Taming “Comedy’s New Wild West” at Montreal’s “Comedy Conference”

Are you looking to become rich and famous by posting your very own Internet videos? Well, good luck with that!

That's the message I could have given you before attending this afternoon's "The Web: Comedy's New Wild West" panel at Montreal's Just For Laughs Comedy Conference, and it's still the message after sitting through the hourlong chat-em-ups. At least this panel seemed a little more forthcoming than others — listening to TV and film writers talk, you sometimes get the feeling that they have all of the secrets to success but don't want to give them away, and they also don't want to share too much and piss any of their current or potential employers off. All of which doesn't exactly lead to compelling testimony to pass along. But here are some morsels and quotes that I think you'll find interesting. You have Qs. I have As. Ready. Set. Next paragraph.

What was the impact of turning CollegeHumor's online "Hardly Working" videos into an MTV series? From the Web guru's editor/co-founder Ricky Van Veen himself: "More 13-year-old girls recognize me on the streets." More importantly, however, is knowing that because "we already had the infrastructure in place" at CollegeHumor's offices, the budgets were lower for MTV — ratings were decent enough that "now we're talking about doing a second season" — but in the end, being on TV or even talked about on the radio by Howard Stern for a solid half-hour straight didn't translate into much in the way of a spike in pageviews. Some new advertisers may have heard about CollegeHumor through Stern, but pageviews? Not as much. "The only thing that translates into Internet traffic is Internet traffic."

How do you get more bang for your buck online, then?

From Michael Farah, producer at Funny Or Die: "It's a lot of lowballing people." Ha! No, seriously. "The last five celebrity pieces we've done, we've shot at peoples houses, because it's expensive to get a house for shooting." They realize at FoD, of course, that celebrity vids get more interest from the media and more traffic because they feature celebs, but they do also try to reach out to up-and-coming comedy talent. Farah cited the L.A.-based troupe Honor Student as an example. They're going to be part of FoD's first season of comedy half-hours that will air on HBO in the fall. "You can't run a site just on celebrity videos," Farah said. "I want to be more diverse than that." What does that mean for you and your chances for getting seen by FoD and, in turn, by everyone else? "Great content will find a way to rise to the top," he said, citing the "Drunk History" series as an example that worked for them. "You really have to just make things that you think are funny and hope they find an audience." The popular Internet memes — kids, animals — will remain popular. But as Farah noted, the Internet landscape continues to evolve and adapt. "This would be a drastically different conversation, just two years ago." Even for FoD, which Farah acknowledged not only isn't making a profit, but that he himself doesn't know how well the current ad model is working. "We could make more money if we have pre-rolls before our videos," he said, hinting that that may be around the pike in the coming year.

From Darrin McAfee at E-Coming Branding (part of Levity Entertainment), we learned that "superfans" can do a lot of the heavy lifting for companies with "digital word-of-mouth" marketing. He said he's been able to "build a business on that." Wait a second. Am I a Superfan? McAfee said they learned with Jeff Dunham's Comedy Central special last year just how well that works — about 90 days before the initial broadcast, they saw how Mom sites, parenting sites and other groups were receptive to Dunham's ventriloquist act. And in one contest, "Jeff signed 50 Blu-Ray DVDs" and they got 12,000 new e-mails out of it for future marketing purposes. For Jim Gaffigan, McAfee noted: "He had about a bit about bacon. We found so many bacon blogs and sites out there, and it translated into so many more views." How can you monetize your own online operation, though? "You have to give it care an attention," McAfee said. "A lot of comics either don't have the skill-sets yet, or the time, or the combination of the two." Which, of course, has been where his business has stepped right in to provide those services. "If you want repeat traffic, or views…you have to give it time and you have to give it that attention." (Why do you think I'm on the Internet typing while the industry is drinking?!)

Finally, some pearls of wisdom from Michael Buckley, who fashioned himself a career as a YouTube vlogger with "What the Buck!" His show ranks #8 on YouTube for most subscribers. And he's quite happy to be a Top 10 YouTuber without trying to be a Top 10 TV personality. "I'm born and bred of the Internet. The worst thing for me to do would be to leave that and go to TV," he said. Sure, his show has gotten him enough mainstream media attention to be on national TV "30 times or more," but he said that doesn't make him a TV star or want to be one. "I'm living my dream times 10 right now, so why try to do more?" "Do I want someone in my ear, saying 'Don't say that! Don't be too faggy! I'm going to be faggy.'"

Buckley and others said it's difficult to break out from the crowd of thousands upon thousands uploading their own videos to YouTube, FoD and elsewhere. But that shouldn't stop you. "I hope if you're not at home, having fun making Internet videos, you should be thinking about it," Buckley said. "If you want repeat traffic, or views…you have to give it time and you have to give it that attention." When people comment, you should reply, but do so with kindness. And you need to keep at it. "You have to keep them engaged. People don't want to see just one great video. Weekly content. Monthly content. That's kind of the key."

So, like I said. Good luck with that!

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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