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Funny Or Die at 15: How They’re Still Laughing After All These Years

Once the biggest hub for shortform viral videos, the company has a new mandate to make comedy fun again.

It’s almost impossible to imagine now, but the internet used to be a fun place where people could gather to enjoy themselves and unite over a singular piece of comedic content. That’s exactly what happened on April 12, 2007, when longtime collaborators Adam McKay and Will Ferrell (Anchorman, Step Brothers) and writer-producer Chris Henchy (Entourage, The Other Guys) uploaded a video called “The Landlord” to their experimental comedy website Funny Or Die. The 144-second clip, featuring Ferrell “arguing” with his trash-talking landlord — played famously by McKay’s 2-year-old daughter, Pearl — had 60,000 views within a few hours of posting.

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“The Landlord” became a blueprint for FOD’s frills-free MO: Upload a shortform video to the site and let viewers vote on whether to send it to the home page — thus, funny or die. (To date, “The Landlord” has amassed some 158 million views across all platforms.) With enviable financial backing from Sequoia Capital, Funny Or Die enjoyed an almost immediate run as Hollywood’s most egalitarian and star-studded comedy incubator, with the likes of Jon Hamm, Kristen Bell, Maya Rudolph, Paul Rudd, Don Cheadle, Paris Hilton and even Oscar winner Marion Cotillard all stopping by for some laughs. (Who could forget Cotillard’s indelible 2013 turn in “Forehead Tittaes”?)

The company also unapologetically leaned into politics with offerings such as 2009’s star-studded Prop 8: The Musical and then-President Barack Obama’s surreal 2014 appearance on the mock FOD talk show Between Two Ferns, hosted by Zach Galifianakis. All the buzz helped Funny Or Die to establish itself as a talent-friendly production studio, too, spawning Comedy Central’s Twitter-verse game show @midnight, hosted by Chris Hardwick; TruTV’s Billy on the Street, featuring Billy Eichner; and Sarah Silverman’s Emmy-nominated Hulu series I Love You, America, among others.

Today, as homemade comedic content — the kind that Funny Or Die helped invent — thrives on TikTok and Instagram, the company is deep into its second act and under new ownership: In May 2021, Henry R. Muñoz III, an architect and former finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee — the first “openly gay, openly Latino and openly Texan” person to hold that position, he says — acquired Funny Or Die from previous investors AMC Networks, WarnerMedia and Sequoia, taking control of the company. (McKay left in 2018; Henchy still has active projects with FOD; and Ferrell is billed as an adviser.)

THR spoke with Muñoz, CEO Mike Farah and chief creative officer Joe Farrell about Funny Or Die’s 15-year milestone; how Muñoz is helping to transform the company into a more inclusive, independent studio; why its Roku film Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (starring Daniel Radcliffe and premiering Nov. 4) is the perfect Funny Or Die property; and how its slate still honors their earliest ethos. Says Farrell, “For us, there’s always a sense of joy about putting on a show.”

From top: Funny Or Die’s Joe Farrell, Mike Farah and Henry Munoz were photographed Sept. 26 at Swift Studios in New York.
From top: Funny Or Die’s Joe Farrell, Mike Farah and Henry Muñoz were photographed Sept. 26 at Swift Studios in New York. Photographed by Jai Lennard

Henry, you’ve said you “fell in love” with Funny Or Die while collaborating with the company on Obama’s appearance on Between Two Ferns during your tenure with the Democratic National Committee. What exactly inspired such loving feelings?

HENRY MUÑOZ It was their blend of activism, philanthropy and wanting to make an impact on society. We worked together again in 2020 with [actress-activist] Eva Longoria on the [election year] TV special Momento Latino. So it was all of that that made me fall in love.

MIKE FARAH You can’t truly love someone until you’re in the trenches on a modestly budgeted charity show. (Laughs.) [Our ownership] had always been spread among Silicon Valley, big media and our celebrity founders. What we found in Henry was an amazing person who could streamline our efforts.

FOD co-owner Henry Muñoz served on the Democratic National Committee when he worked on President Obama’s Zach Galifianakis-hosted Between Two Ferns episode.
FOD co-owner Henry Muñoz served on the Democratic National Committee when he worked on President Obama’s Zach Galifianakis-hosted Between Two Ferns episode. Courtesy Photos

What role do you see politics playing in your brand now as our culture is massively more divided than in 2007? We witnessed in I Love You, America the ultimate limits of comedy to bridge extreme ideological differences.

FARAH One thing you can say about Funny Or Die, we’re always game for trying. And bless Sarah’s heart for wanting to have real a dialogue with people on that show.

JOE FARRELL I’d say our [priority] today is to champion emerging voices and help them navigate Hollywood. Henry said early on he’d love if FOD over time could stand for “Funny, Original and Diverse.”

Speaking of, Henry, you are now a Hollywood rarity: a Latino business owner. What have we gotten so woefully wrong about Latino representation on- and offscreen? And how is FOD poised to be a leader in this space?

MUÑOZ We’re all coming to terms with how we view identity, and I’m not sure there will ever be a singular national Latino identity. That’s one challenge. While we’re all connected to an immigrant experience — my grandfather came from Mexico, and he and my father both worked as printers and film projectionists — half the Latino population in the U.S. was born here. So first and foremost, we have to create quality content, put Latinos in decision-making roles and give creators opportunities to tell their stories.

FARAH Previously, FOD’s focus was not on Latino-themed or Latino-created projects. That changed with [gay Latino author John Paul Brammer’s memoir] Hola Papi!, which was the first book we optioned with Henry’s development and production fund.

The studio is developing a TV series based on John Paul Brammer’s memoir Hola Papi!
The studio is developing a TV series based on John Paul Brammer’s memoir Hola Papi! Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

So, greenlight power is everything.

