Magazine article Variety

Alive and Kicking

Magazine article Variety

Alive and Kicking

Article excerpt

When you call your company Funny or Die, it's an irresistible invitation for wags to look for the moment to declare your outfit deceased. But 10 years after Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, and Chris Henchy put their heads together to launch a comedy website, FOD is alive and well.

The enterprise has grown into an established purveyor of au courant humor that continues to attract top talent in the cutthroat comedy space. After catching wind in its sails with celeb-driven viral videos in its early years, the L.A.-based company has branched out into more lucrative TV deals and last fall banked an investment from AMC Networks. Funny or Die also has built units dedicated to branded entertainment and production of commercials.

And it has leveraged its comedy cachet to book guests any media outlet would die for: President Obama appeared on FOD's archly awkward talk show "Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis."

"They were the first to get highly respected Academy Award winners to make comedy for the internet, get White House access for a comedian to talk policy with the president, and are now producing multiple half-hour cable series," says Marc Lieberman, The Onion's former head of business development who now holds the same position as a senior VP at Above Average, the digital comedy studio founded by Lorne Michael's Broadway Video. "I'd say that's a nice first decade for a digital upstart in the ever-changing media industry."

Creatively, Funny or Die's DNA remains skewed to digital. The company claims to have a worldwide internet audience of more than 70 million, with over 14 million followers on both Facebook and Twitter. The daily sketches and videos are the lifeblood of FOD, says CEO Mike Farah: "What we can do every single day is use our comedy voice to differentiate ourselves from everyone else who is commenting on our world."

From a revenue standpoint, however, FOD looks increasingly like a TV production house. Its original series include TruTV's "Billy on the Street," hosted by comic Billy Eichner; Comedy Central's "@ midnight" with Chris Hardwick; Fusion's "The Chris Gethard Show"; and IFC's "Brockmire," starring Hank Azaria as a disgraced minor-league baseball announcer, which premiered April 5.

Funny or Die also recently inked a straight-to-series deal with Hulu for a halfhour talk show hosted by Sarah Silverman (working title: "I Love You, America"). Now the company is mulling the development of more movies after last year's digital release of "The Art of the Deal," which starred Johnny Depp in a delicious parody of an '80s-era Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, FOD has produced more than 275 branded-content campaigns for advertisers, another important contributor to its bottom line. Brands have included Cap'n Crunch, Slim Jim, Chevy, American Eagle, the Los Angeles Clippers, Ford, Nike, Samsung, and Verizon.

But Farah says Funny or Die has the potential to be much more, noting that someday it may launch its own direct-toconsumer subscription video service.

"We don't want to just become a production company," he says. "It sounds lofty, but I want Funny or Die to be the company that makes the best comedy in the world. My job now is, how do we position and leverage everything we're doing for where we can really take this thing 10 years from now."

Along the way, Funny or Die has gone through its share of growing pains. Last year it laid off about 30% of its staff, with most of the 37 jobs cut from its Silicon Valley outpost that had been developing stand-alone apps (like a joke-based weather app) that never caught fire. Funny or Die also largely consolidated its creative team in L.A., shutting down the New York office in early January and relocating 10 employees to the West Coast. ("Next year, we're all moving to Portland," quips Dan Abramson, Funny or Die's editor-in-chief, who led the New York creative office.)

Notes Farah, "There was a lot of rebuilding we had to do last year. …

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