Comedians use net to launch careers

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Comedy videos have been online for years, but with the rise of personal Web logs, sketch-artist Web sites and the rise of broadband and cable, comics increasingly have been able to riff on current events and develop their own online following. More recently, some of those comics have even landed real-world Hollywood deals: Last year, Brooke Brodack (www.youtube.com/profile?user=Brookers) was hired by Carson Daly Prods. after she became a YouTube hit with comic films and parodies; art director-turned-comedian/blogger Ze Frank, who has been putting up short clips of silliness and games on zefrank.com since 2001, is now repped by UTA's Sharon Sheinwold and is exploring Hollywood opportunities. And David Lehre, who came to wide attention with a parody film of MySpace ("My Space: The Movie") posted at his personal Web site (www.davidlehre.com), now has a deal with Fox to produce his own late-night show.

This year's U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen also will be packed full of its own Internet comics, thanks to "Broadband Theater," which will feature such funny folks as JibJab Media founders Evan and Gregg Spiridellis, "Thing a Week" musician Jonathan Coulton and sketch troupe Olde English; for those who can't make the festival, here are some other corners of the Internet's ongoing funny fest.

SuperDeluxe (www.superdeluxe.com)
Turner Broadcasting's new Internet comedy portal features such wits as Brooklyn-based comedy veteran Eugene Mirman and his sci-fi talk show on the moon "Space Talk From Dimension Eugene." "People ask me, 'Do you want a TV show?'" Mirman says. "The answer is, not really. I strongly prefer having a Web show. You can do whatever you want." Also worth tracking down: animator Brad Neely's work. His crudely animated "Washington, Washington" video showed the first president doing unspeakable things as a deadpan narrator extols his virtues; it ended up being one of YouTube's Top 10 videos last year. Says Neely: "Every second has to be a circus on the Internet. It's a challenge to keep people happy while they're watching these things."

Tim and Eric (www.timanderic.com)
Some broadband comedians prefer being bizarre to being shocking. Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim first came to prominence with "Tom Goes to the Mayor," a series of online shorts that combined stop-motion animation with photographs of the characters' changing expressions. The series eventually graduated to television, debuting on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim in 2004. The two had mailed a DVD of their work to "Mr. Show With Bob and David's" Bob Odenkirk a couple years earlier, and he was so impressed that he ended up as a writer, producer and actor on the program. "This was before YouTube and before a lot of people were putting stuff online," Heidecker says. "'Tom Goes to the Mayor' wasn't like anything else at all. Bob Odenkirk felt almost like he had found this outsider art."

Toga TV (www.togatv.com)
National Lampoon's broadband comedy channel launched last spring and averages 3 million video views per month. The site features topical humor such as an animated Saddam Hussein in clothes from 1977's "Saturday Night Fever" and a live-action parody of 2005's "Brokeback Mountain" called "Brokeback Bowling Alley." "Edgy content certainly brings viewers because there's not a lot of places to find it," NL CEO Dan Laikin says. "The edgier it is, the harder it is to find."

A Week of Kindness (www.aweekofkindness.com)
This sketch troupe from New York began posting videos online in mid-2005, then released its parody of the Michael Richards/Laugh Factory incident from November within days of the actual event. In two of AWOK's videos, Santa Claus goes on an "elfist" rant before a shocked audience, then appears on CBS' "The Late Show With David Letterman" (mixing real-life footage with invented material) to apologize, a la Richards. "A very wise comedy teacher once said there's something magic about a scene that's three minutes and 50 seconds long," AWOK member Nate Kushner says. "On the Internet, it's more like three minutes."

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