Just four years out of college, Sarah Schneider has gone from would-be internet-meme creator to writing for and co-starring in an MTV show. Schneider, editorial manager of the immensely popular comedy site CollegeHumor.com, plays herself on The CollegeHumor Show, a sitcom based on life at the headquarters of her employer. Schneider, 25, also writes a blog called "Pop Culture CliffsNotes" and co-stars in the original CollegeHumor production, the web series Hardly Working.
"I'm just a member of a great comedy-writing group. We're not really about the half-naked girl pictures anymore."
Founded 10 years ago by Ricky Van Veen, Josh Abramson, and Jakob Lodwick, CollegeHumor boasts approximately six million visitors a month, almost five million of them male. So what's it like to be the sole female voice in the office? In the following interview, which has been edited for clarity, Sarah lets Gelf knowand along the way muses on half-naked chicks, anonymous internet commentary, and dealing with MTV. [You can hear Schneider, Onion editor Joe Garden, and stand-up comic Kumail Nanjiani speak at Gelf's free Non-Motivational Speaker Series event on March 26].
Gelf Magazine: How did you end up working at CollegeHumor?
Sarah Schneider: Ricky Van Veen, the co-founder and editor, went to Wake Forest with me, and although we didn't know each other, we shared a very valuable mutual friend who recommended me as a writer after college. Ricky hired me freelance in May of 2005 to work on the first CollegeHumor book, The CollegeHumor Guide To College, and eventually hired me full-time as a writer. As our staff and site have expanded, so have our roles within the editorial team. Editorial Manager is kind of a BS title, considering there's also a Managing Editor, but somehow it makes sense.
Gelf Magazine: What's a typical day at the office like? Is it as ridiculous as Hardly Working suggests?
Sarah Schneider: Actually, a typical work day at the office is pretty structured. There's a lot of work and only so many of us to do it. Every day we have to post eight articles and features on the homepage, find 10 videos for our Videos page and caption pictures for our Pictures section. In addition to that, we're constantly writing new scripts for The CollegeHumor Show and upcoming Hardly Working shoots, in addition to each working on our individual projects, like the Bleep Bloop series and our Sketch Comedy section, and brainstorming ideas for our sister T-shirt site, BustedTees. We shoot Hardly Working twice a week in three-hour chunks, and even that is carefully scheduled, since we're all so busy.
Gelf Magazine: Last year, Streeter Seidell published an op-ed in the New York Times where he said College Humor is for "bored young men." There's definitely a lot of humor on the site (and by humor I mean half-naked girls) that seems to target that demographic. Do you ever feel like the odd girl out?
Sarah Schneider: That son of a bitch. Of course, I'm kidding; that was a great article. And he's right; more than 80% of our users are young men. They've been our loyal audience and fans since the site launched almost 10 years ago. But our site has changed a lot since then. The last couple years we've spent a ton of time and energy developing our own online content in the form of CH Originals, an effort which culminated in our television show this year. And a lot of this content is not gender-specific humor, it's just plain funny. I think I may have felt like the odd girl out back in 2002, but now I'm just a member of a great comedy-writing group. That's the reason I'm herenot for the half-naked girl pictures. That's not really what we're about anymore.
Gelf Magazine: The CollegeHumor Show debuted on MTV on February 8. Other than the difference in length, how is the process different when making videos for the site versus for MTV?
Sarah Schneider: The main difference was in the professionalism of the production. The production of a Hardly Working involves a script written the day before, one or two rehearsals and two camera guys, and the whole thing is over in a couple hours. For the show, we had weeks of rewrites, enormous lighting setups, a makeup artist, a script supervisor, a showrunner, and episodes that took weeks to complete. It was a big adjustment. Oh, and we had to be at work at 6 a.m. instead of 10. That was fun.
Gelf Magazine: MTV has a bigger and more diverse audience than CollegeHumor. Were you worried at all about the critical reception of a web-based show in that world? How do you think the new show has been received?
Sarah Schneider: I think we've all received enough criticism online, on our own site, that our skin is pretty thick by now. Under the cover of anonymity, our users are absolutely not afraid to tell us what they think of a certain video. As for the MTV audience, our main concern was just making a show that was funny and relatable to a young crowd. If the show was funny, it wouldn't matter where it came from or whether or not users knew who we were. We've gotten mixed feedback on the show, which is to be expected, but we're happy with the results, and so is MTV. Of course we would have loved for the show to be a runaway hit, but I don't think our sense of humor is broad enough.Gelf Magazine: How do you decide what ideas to use for MTV and which to save for the site?
Sarah Schneider: Luckily, they're two entirely different beasts. The ideas that we brainstormed for the show were more grounded, more complex, and had more moving piecesthe kind of story you can't do justice in a two-minute Hardly Working. Likewise, it'd be hard to drag out most of our absurd Hardly Workings into grounded 22-minute plots. "Hardly Working: Airplane: The 22 Minute Version" would crash and burn (literally).
Gelf Magazine: I've got to admit: The Human Giant prank from "Prank War" made me tear up a bit. What are Streeter and Amir like in the office after a big prank?
Sarah Schneider: I know! The first couple days are pretty tenseyou always feel like whoever just got pranked wants immediate retribution. But it's been going for so long that at this point it's more a game of strategy than a juvenile retaliation thing. There's more of a "just you wait" vibe than an "I'm so pissed" one.
Gelf Magazine: Are the rumors about a CollegeHumor movie true? What, if anything, will be your role be in it?
Sarah Schneider: That depends what have you heard? That it's going to be totally awesome and destroy at the box office? Then yes. Absolutely. There is in fact a CH movie in development, tentatively titled Winter Break. Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupinsky of The Office wrote the first draft, and it's currently in rewrites. I've been involved in several brainstorming meetings about the plot and characters, and hopefully I'll be able to play a part in the film if and when it gets produced. But we still have quite a ways to go. There's a lot up in the air.
Gelf Magazine: What part of this has been the most fun for you? Has it changed your life at all in a positive or negative way?
Sarah Schneider: The most fun part of all this has simply been getting to do what I love. Writing and acting for a living has always been a dream, but realistically I never thought I'd get here. As for the effects, I would say that overall I've become more image-aware, since the internet offers instant, ruthless feedback from thousands of (primarily) male users. Sometimes you just want to shake them and be like, "OK, thanks for telling me I look like a werewolf, but did the video make you laugh!?!" That's what we're here for, after all.
On the flip side, positive feedback is like a drug. Every time we make a video that does well, we immediately want to turn around and make another one. The internet can be harsh, but it can also lift up an entire team of writers and encourage them to keep doing what they're doing. And again, that's what we're here for.