MUÑOZ Yes. As my dad told me, and it’s written on the wall of my house in Washington, D.C.: “No peso, no say-so.” (Laughs.)

Joe, how much do you consider a project’s global potential knowing that comedy is unlikely to travel as easily across cultures as drama?

FARRELL When we’re [in a pitch], people have said: “Comedy doesn’t travel, and shouldn’t this idea have stayed a sketch?” I think some comedy is culture-specific, some is universal, while others are more “verbal” and maybe don’t translate as easily. Interestingly, [the FOD Netflix docuseries spoof] American Vandal did well internationally.

A series centering on teenagers acting like asses and spray-painting penises on school property was a crossover hit?

FARAH But they’re asses with heart!

FARRELL We also look for ways to “Trojan horse” comedy and create genre mashups — horror comedy, romantic comedy, holiday comedy. We’re developing a holiday movie with [actress-producer] Jillian Bell that’s a traditional rom-com but has a lot of physical comedy. So in this case, “the holidays” is universal, but the humor is very specific.

FARAH How can a studio like Funny Or Die make comedy a priority again in this consolidating streaming era? That’s the threshold question for us — and comedy in general —right now.

Silverman earned two Emmy noms for her FOD-produced Hulu series I Love You, America with Sarah Silverman.
Silverman earned two Emmy noms for her FOD-produced Hulu series I Love You, America with Sarah Silverman. Courtesy of Greg Lewis/Hulu

You have a big swing in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Why was this an ideal Funny Or Die feature project?

MUÑOZ “Weird Al” [Yankovic] is a huge part of my history — the MTV generation. When we premiered in Toronto, hundreds of people showed up dressed like Al. His story is intergenerational and a great example of how comedy can bring people together. And the concept for Weird started as a Funny Or Die video in 2013, and now here we are.

FARRELL Daniel is great in the movie but also as a producer. He read the script, committed to us and stuck with it as we tried to find a distributor.

FARAH And we have to credit Roku for stepping up to make the movie.

You shopped it around town, and everyone else passed?

FARAH Yes. It really showed us how streaming platforms have deprioritized comedy films. We hope Weird will help to bring them back.

If the movie business is a slog right now, the TV space has never been more saturated. Joe, what are FOD’s priorities there?

FARRELL We have the celebrity pickleball tournament Pickled, hosted by Stephen Colbert, airing Nov. 17 on CBS. Sixteen celebrities with varying degrees of talent — but all very enthusiastic.

Late Show host Stephen Colbert will preside over FOD’s celebrity pickleball tournament, Pickled, on Nov. 17 on CBS
Late Show host Stephen Colbert will preside over FOD’s celebrity pickleball tournament, Pickled, on Nov. 17 on CBS Courtesy of Sonja Flemming/CBS

So, Battle of the Network Stars except with pickleball?

FARRELL Yes, and instead of Telly Savalas, it’s Colbert. It harkened back to the old Funny Or Die days of, “Come shoot with us for an afternoon and then you’re done.” I’m excited to see how audiences respond. Pickleball’s having a moment! And this all came from the wellspring of Mike’s mind after he played with his mother in Ann Arbor over Christmas.

FARAH This is big — Joe hates giving me any kernels of credit. (Laughs.) Comedy’s in a unique place right now. It’s oversaturated because of TikTok but also underserved. The video format that Funny Or Die helped to create —there isn’t urgency around that content now that anyone with a phone can do it themselves.

FARRELL I think we like surprising audiences. “They made a feature out of a fake Weird Al biopic trailer? They did a CBS pickleball special? They made a show about spray-painted penises — and it won a Peabody?” You have to shake [Hollywood execs] these days. They’re hearing tons of pitches, they’re stressed, and it feels like 75 percent of people have new bosses. Everyone’s trying to it figure out. Us included.

Joe, Henry is sitting right next to you.

FARRELL Don’t tell him I said that! (Laughs.)

FARAH Let’s also talk for a second about mandates. No one ever says, “Give me an original show that’s going to change the world.” All they do is reference previous hits.

Right, “What’s the comp?”

FARAH Yes, and often we’re greeted with our own comps. “We’re looking for Billy on the Street or our Drunk History.” While it’s fun to be confronted with our own comps, it’s still very hard to get traction [for new shows].

How game are you to revisit signature Funny Or Die franchises like Between Two Ferns?

MUÑOZ There’s always an opportunity to revisit the Funny Or Die library and make something work for this unique moment. I have a president I really like, so yes, I’d stick him in between two ferns. (Laughs.)

Joe, what’s the FOD elevator pitch to entice talent to work with you?

FARRELL I come from theater, and many people on our team are performers, writers or directors. So there’s always a sense of joy about putting on a show. Early on, Will, Adam and the other founders were like, “Development is a bad word — we just make things.” And even though we’re very much in traditional-development land with a lot of projects, I think that original ethos still means a lot to creators. We make it hard for people to pass on us.

Will Ferrell and Co-founder Adam McKay’s daughter Pearl famously played Will Ferrell’s landlord in their 2007 breakout video.
Will Ferrell and Co-founder Adam McKay’s daughter Pearl famously played Will Ferrell’s landlord in their 2007 breakout video. Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Henry, what have you learned during your Funny Or Die tenure? What are you most excited about?

MUÑOZ I’ve learned I have an opportunity to help transform this industry. In my culture, when you’re ready to achieve something on your own, you get a quinceañera. And this is our quinceañera year! It’s also not lost on me that this great comedy brand is now a Latino-owned business. I’ve also learned there are many people in Hollywood who are like me: trying to do great work and be heard. And I’m thankful to them for mentoring me at my advanced age. (Laughs.)

Interview edited for length and clarity.

Funny or Die By the Numbers

This story first appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.