100%? (Amir laughs) He’s shit his pants right now since this interview started.
Amir: Hopefully not much, but we do slip into these characters that we play quite a lot. We’re slowly starting to become these awful people, rather than the other way round.
Jake:(laughs) It’s really true. The series is just making us worse not better... My character is a lot more easily annoyed and level headed than the actual me, I think I’m closer to the Amir character than my actual character.
Q. And how do you both go about writing it?
Jake: It’s a mix of a lot of different things. I mean, we’re together a lot and we’re also in contact with each other- texting and emailing different ideas. So, when it’s time to write, we’ll sit down in a room, go over all the different communications that we’ve had and then for five to ten minutes we’ll basically write down everything that makes us laugh and see if there’s an episode somewhere in there. It varies week to week based on what we want to do... but we’ll have about a hundred ideas that are the beginnings of something that we could write an episode about. We’ll go through the list and sometimes we’ll pass on certain things... or we’ll say something and laugh about it and then we’ll know that that’s the one that we’re going to write that week.
Q. Do you often agree or disagree on these ideas?
Amir: I think we mostly agree. Sometimes one of us will force an episode through and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Or I’ll have an idea for an episode that’s not really fully fledged out... and Jake just has to trust that I’m correct... even though sometimes I’m not.
Jake: (laughs) I think for the most part, since there are only two of us, if one of us disagrees we basically just have full veto power... like if I say something that I think is funny but Amir doesn’t, then most of the time we’ll trust that it’s not. But the other luxury we have is that we edit the video’s ourselves, so, once we write and shoot something, if it turns out that it isn’t as funny as we thought it was in the writing process, then we can just edit it out.
Q. Do you both improvise quite a bit then, seeing as you can edit it as much as you want?
Amir: Yeah, a lot of it is very improvised; I’d say twenty per cent off the cuff and then 20 per cent improvised. Usually when we’re talking over each other very casually, that part is improvised.
I know you guys already did your first longer feature, ‘Fired’, but do you think that there’s something especially funny about the shorter sketch format?
Amir: Yeah, well I guess with web videos you don’t have to worry so much about the story, so long as every other line is funny. With longer videos, the jokes are funny but you have to have a story to keep people’s attention.
Q. So, I guess then you don’t have to explain all the crazy things that Amir does?
Amir: Yes (laughs) we’re basically cheating.
And out of all the short videos that you have made, do you have a favourite episode?
Amir: I always say ‘Prom’ because that’s the one episode that my mom has complimented.
Jake: I guess I like ‘Snakebite’ a lot, I think Amir is so funny in it.
More recently, you’ve had an increasing number of prominent guest stars that appear in your videos. Do you think that it adds to the Jake and Amir series?
Jake: Most of the time we’re only working with people that we’re big fans of ourselves, so we’re always excited and luckily everyone that we’ve worked with has not let us down. So, Hoodie Allen, Rick Fox, Ben Schwartz, Alison Williams, I’m probably forgetting some people there... but they always bring something new and exciting to the table... me and Amir have made more than enough Jake and Amir episodes by ourselves so it’s definitely not a bad thing that we get a guest on and we have a lot of fun.
Q. And in light of YouTube’s Comedy Week that you guys were just involved in and all the success that you’ve had, do you think that the Internet is arguably the best place for comedy to be broadcast and consumed?
Jake: The Internet is the ONLY place for comedy.
Amir: It’s the purest form because you’re not getting notes from the studio-
Jake: (joking) Fuck the studio!
Amir: It’s uncut
Jake: It’s REAL. It’s HILARIOUS
Amir: Yeah, you can just stick it in your veins ‘cos it’s a hundred per cent pure. It’s like on Breaking Bad- the Internet is the blue shit.
Jake: I AM the danger.
So, what made you finally want to bring your awesome, purest of pure comedy to our lovely shores?
Jake: Well, London was actually our last choice; our agent made us do these shows
Amir: It’s sort of a punishment.
Jake: We fought tooth and nail to stay here in the States where we like it best
Amir: I guess we messed up in some way.
Jake: ... I heard that sarcasm doesn’t read well at all in print right? (Laughs) Just say that we didn’t answer a single question genuinely. But no, I guess we’ve always been talking about doing a European show and our agent found this place in London where we’ve been asking to go. It was kind of just a matter of booking a venue that would have us.
Amir: Yeah and the fans have been so outspoken in trying to get us there so as soon as the shows became available we were lucky to be able to sell out pretty quickly. So, now we’re really excited to be performing our first time in Europe for fans that are also excited to see us.
Yes. We are definitely excited.
Understatement of the year? I think so.
You can catch Jake and Amir performing at the Soho Theatre from Tuesday 25th- Saturday 29th of June.