Marlon Wayans Launching Urban Funny or Die (Exclusive)

Marlon Wayans
Marlon Wayans
 

A version of this story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Is Marlon Wayans the new Will Ferrell?

The comic hopes WhattheFunny.com, which he is launching with Funny or Die founder Randy Adams and producer Peter Coleman as COO, will serve as an urban version of the Ferrell- and Adam McKay-fronted site -- a "playground for my family and for all comedians who have something funny they want to do," he says. 

"If Funny or Die is the Saturday Night Live of the web, what we're trying to do is the In Living Color of the web," adds Adams.

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Wayans and his family rose to fame via the 1990s Fox variety series In Living Color, and he has talked to his relatives and former co-stars about reuniting for his new venture. Wayans says they are “excited,” but none have made a commitment yet.

Wayans also plans to reach out to other comedians, to give them a fun place to work, and a platform where work can be seen that at present doesn’t have a way to be exhibited beyond individual performer’s websites.

Adams was involved with Funny or Die for six years, but left the board of directors when he decided to put all of his focus on WhattheFunny.com.

Adams is confident he can raise money when he needs to for the new business, but so far he says he has financed it out of his own pocket. “I’ve probably raised $250 million over the last 20 years in eight start ups that returned value of more than $4 billion to investors,” says Adams, “so with that track record its not a problem raising it. But we want to find [investors] who will bring not just money but also people, organization and connections. We want people who have a passion for the space.”

The plan is to produce several five- to 10-minute shorts in advance of the site's late 2013/early 2014 launch, with hopes to eventually expand to cable and other mediums. Unlike Funny or Die, Adams said they plan to present most of their short-form content as a series, with a specific time and date each week that new episodes will be posted.

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Coleman says their content, whether shot on a stage or outside, will have better production values than many online sites -- but not that much better. “Sometimes if it looks too slick it doesn’t do as well,” says Coleman. “It’s not going to be a huge Hollywood production.”

He would not say exactly what this will cost -- even without using unions and guilds for most of the production -- but put an estimated price tag on the content they will generate at about $1,000 for each minute of screen time.

Only after they have a stockpile of content will the site go live. Coleman said they expect to have 10 or 12 series finished first.

Adams predicts that will probably be near the end of this year or early next year. “We believe that is the way to build a fan base that’s attached to a particular series, those comedic talents and whatever the sketch is about,” he says.

Once they have it produced and ready to air on the site, the next step will be to create mobile apps and then syndicate the content to other platforms, including cable TV and steaming services. “We’ve got to build the brand,” says Adams, “and then we will expand out.”

The marketing plan is to do very little marketing, but rather to count on their edgy comedy content going viral. Adams says his experience with Funny or Die shows that “if you have remarkable content that’s really good, you will get the audience -- and that is what we intend to do.”

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“There is a secret sauce to this,” adds Adams. “Obviously Funny or Die has perfected that and we understand how that works.”

While the comedy will appeal to African-Americans, the intent is to go much broader.

"There is a huge underserved market," says Coleman, "and we will appeal not only to African-Americans but to Latinos and all fans of hip-hop."

When he was interviewed by phone for this article, Wayans had just arrived in Dubai to do two stand-up comedy appearances. In recent days he has also been everywhere from the U.K. to Australia doing shows and doing his own version of a listening tour.

While on tour he wrote the script for his next movie, a sequel to the low-budget 2013 comedy Haunted House, which shoots in July on a fast 22-day schedule. He said he was also headed to New York for the premiere of Heat, in which he plays the love interest of Sandra Bullock.

“I’m touring the world because I want to know what makes people laugh,” explains Wayans. “If I learn all this, that’s going to help me when I do movies and be able to tell the one joke that makes the whole world laugh.”

That includes working behind and in front of the camera to create urban comedy for WhattheFunny.com. Wayans called the Internet “the land of opportunity,” and predicts “eventually it will be the new network everyone watches.”

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