THE BLOG
12/01/2009 12:38 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Interview with Harry Gottlieb, Founder & CEO of Jellyvision, Makers of You Don't Know Jack

Harry Gottlieb founded Jellyvision in 1989, and his company burst onto the cultural map with YOU DON'T KNOW JACK, a popular 1995 trivia party game. Now his company's trying to solve your problems, including health care. I asked him a few questions by email.

Jellyvision's still best known for YOU DON’T KNOW JACK, a snarky 1995 trivia game that spawned numerous spinoffs, expansion packs, sequels, a television show, and multiple web series. The interface couldn't be simpler: minimal graphics, with just a lot of snarky spoken text and pop culture questions, a few keys to push, and a timer. At a time when most other games were trying to experiment with 3D graphics and motion-capture video, why do you think it took off?

YOU DON’T KNOW JACK was funny. I mean, if you’re going out to make a hit game, you gotta choose your weapon: a $25 million dollar army of 3D artists and programmers OR a half-dozen improv actors who are sick of waiting tables and will write hilarious stuff in exchange for a stocked fridge and health insurance. Really good comedy sells and it doesn’t even require a physics engine. [ed. note: My friend Ali Davis was one of those improv comedians who took a job writing at Jellyvision.]

Did YDKJ's success change the company's direction? If so, how?

We started out to save the world through interactive education and ended up doing $100 million in sales based on trivia questions about Twinkies and Fred Flintstone, so uh, yeah, it did change Jellyvision’s direction, in that, well, the world still hasn’t been saved through interactive education and weirdly, I’m the only one at the company who is still troubled by this. Other than Ed.

Jellyvision's current projects, like Healthcare Mentor and Interactive Conversation, are more business-oriented. When and how did Jellyvision transition from being a games company, and how would you describe yourselves now?

We’re about to hire our first Director of Marketing and as soon as that person is hired, they’ll tell me how we describe ourselves now and then I’ll get back to you. But anyway, using Interactive Conversation (we just call it “Conversation”) to educate and engage people was really always the idea. Conversation is this insanely personalized form of communication and honestly, you kind of have to see it to understand it [blatantly promotional link here]. YOU DON’T KNOW JACK is a simple example of Conversation.

In 2001, as soon as broadband started showing up, we raised some capital to apply Conversation to everything from diagnosing sleep disorders to helping students find a college to guiding people who are confused about which insurance to get. So if you need help communicating with an audience because the subject matter is confusing or boring, you need Jellyvision. You need us bad.

In the meantime, we’ve refocused Jellyvision Games as a separate company. Fifteen years after Jack launched, the whole genre of interactive comedy game shows has still barely been explored. And we’ve got a dozen ideas burning holes in our pocket.

What are the current plans for YDKJ, or YDKJ the Netshow? Are there any other games that Jellyvision is working on now?

Let me just say this: in about a year, your video game parties are about to get a lot funnier... just about the time that you’ve finally grown tired of pretending to be Jimi Hendrix on your toy guitar.

What does Jellyvision's future look like?

Perhaps more important than what it looks like is what it sounds and feels like. It’s funny and entertaining, and a touch on the chatty side. There’s a lot of “humanizing of technology” that we need to take care of -- a lot of fixin’ the internet so that it’s more helpful, useful, educational, and persuasive for everybody. Jellyvision will continue to help more companies explain and sell things in a very conversational way. And entertain the masses with games so addictive that they’ll singlehandedly lower the GNP.

Crossposted to Remingtonstein.