If you’re expecting to find the secret answers to becoming an overnight comedy sensation on the internet, the answer is simple: there aren’t any. You really have to get in with the right people.
Just ask the gathered wisdom of the “Funny or Die: The Future of Comedy” panel at SXSWi Sunday. Comprised of six of Funny or Die’s primary tastemakers, including CEO Dick Glover, President of Production Mike Farah, VP of Marketing Patrick Starzan, Creative Director Andrew Steele, Writer/Director/Performer Seth Morris and TV game show host Billy Eichner.
For anyone following the comedy scene at all, you already know that Funny or Die got its sea legs with the hysterical, ancient-in-Internet-terms video, The Landlord, put together by Steele's former Saturday Night Live creative partners, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. (They were the geniuses behind Anchorman, Step Brothers, Talladega Nights and the upcoming Casa de mi Padre.)
Soon, a flurry of low-budget, high-concept videos began to proliferate on the site, starring a number of big comedy names like Zach Galifianakis, Ben Stiller, Jack Black and pretty much everyone else in Hollywood.
“Basically, Will and Adam wanted it to be a playground for their friends to make stupid movies,” jokes Morris. “We have a greenscreen in the studio, and if someone has an idea, they make it and it’s up 48 hours later. It’s a very open door model where anyone can come in and make a new video.”
The studio now pumps out about 20-25 new videos a month with a staff of about 10 writers and directors like Morris. Mix in some very interested sponsors and a bevy of smart social media approaches, and you’ve got the makings for what this panel regards as “the future of comedy.” (Hey, sixteen million unique visitors per month is nothing to sneeze at.)
Of course, none of us regular folks would be able to replicate such an amazing startup without BEING Will Ferrell or Adam McKay, or at least knowing someone with their already established comedy clout.
So if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
That’s what stand up comedian Billy Eichner did. As he put it in his introduction to the panel, he was “just another loser making web videos” with his friends until he was contacted directly by Funny or Die's Mike Farah who invited him to submit some of his work for consideration for the site.
A year and a half later, he’s got a show being produced by Funny or Die for Fuse TV that’s called Billy on the Street. “Billy’s pitch was convincing and his sizzle reel immediately got interest,” explains Farah. “There’s never been a subjective game show idea like his before, and the combo of the idea with the studio interest and the motivation made it happen.”
“[The site] is one of the few places where unknown people can still get discovered,” says Morris, who is now starring in an upcoming Funny or Die web series called First Dates with Todd Harris. “It’s a very nurturing place for new talent.”
The panel agreed that the best way to get noticed by their team of comedy experts is to start submitting the funniest videos you can possibly make on their site. Steele spends most of his days reviewing the submissions and deciding what’s up to snuff, so you better be able to help the man who’s helped make Will Ferrell a household name.
As for what works on the site, Steele says, “There really is no formula for what works, really. Sure we know people will always watch cats and boobs on the internet, but we don’t have low-brow humor on the site. We really try to stay topical and political because Will and Adam were very politically active. And as much as I hate this phrase, you have to really keep in the zeitgeist.”
So, keep working hard on those videos, kiddos, and don't get discouraged. The future is already here, and they're waiting for you to submit the next great video.