February 3, 2006 11:01 PM PST

New JibJab joke hub goes for communal laughs

LOS ANGELES--The team behind the popular JibJab series of Internet cartoons is building a new online business--a hub for people to share e-mail jokes, the animators said Friday.

Speaking at The Entertainment Gathering conference here, the brothers behind JibJab Media, Evan and Gregg Spiridellis, compared their new JokeBox site to a blend of Comedy Central and MySpace. The site will encourage people to store and share the thousands of transient jokes that ordinarily spread daily across e-mail boxes, while allowing them to meet people with similar interests, they said.

The new site is in part an homage to the Spiridellis' father, an frequent e-mail joke sender, Gregg Spiridellis said. But more broadly, the pair said they expect the ad-supported site to give them a more diversified stream of revenue than their periodic cartoons provide.

"We're going to kill ourselves if we keep trying to make these (cartoons) with just the two of us, and a few guys in the office," said Gregg Spiridellis, who typically writes the pair's productions, while his brother animates them.

JibJab's productions, beginning with the "This Land" satire on the 2004 Kerry-Bush election campaign, have been among the biggest success stories for independent content shared over the Internet.

Written five years after the pair had started their animation company in 1999, the "This Land" cartoon wound up being downloaded more than 65 million times. It catapulted the pair to national attention, landing them an offer to premiere new cartoons on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show," and a deal to produce advertisements for Budweiser beer.

The animators said they had been approached by traditional Hollywood companies after the success of their cartoon, but that they wanted to keep drawing on the power of Internet audiences to distribute and even to help create content.

The new site will be a more ambitious experiment in user-generated content, with all the jokes submitted by members, Gregg Spiridellis said.

JokeBox will enter an Internet market that is increasingly cluttered with rival sites that allow people to post their own videos and short animations, but will start with a built-in potential audience of hundreds of thousands of people who have signed up for the pair's e-mail newsletter.

The site is currently in a test phase, Gregg Spiridellis said, and is expected to open publicly later this year.

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