In a digital world of one-hit wonders, Funny or Die is the Beatles of the Internet, churning out viral hit after viral hit. As a result, the celebrity-laden sketch comedy site has become an oasis of financial success in an online video industry still dominated by garage directors struggling to make premium content. What’s the secret sauce behind their viral machine? First, give your talent some creative flexibility: act more like an editor than a director. Second, viral sharing thrives on topical subjects and the just-barely-believable. Finally, funny is funny: never sacrifice quality for quantity.
Be an Editor, Not a Director
“Funny or Die is successful because we’re pretty good at finding young, funny people,” says creative director and former Saturday Night Live head writer, Andrew Steele, arguing his job is “exactly like what an editor does.” Instead of relying on the ideas of their A-lister comedy co-founder, Will Ferrell, they arm themselves like a newspaper: a small staff of dedicated writers and a wider circle of celebrity freelancers.
Celebrities, Funny or Die’s primary resource for viral videos, often come up with the ideas for the shorts themselves. For instance, one of the site’s top videos was a gut-busting parody of Pizza-mogul-turned-Republican-Presidential-front-runner, Herman Cain. Mike Tyson, who did the surprisingly spot-on impression, came to Funny or Die with the idea himself. “We’re unbelievably talent-friendly,” says CEO Dick Glover; producers would rather create a risky video and build a relationship, than have talent walk away feeling like they didn’t have a stake in the video.
Indeed, some of Tyson’s earlier work with Funny or Die received relatively moderate fanfare. But, Funny or Die had built up a relation with the former boxer, and, when Cain hit the spotlight, Tyson felt comfortable pitching the idea. “Well, we have no idea how that’s going to turn out,” President of Production, Mike Farah, remembers thinking, “but we might as well try and shoot it and see what happens.”
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