This New App Is Like Twitter for Comedians

Matt Klinman - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of subject

Funny or Die's Pitch comedy app offers a digital open mic (and $10 a gag) for aspiring comics.

In late May, Funny or Die put out a call on its Pitch comedy app for fun facts about hot dogs. Nearly 120 people responded with their best jokes, and the comedy website awarded $10 each to the writers behind the top two one-liners. A few days later, on June 3, Funny or Die treated its 14.4 million Twitter followers to a list of "Hot Dog Facts," and one of the Pitch jokes — "Every hot dog contains one full serving of self-doubt" — was featured.

An up-and-coming comedy writer might not make enough to pay rent off of $10 Twitter jokes about hot dogs. But Pitch app creator Matt Klinman has a loftier goal: to help develop a new generation of comedians at a time when entry-level jobs writing for comedy websites or sites that make comedy videos are harder to come by than ever before. "Even just a few years ago, it felt like every month there was a new comedy vertical being announced. It doesn't feel that way anymore," says Klinman, who spent his early career at The Onion before writing for Adult Swim and Funny or Die. "We want Pitch to be the best place for a comedy writer to get their start."

Born out of a Funny or Die hackathon, Pitch launched in July 2017 to encourage writers to test out new material ("getting their reps," as Klinman calls it). Anyone who joins the free app can suggest a joke topic or anonymously try out a new line. Eventually Pitch signed on brand clients (most pay a subscription fee) looking for a quick and inexpensive way to generate jokes. Mobile gaming app Mobcrush sources Twitter jokes from Pitch, and Avocados From Mexico used the app to live-tweet the Super Bowl this year. Now, comedy sites like The Onion even use Pitch as a glorified payroll tool through which they compensate their contributors.

The community is intentionally small — Klinman says he maintains a long waitlist of interested members and has invited only about 3,000 people to join — in order to focus on working comedians. Users are a mix of newcomers looking for a foothold in the comedy scene and established writers who, per Klinman, "come dick around for beer money." The most the app has paid out to date is $500 for larger video concepts or more involved pitches.

Klinman, who had been working on Pitch as a side project, officially joined Funny or Die at the start of the year to focus on the app full time alongside his two co-creators and a couple of dedicated employees. But his mission crystallized in January after Funny or Die conducted a round of layoffs that CEO Mike Farah described as the result of "tough challenges" for digital media companies amid changes to Facebook's News Feed algorithm (de-emphasizing viral videos and news articles in favor of posts from family and friends).

Several months later, Klinman still gets fired up talking about how "the internet could be this big beautiful medium where people could make money for all kinds of art" but, because of Facebook, is "basically this centralized internet being designed by just a small group of people and everything has to play by their rules." While a Funny or Die spokeswoman notes that Klinman is not speaking for the company when he rails against Facebook, his words are reverberating in the comedy community.

Klinman sees Pitch as a place where aspiring writers have the opportunity to sell their first joke — even if the going rate is currently the equivalent of lunch money. "We decided to make mugs the other day, and it seemed like our whole community was just waiting to pitch us mug ideas," says Klinman with a laugh, scrolling through pithy suggestions like "My Other Mug Is a Forty." "We have, Jesus, 759 pitches from 175 writers. Everybody wants to put their joke on a mug."

This story first appeared in the June 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.