Meet the man behind CollegeHumor

Photo courtesy of iac.com

Few people equate greatness with a dorm room in the basement of Johnson Residence Hall, but that is where popular comedy website CollegeHumor.com was born.

When Ricky Van Veen (‘03) and his friend from high school created the website as a side project for “beer money” in 1999, they did not expect it turn into the cultural phenomenon that it did.

The pair knew that they wanted to start a website because of an acquaintance who was working for an early Internet company. “We knew that if you could have a webpage that people went to, you could make money on it,” Van Veen said. “So that was kind of the plan.”

And when they were deciding what type of website to create, they decided to go with what they knew. “We were in college,” Van Veen said. “We were kind of idiots, so we were like we’ll do CollegeHumor.”

The site then started to take off virally, mostly through users posting the website as their AOL Instant Messenger away message.

Throughout his career at Wake, Van Veen viewed the website as a side project while he pursued other interests such as photography for the Old Gold & Black and The Howler.

Van Veen originally planned to become a consultant. “I remember going to a job fair in the Benson Center,” Van Veen explained,  “and there were these consulting companies. I didn’t really know what consulting companies did but I was like I guess I’ll do that.” But as he inched closer to graduation, Van Veen realized that he and his business partner could make a living off of the website.

“Our qualifications were that we want to have cable and we want to eat,” Van Veen said. “So we graduated and we were making enough money where we could do those two things.”

Being out of school allowed the business partners to dedicate more time to forming their website and expanding their reach. “After graduation, that’s when it really took off,” Van Veen said. “We moved to New York a year later.” And upon arrival to New York, CollegeHumor was able to expand from being just a website.  CollegeHumor began receiving deals to create books, movies and television shows.

CollegeHumor.com is now one of the most popular comedic websites in the world. The website has a top rated YouTube channel with more than 3.8 million subscribers and about 15 million users visit the site each month.

Van Veen credits the success of the site to its ability to generate content quickly. “I love when we are able to tackle something quickly,” he said. “If something happens in the news on a Tuesday, we have a video up on Wednesday and on the Internet speed is certainly valued.”

Van Veen gave the example of when Sarah Palin was announced as the vice presidential candidate for the Republican Party in the 2008 election. Matt Damon said that a Sarah Palin vice presidency would be like “a really bad Disney movie.”

The following day, CollegeHumor created and posted the video, “Sarah Palin Disney Trailer” gaining millions of views. “Had we done it a week later,” he said, “it wouldn’t have gone anywhere, but it got millions and millions of views overnight.”

While he is still heavily involved in the day-to-day running of CollegeHumor, Van Veen has expanded his business. He is now the CEO of Notional, a television production company that focuses more on unscripted formats, their most well-known show is “Chopped” on the Food Network. Notional also creates game show formats that are geared towards more of an international audience and are currently airing in Portugal.

Van Veen is also working on transitioning popular CollegeHumor web series to longer form, half-hour comedy television shows.  Van Veen explained, “We take a lot of our web series that have done really well, like ‘Jake and Amir’ or ‘Very Mary Kate’ and try and develop into something longer form, like a half hour comedy TV show.”

He would like to continue to expand his businesses from the core of the website. CollegeHumor is expanding their live-comedy tours and just completed their first movie, called Coffee Town.

The film stars Glenn Howerton from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” “Parks and Recreation’s” Ben Schwartz and Adrianne Palicki from “Friday Night Lights.”

And while CollegeHumor Media is starting to focus more on doing longer form productions, they are not going to forget their roots. They are still dedicated to providing their website users with entertaining content.

Van Veen has come along way since his days in Johnson. He has transformed himself from a student photographer for collegiate media to one of New York’s most promising media moguls.