The Art of the Surprise Release: Behind the Funny or Die Trump movie with screenwriter Joe Randazzo

Surprise, surprise, surprise!

Beyoncé blew our minds when she released a full album in 2013 without advance warning, press or promotion. The release itself served as the hype machine. She did it again a day before performing at Super Bowl 50.

Comedians have now began to embrace the concept, too. Louis CK at first flummoxed TV critics and perhaps the industry as a whole by making his own series without telling anyone outside of the production, releasing “Horace and Pete” only on his website, and charging $2-$5 per episode, all while assembling an all-star award-winning cast.

And last week, Funny or Die trumped all of us with a 50-minute movie about Donald Trump, starring Johnny Depp!

What’s more surprising, though?

That more than 2.9 million viewers have watched Funny Or Die Presents Donald Trump’s The Art Of The Deal: The Movie in its first week online? That Funny or Die persuaded Depp to play Trump in the first place? That Alf — the sitcom puppet star from the late 1980s — makes a cameo appearance? That Alf does so via a flashback from 1977, before anyone knew Alf in the first place???

Funny or Die’s Trump movie (#FODTrumpMovie) is a gloriously mocking testament to Trump’s narcissism, as Ron Howard (playing himself) introduces the found footage VHS tape from 1988 that Trump purportedly had written, directed, starred in, edited and produced the music for his own adaptation of his 1980s book, “The Art of the Deal.” With Patton Oswalt as Merv Griffin (who eventually sold his Atlantic City resort property to Trump for his Trump Taj Mahal resort casino), Michaela Watkins as Ivana Trump, Stephen Merchant as Barron Hilton, Henry Winkler as former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, Andy Richter as former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, Alfred Molina as Trump’s lawyer, Jack McBrayer as his architect, and even more cameos.

Before the film goes behind paywalls on Sunday, screenwriter Joe Randazzo (who’s also the head writer for @midnight, and a while before that, editor of The Onion, and somewhere in between those time periods, disclosure, a part-time roommate of mine) shared some insight with The Comic’s Comic about putting this surprise movie together.

“It was easy not to talk about it once JD signed on because we knew how insane and weird it would be for the public at large and we all wanted to maintain that. It was hard but kind of delicious to know that we were sitting on something magical,” Randazzo told The Comic’s Comic. “I told my wife and that’s it. I accidentally showed my parents a photo of me with Johnny but they didn’t recognize him.”

Randazzo said he had pitched a different premise for a Trump parody first, but added: “It wasn’t as good an idea as Owen’s!”

That’s Owen Burke, who moved from Gary Sanchez Productions to become Funny or Die’s editor-in-chief last fall. Last year, Gary Sanchez (the Will Ferrell/Adam McKay production studio) released a special Lifetime movie, A Deadly Adoption, starring Ferrell and Kristen Wiig that was meant to be a surprise until word leaked out.

Now that you’ve taken part in a successful surprise project, would you like to see more comedians follow suit?

“Louis CK has done it before — I think he just did it, actually, didn’t he?” Randazzo said. “It makes sense that this would happen online when you have to compete with an overwhelming daily torrent of content. So, rather than risk putting time and energy into promoting something that might get lost or underperform, just spring it on the audience so they learn about it AND react to it for the first time, at the same time. People might also be more likely to have a positive reaction to something that just appeared out of nowhere: the HOLY SHIT gets mixed in with, and overwhelms, everything else. But it creates a conversation that everyone has at the same time, and that’s priceless. It feels like an event — much like Made For TV movies used to be in the 80s. We don’t really get that anymore, except by surprise.”

He added: “That said, it should be really good if you want to do it this way. It really only works if it’s someone on the scale of Beyonce or Louis CK or Alf.”

Fortunately, this #FODTrumpMovie includes at least one of those three stars.

Plus, Randazzo himself makes a surprising cameo appearance in the Trump movie, as a janitor called in by the Donald when he growls: “Give me that scumbag that cleans shit up in here!”

Roll it while you still can!

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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