They met on Birthright.
He was a Jewish-American kid with a quick sense of humor and a bit of a belly. She was a charming, shy Israeli taking a week off of her required military service. They didn’t hook up, but they hit it off — they spent the whole week of their trip talking and laughing. When he got back to the United States, an e-mail from her was waiting for him. A year later, she left her homeland to be with him in the sunny city of Santa Cruz, and they’ve been inseparable ever since.
Now, eight years later, Ethan and Hila Klein are YouTube’s rising power couple. H3h3Productions, their comedy channel, has nearly 1 million subscribers and over 100 million video views, about a quarter of which (according to SocialBlade) happened in the last month. To say their work is blowing up would be a huge understatement. Lately, their new videos have been routinely voted to the number one position on reddit’s video aggregate site r/videos, while more and more big YouTubers are giving the couple shout-outs on Twitter and on their own channels.
It’s almost impossible to summarize what h3h3Productions videos are generally like. In recent months, they’ve been all over the place, from elaborately edited “.exe” videos to rants to comedy essays to skits. I guess you could think of them as somewhere between Adult Swim’s “Tim and Eric” and “Mystery Science Theater 3000” — irreverent, surreal and charmingly lo-fi.
But what really put h3h3Productions on the map were their “reaction” videos. On first glance, they just look like any other video response on YouTube — Hila holds the camera, while Ethan talks into it as he buffers through a video. But h3h3Productions is much more than just an exploitative commentary on popular videos. Their reactions blur the lines between satire and skit, comedy and tragedy. The second their catchy ’80s-tinged intro song ends, you know you’re in for genius improvisation and weird, uncomfortable video editing. It’s avant-garde digital comedy at its most bizarre.
The reaction videos started in 2013 when Ethan saw “Girls who Read,” a pretentious video slam poem making the rounds on reddit.
The poem, presented by a chubby British guy, posits the author as a classy gentleman who prefers a woman’s intellect to her “tits or ass” — well, as long as they’re drop-dead gorgeous like the actress in the video. Ethan was infuriated by the poem’s hypocrisy. I have to agree — that video sucks. It’s a stunning example of male superficiality and the double standards set for women.
Hila grabbed her camera and got to work.
“Now look at this chubby little hunk here,” Ethan says, pointing to an overweight girl in the corner of the video’s frame. “If she’s over there reading books, I bet he’s not making this poetic little video about her. I bet she could be smart as fuck. No, he chooses the CUTE girl who reads.”
Since then, the couple has applied their unique formula to dozens of cringe-worthy, obnoxious and toxic targets on YouTube. They were among the first to point out the bizarre, embarrassing eccentricities of recording artist DJ Khaled, the exploitative immorality of YouTube’s “urban pranksters” and the uncomfortable sexual overtones of the oh-so-fake “kissing prank.”
Ethan and Hila’s videos each have an unmistakable look to them, thanks to the couple’s unique and outrageous style. They’ve become somewhat famous for their thrift-shop couture — beanie caps, turtlenecks, sunglasses and what Ethan calls the “Chub ‘n’ Tuck” (the act of tucking high-waisted sweatpants under one’s gut) are all essential aspects of the charming h3h3Productions aesthetic. Further amping up the couple’s lovable style is Hila’s art, which is often on display in the background of the reactions. Her neon-drenched surrealist brushstrokes fit in perfectly with their offbeat dress.
The first h3h3Productions video I saw was “The Tai Lopez Conspiracy,” an absolutely savage comedic takedown of the “here in my garage” guy (you know the ad, he’s the get-rich-quick salesman that shows you his Lamborghini and lectures you on the importance of “KNAWledge”).
The video was a rollercoaster of emotions to say the very least. It started out simple enough, with Ethan taking jabs at Lopez’s meme-worthy speech patterns. This wouldn’t be nearly as funny if Ethan didn’t have the perfect satirical tone. While many of h3h3Productions’s reactions are certainly condemning, they almost never feel mean-spirited. It’s a testament to the guy’s comedic instincts that he can toe the line of, in his own words, “Goofin’ and Gaffin’ ” on others’ videos without resorting to bullying.
Soon, things got crazy. Suddenly, Ethan was convulsing on his chair like in “2001: A Space Odyssey” while frightening, clumsily edited fake ads of Lopez’s face surrounded Ethan’s and a bright yellow “TRIGGERED” sign rose from the bottom of the screen. I laughed so hard I almost dropped my laptop.
But then, the tone changed again. After some quick Google sleuthing, Ethan was able to reveal that Lopez’s luxurious Hollywood Hills mansion wasn’t, in fact, owned by Lopez at all — it was a short-term rental, easily available for cheap film shoots via a website. All of a sudden, Ethan's video felt more like muckraking journalism rather than a bizarro-comedy.
Of late, it seems like h3h3Productions’ videos have taken on this journalistic role more often. As cheesy as it sounds, Ethan and Hila have almost become Internet detectives. They certainly haven’t removed themselves from comedy, but exposing shady business practices, dumb clickbait and harmful, obnoxious “pranks” has become an essential aspect of their videos. In 2016, their most popular videos have been on their very public feud with SoFloAntonio, a profiteer who illegally steals other creators’ YouTube and Vine videos and uploading them onto his ultra-popular Facebook page, “SoFlo.” One of h3h3Productions’ SoFlo videos even features a straight-up investigative interview between Ethan and a content creator whose video Antonio stole and profited off.
This, and Ethan’s rant about the terrible business practices of the litigious Fine Brothers have provided tent poles under which YouTube’s creators can stand together — their anti-corporation, pro-creator rhetoric has clearly resonated with the Internet.
There’s a reason h3h3Productions has an enormous fan base, their own thriving subreddit and a Patreon pulling in nearly $5,000 a month. They represent a challenge to the status quo. They’re changing the terms of what can be done with YouTube comedy, one video at a time. This is really hilarious stuff, people. And by acting as a last bastion for the ethical creator, they’ve managed to rally those who believe in YouTube as a medium of quality entertainment. The Internet is h3h3Productions’ oyster, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.