Type keyword(s) to search


College Humor's Overlooked Streaming Service Is a Game Changer for Game Shows and Improv

Dropout has quietly produced some of the most exciting new game shows.
  • Rekha Shankar and Grant O'Brien on Game Changer. (Photo: Dropout)
    Rekha Shankar and Grant O'Brien on Game Changer. (Photo: Dropout)

    Game Changer host, writer, and creator Sam Reich (Adam Ruins Everything) starts each episode with the same intro: “The only way to learn is by playing, the only way to win is by learning, and the only way to begin is by beginning.” It could be interpreted as some deep proverb, but really it’s just describing the deceptively simple concept of the original game show on Dropout, CollegeHumor’s subscription streaming service.

    In 2018, CollegeHumor launched the streamer in an attempt to become less reliant on YouTube — at the time, Reich told Wired that the company was experiencing “a little creative repression” because of increased restrictions on YouTube and audience-friendly demands of network TV. On Dropout, the CollegeHumor crew was (and still is) free to do whatever they want without being beholden to advertisers, instead supported by subscribers paying between $4.99 and $5.99 a month or $47.99 to $59.99 a year.

    The original programming slate featured a combination of the same kinds of scripted sketch videos and web series that first made CollegeHumor famous, like Hardly Working and Badman (and those originals are still available to stream on Dropout). In the past few years, however, the streamer has pivoted to focus on unscripted series, namely creative and hilarious game shows. Game Changer is just one example of the many new series that prove the streamer is now giving the Game Show Network a run for its money.

    On Game Changer, a contestant must figure out the rules of the game as they go. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and the rules and game play differ in difficulty from episode to episode. Sometimes participating is as simple as saying yes or no, but figuring out what the yeses and nos mean in the context of the game is the tricky part. Why is one “yes” worth two points while another is worth none? Is there even a method to the madness? Based on the chaotic energy often brought to the series by the contestants, all of whom are comedians, it sometimes seems that there isn’t. But rest assured, each episode of Game Changer, which premiered in September 2019, does indeed have a set structure, one that is still completely different almost every time five seasons in.

    Tapping comedians, like CollegeHumor regulars Lily Du, Grant O’Brien, Brennan Lee Mulligan, and Rekha Shankar, to participate is key to the success of the concept. Even though some of the episodes feature more straightforward game show setups — for example, one episode in Season 3 is just a surprise game of real Jeopardy! — others are twists on classic improv games. Season 2’s “Like My Coffee” becomes an innuendo-off, giving setups for pick-up lines that the contestants must fill in with the most hilarious response (as decided by Reich) to win points. Those improv skills come in especially handy when the show deviates from a typical game show structure to instead task contestants with solving a murder mystery or performing an entirely original musical on the spot.

    The guidelines aren’t always exactly what they seem. It may appear that the rules for a specific round are simple, like in Season 5’s “As a Cucumber,” which saw contestants identify birds just by looking at photos. But it was revealed that in order to win that round, Mulligan in particular (a frequent target of Reich’s most specific rules) had to “keep his cool” as he was shown increasingly more difficult birds to identify. Sometimes an entire episode is revealed to be one long prank on a single contestant — but if that contestant can figure that out before the episode is over, they win. And it’s in moments like these that it’s especially compelling to play along at home — what clues can the viewers at home pick up on related to what this game really is about that isn’t so obvious from behind the podium?

    The series does share some DNA with other comedy-based game shows, like IFC’s Bunk and Comedy Central’s @midnight, the latter of which is reportedly returning as a CBS series in the fall. All three rely on comedians’ desperation to be the funniest person in the room to amp up the contestant's competitive spirit and keep things entertaining throughout. But Game Changer gives its comedians even more freedom to do so, both through the constantly changing concepts and the lack of network notes, studio audience, or censorship guidelines to follow.

    Reich is the CEO of CollegeHumor, so he’s technically the one calling all the shots for not just this series but the entire streaming platform. He only had himself to blame for the notoriously high-budget Season 1 episode of Game Changer, “Game of Prizes,” when numerous trips, electronics, and Michelin-star dinners were handed out left and right. The prizes may have become less impressive since then, but Reich hasn’t lost his sense of experimentation in the game play.

    So far there have been at least three Dropout spin-offs from Game Changer: game show Make Some Noise, based on an impression challenge introduced in Season 1, Episode 2; talk show Dirty Laundry, based on the Season 3 episode “Never Have I Ever”; and musical improv show Play It By Ear, based on the Season 4 episode “Original Cast Recording.” The success of these series, each of which have multiple seasons, proves that Game Changer works not just as a standalone concept but as an incubator of sorts to test the viability of some very silly concepts. Beyond that, Dropout also produces Um, Actually, a game show inspired by fandom, and Dimension 20, a Dungeons and Dragons series with nearly a dozen one-off specials featuring specific side quests. At this rate, Dropout is well on its way to becoming the go-to for exciting and original game shows, and Game Changer is leading the charge.

    Game Changer Seasons 1 through 5 are streaming on Dropout with select episodes on CollegeHumor’s YouTube page.

    Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R. 

    TOPICS: Dropout, Game Changer, @midnight, Brennan Lee Mulligan, Grant O'Brien, Lily Du, Rekha Shankar, Sam Reich, College Humor