Funny or Die has its hands in multiple projects on both the small screens of TV and the big movie screens.
Brockmire premieres on IFC this week after first appearing as a single video on Funny or Die. The company also launched and produces @midnight on Comedy Central, Billy on the Street on TruTV, Drunk History on Comedy Central, Throwing Shade on TV Land, The Chris Gethard Show on Fusion, has won Emmys for Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis, made a movie version out of Donald Trump’s 1980s bestseller “The Art of the Deal” starring Johnny Depp, an HBO sports special for Will Ferrell, three stand-up specials, and an annual stand-up tour and late summer festival called Oddball.
They’ve come a long way since an HBO collection of FoD videos called Funny or Die Presents, and even farther from the original as-titled concept for the site, which launched on April 12, 2007.
Here’s an excerpt on the site’s origins:
MARK KVAMME (partner, Sequoia Capital, 1990–2012)
My son was a fledgling comic at the time, and he said to me, “I can’t find anything funny on YouTube. They should have a thing like Hot or Not, where there’s a voting system.” It was a good idea, but it would have to be something separate from YouTube. And it just so happened that about a week later, I had a meeting with Michael Yanover down at CAA.
MICHAEL YANOVER (head of business development, CAA)
YouTube’s growth had been staggering. I said to Mark, “It’s entertaining but in an amateurish kind of way, like America’s Funniest Home Videos. Isn’t there room in the marketplace for more professional video?”
The idea was to get the best and brightest from Silicon Valley together with the best and brightest from Hollywood and see what they could do. But it was a very confrontational time between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, because of the copyright problems with YouTube and other sites.
DICK GLOVER (CEO of Funny or Die, 2008–2015)
This was pre-social-media, and YouTube was doing to the world what Google and Facebook are doing now—just sucking everything into a vortex, taking everything in. There were plenty of cautionary tales about building something outside that ecosystem.
As we were thinking on it, Will Ferrell—who was a client of CAA—was putting together a company called Gary Sanchez, with Adam McKay and Chris Henchy. Their original premise was to make movies, but they were also contemplating making TV shows. We met with them in a trailer on the Blades of Glory set to pitch this idea of a comedy-video site. We told them, “The consumer doesn’t want to see something too slick, too Hollywood. They like to see professional, and with recognizable people in it, but let’s not drive up a big budget. Let’s keep it guerrilla-style.”
ADAM McKAY (cofounder)
We were just like, “Whatever.” We remembered the first dotcom crash from the early 2000s, and we were superdubious.
WILL FERRELL (cofounder)
We’d seen a number of comedy websites that had failed, and we really weren’t convinced that the internet could be a destination for short-form comedy.
It was stalled out until one seminal meeting when Will and Adam were barricaded in a room, writing the script for Step Brothers.
When the writers are writing a movie, they go off and hole themselves up in some crazy place for weeks on end, so they can finish the script. And they were in the middle of writing, so we all piled into their room in this old, junky hotel.
Eventually, the financiers needed an answer, and we ultimately felt like we had nothing to lose. In hindsight, I guess we didn’t give ourselves enough credit for being able to create interesting and lasting material.
I did kind of miss doing sketches the way we used to do at SNL. Our manager Jimmy Miller was the guy who pushed us: “If you treat it as pure fun, this could be really cool for you guys.” And we liked the idea that anyone could put sketches up, that it was just an open door. If there’s a funny sketch, we’ll put it on the front page.
Initially the idea was to bring on other comics too. So we went to see a couple of other guys’ managers, and everyone said, “No, this is stupid. We’re not going to do it.” Or they wanted some exorbitant amount of money.
We knew we were going to start it really quietly—no promotion, no press. Initially we were just going to put a few videos out there, see how everyone reacts, and then let it spread from there.