Funny Is Money

12:47 PM PST 01/11/2012 by Jay A. Fernandez , Paul Bond
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Danielle Levitt

Five years ago, Funny or Die launched big with a trash-talking 2-year-old. Now the creators of Hollywood's breakout viral content site, Will Ferrell and company, have Mike Tyson as Herman Cain, Marion Cotillard with breasts on her head and, most important, an actual money-making venture.

While FoD hasn't been the only game in town -- College Humor, My Damn Channel, Break.com and Cracked.com also harvest comedy -- its professional talent and social-media outreach have given it a higher profile. Once Ferrell and McKay brought in Steele, whom they knew from their time at SNL, and Farah became president of production in summer 2008, the "FoD Exclusives" they produced became stuffed with celebrities of one kind or another. Troubled or mocked public figures such as Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan have found the site advantageous for strategic PR massaging, and others have edged up their public image.

FoD also provides McKay, a Huffington Post blogger, with an outlet for his activist urges. The all-star "Presidential Reunion" video that starred SNL vets Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd and Dana Carvey took aim at opponents of the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency in March 2010. Farah says he has spoken to Obama political adviser David Axelrod about doing something with the president as the 2012 election nears. FoD, in fact, recently launched a microsite, Live Funny or Die, dedicated to political humor.

But FoD remains best known as the place famous people go to get laughs, usually by using the comedy expertise of the in-house staff that generates three-quarters of the ideas that are ultimately produced. Occasionally, someone outside the company has an idea and some of the elements but wants FoD to come aboard as a co-producer, as Billy Crystal did when he pitched a video about a When Harry Met Sally… sequel. Or an internally generated idea is cast and produced like any other project, often with a topical bent, such as the video that showcases Rob Riggle as the less-than-discreet Navy SEAL who took out Osama bin Laden.

The most memorable often happen because a celebrity comes to FoD with an interest in doing something, and the writers and producers pitch ideas until they all agree on a script in a version of the system used at SNL. A Hall of Fame video with nearly 4 million views that came about this way is "Forehead Tittaes" with Marion Cotillard.

"That's really what Funny or Die is all about: an Academy Award-winning actress agreeing to do something with Funny or Die that she couldn't do anywhere else on the Internet," says Farah. "She was so known for dramatic and severe roles; she wanted to be seen as funny and cool and not so serious. So she came in and we pitched her ideas, and by the end of that meeting she had agreed to put tits on her forehead."

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TOP 10 MOST-VIEWED VIDEOS: Of the millions of comedy bits, these are the best of the jest.

  1. "The Landlord" (2007): 78,250,250 views
  2. "Bieber After the Dentist" (2010): 41,139,996 views
  3. "Good Cop, Baby Cop" (2007): 17,563,404 views
  4. "Rachel Bilson's Deleted Sex Scene" (2009): 17,124,761 views
  5. "Eva Longoria Sex Tape" (2007): 15,203,634 views
  6. "Bieber Takes a Tumble" (2010): 14,825,062 views
  7. "Eva Mendes Sex Tape" (2010): 12,727,650 views
  8. "Bieber Takes Over" (2010): 10,471,414 views
  9. "Paris Hilton Responds to McCain Ad" (2008): 10,131,280 views
  10. "Dramatic Bieber" (2010): 10,016,866 views

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WILL AND ADAM'S FAVORITE NON-FUNNY OR DIE-CREATED VIDEOS: The co-founders are always "checking things out as fans"

  1. "David Blaine's Street Magic Part 2" (2007): 1,686,192 views
    "The second one might even be funnier," says McKay. "Fantastic." (Immortal)
  2. "What's It Gonna Be?" (2007): 884,368 views
    "It's a music video, crazy funny," says Ferrell. "One of my all-time favorites, definitely." (Immortal)
  3. "Sleep Running Dog" (2009): 14,500 views
    "I watch it with Pearl, who's 6 years old, and we'll watch it 20 times in a row and laugh," says McKay. "Cross-culturally, it might be the funniest video -- anyone from the age of 2 to 110 from any country will watch it and laugh." (97% Funny)
  4. "Creepy Weatherman Fan" (2008): 167,937 views
    "We cannot figure out if they're in cahoots with each other -- if it's an actor doing a bit -- or if it's a real person," says Ferrell. "It's artfully done if it's staged." (79% Funny)
  5. "Ham Hat" (2009): 34,240 views
    "Ferrell and I love that," says McKay. (63% Funny)

    Number of views as of Jan. 6.

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SURFING THE NET: With more than 60 million monthly video views, Funny or Die is eating up an ever bigger piece of the pie

  • 221 million: Americans surfed the Internet in November
  • 62 million: Of those people visited a humor site
  • 3.6 million: Of those same folks visited Funny or Die

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TOP 10 ONLINE HUMOR DESTINATONS: There's no shortage of comedy online, but Funny or Die is typically one of the most popular destinations among Internet surfers seeking a laugh.

  1. Comedy Central  9.1 million
  2. Break.com 8.9 million
  3. Cheezburger Network 8.8 million
  4. Cracked.com 7.2 million
  5. Videobash 6.6 million
  6. CollegeHumor 5.2 million
  7. HuffPost Comedy 4.9 million
  8. Adult Swim 4.5 million
  9. Funny or Die 3.6 million
  10. eBaum's World 3.3 million

Source: ComScore. Unique U.S. visitors in Nov. 2011 at home and work locations.

 
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