Inside ‘Hot Date’ with Emily Axford and Brian Murphy

“Sense of humor” is often cited as one of the top three personality traits that people look for in a partner, and it’s probably just as important that they laugh at your jokes as it is that you laugh at theirs. Finding that quality probably wasn’t as much of a problem for Emily Axford and Brian Murphy, who met while working for CollegeHumor, began dating, got married, and premiere their first TV show Hot Date today.

Not a bad story to tell the grandkids one day.

The writing/life partners, better known as “Emily and Murph” to their CollegeHumor and Adam Ruins Everything fanbase, created a show that combines their sketch and character-based work from those experiences with a more traditional narrative structure. This allows them both to play a bunch of different characters, who have a wide range of their own issues, throughout the season and beyond. The first episode of Hot Date, which is produced by Will Arnett and will run weekly on PopTV, is available online for free.

So how did Hot Date come together in the beginning to eventually become what is now going to be the very first TV show of your own?

Brian Murphy: I think it kind of combines all of the stuff that we’ve been doing at CollegeHumor for awhile, which is that it has a narrative element, where we play ourselves and the stories usually come from some relatable relationship problem.

Emily Axford: Yeah, I think we had a lot of success connecting with people by doing more modern relationship humor. Like stuff about being in a relationship that isn’t like that same old sitcom “He hates his wife” kind of stuff. We wanted that to be the backbone of it, just because we’ve gotten such positive feedback and that was really cool. And we always really loved playing characters on CollegeHumor, so it’s a nice marriage of two things that we love to do and a way to do a sketch show that still felt like we got to use the narrative stuff and give it some heart and some story too.

Brian: It combines two separate shows that we would’ve wanted to pitch. We would’ve wanted to do a straight narrative show that was us kind of playing a version of ourselves and going on these adventures, but we’d also love to make a sketch show. This does both.

Emily: Best of both worlds.

What was the inspiration behind some of these characters you play in season 1?

Brian: There were a couple characters that we had played versions of on CollegeHumor that we ended up bringing to Hot Date. I had the one character Darius, who is this grown-up teenager EDM guy who is weirdly aggressive and gets in loud text message fights with his girlfriend while out with friends. At CollegeHumor I always played these dumbass teen characters, and so I definitely brought that a little bit.

Emily: For me there was one character that was based on a CollegeHumor sketch that was about playing everyone’s aunt, and I really love playing like a sassy, wine-drinking aunt. So we kind of wrote a character based off of that, and then there’s another character, probably my favorite one to play, this girl Bridget who is the resident hot mess. Honestly she’s just kind of a love song to every girl I follow on Instagram that I don’t know but am fascinated by her life.

So in the show you sometimes play couples, sometimes not, but in real life you are married. What was that first like when you started dating and working together?

Emily: The very first day we met, I went in to audition to be a voice on a show he did called Dinosaur Office and I got the part. But then we didn’t even hang out outside of work until a month later.

Brian: We started dating in late 2012, and we’re writing and doing all these videos together, and we kinda did the comedy writer version of the annoying new couple thing, which is talking about your relationship all the time except in videos and pitching ideas. Like “You ever notice how you’re out with your girlfriend and this happens?” So it was kind of an invigorating creative thing to be around your creative partner all the time.

And how was it to work on this project together, when it’s your show, and it’s going to be on cable, etc. Did you learn anything new about working together?

Emily: We’ve been working together for awhile so I think we had to get good at working together almost immediately. I remember when we both got together, we wrote a series for CollegeHumor and I think that was the first time we really sat down and wrote something together, and we ironed out all of the potential snares of working with a significant other. That’s when we learned to embrace that sometimes you’re gonna disagree but you still think each other is cool.

Brian: Luckily, the fun thing about having so much to write and having so much work is that whenever something becomes frustrating, there’s always something else to do. We were always banging our heads figuring out how to address a note, there was always something new we could outline, something new and exciting, so we’re able to hop around and make sure that it was always fun.

Emily: Because we can be completely unprofessional with each other since we’re married, it’s something where we can say, “Oh shoot, we have to work on this episode! I don’t feel like doing it!” and then we’d be like “Wanna just go get a drink and do it?” And then we’d go. This bar down the street from us must think we’re crazy people because they only ever see us sitting there with a notebook in the back booth.

So individually, how did you get your start in comedy? What led you to CollegeHumor and now to making your own sketch show?

Brian: I got really lucky. I was at a humor magazine in college with my friend Kevin Corrigan, who was a year ahead of me and was the editor there and then ended up getting hired at CollegeHumor. By the time I graduated, he was being promoted to a full-time writer and his spot as the administrative assistant opened up, so I interviewed for that and I got the job. I was answering phones and scanning people’s papers and doing their time and expense reports and kind of writing articles in the meantime, and then working with Dan Gurewitch, who helped me get some of my early sketches off the ground, and I transitioned to the video writing. Then I bounced around. Ran a video game website there called Dorkly when it came out, was on the editorial team writing captions for videos, and then I became a sketch writer right around the time that Emily came over.

Emily: In college I was in an improv group, and it was just so much fun. I was obsessed with it, so after I graduated I didn’t really have professional ambitions as opposed to “I love improv, I want to go where I can keep doing that.” So I went to New York and started at UCB and was kind of just doing jobs on the side. From doing improv I was surrounded by people and learned how to write, and once I learned how to do that I started working at CollegeHumor. I wish I had a direct ambition, but I think for a lot of the beginning of my career, I was just like “I think improv is so cool and I want to keep doing it.”

So you also have this podcast, 8-Bit Book Club, that I think has a really funny concept behind it, and that just returned recently, right?

Brian: So last year, we were still pitching this show so we weren’t nearly as busy, and we started this podcast where we were gonna read these, I’ll say “bad” video game novels, because generally they are bad but there are some good ones. I don’t want to smear the whole industry.

Emily: We did just do an amazing three-parter based on a World of Warcraft book that was a great book. But we also do things like watch the Pac-Man Christmas special – which is terrible.

Brian: So we do that with Caldwell Tanner, another friend from CollegeHumor, and like I was saying, I ran the video game site and it’s been cool to dip into that nerd space. And also, the 8-Bit Book Club fans are the most passionate fans that we have.

Emily: We get to have a really cool relationship with them because we have different platforms that we can talk to everyone and engage. It is such a niche world. We can go on there and be like, I know D&D is very en vogue right now in certain communities, but there’s not a lot of people that you can openly talk about D&D with. But on 8-Bit Book Club we can totally geek out and that’s really fun.

Brian: We’ll have a video that’ll do real well on the internet, get a ton of views, and you’ll get a couple tweets that are like “Yeah, that’s great. We liked it.” But then we’ll do an 8-Bit Book Club that has 1/30th as much attention but we’ll get like 30 tweets about “When’s the next one?!” They’ve all been super supportive and cool. They’re great people.

You’re doing something that a lot of people have ambitions to do, which is be paid to be funny. What advice would you have for someone just starting out?

Emily: This is something that, when it gets stressful, I think you have to do at every single level – you have to keep coming back to, “What do I think is funny?” It’s so easy to get out of touch with what you think is funny and to be doing what you think other people will think is funny. It’s so easy to get caught up when you’re stressed, to be like “Is this right?” No, it’s not that. You just gotta keep staying in touch with your own sense of humor and understand that sometimes other people will have different senses of humor and that’s totally okay.

Brian: Along with that too is the ability to be able to take a note and to get better. I know a lot of people around the time I was starting or when I was an editor that would send things to be on Dorkly, and I’d send them notes and I’d never hear from them again. A big part of getting better and growing and being able to be professional is to suck, have people tell you why you suck, listen and learn, and then you stop sucking eventually.

Emily: And be okay with sucking. It’s fine to be sucky at something and try to get better and then get better.

Inside ‘Hot Date’ with Emily Axford and Brian Murphy