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DID YOU READ

Funny or Die: DIY Comedy Takes a Victory Lap

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By R. Emmet Sweeney

While the Oscar telecast was drawing its smallest audience ever on Sunday night, Will Ferrell’s Funny Or Die Comedy Tour was finishing up its sold-out eight date run with a raucous show at Radio City Music Hall. It was a carnivalesque take on your basic stand-up comedy gig — with glittery costume changes and group sing-a-longs breaking up (and into) the routines. Farrell (along with his alter egos) was the MC introducing the three young performers (Demetri Martin, Nick Swardson and Zack Galifinakis), all of whom have contributed videos to the the Funny or Die website.

The tour is a victory lap of sorts for the site, a YouTube for comic shorts that exploded into the mainstream when Ferrell and director Adam McKay joined forces with it. (Chris Henchy, the writer/producer of “Entourage,” is the third member of the site’s creative team.) Their sketch “The Landlord,” which turns McKay’s toddler daughter Pearl into a foul-mouthed slumlord, has been viewed over 50 million times, and encouraged other established comedians to post their own DIY absurdities — including John C. Reilly, Judd Apatow and Jack Black (my personal favorites are the violent environmentalist satire of “Green Team” and the “Drunk History” series which features Black’s randy Ben Franklin).

The charm and lifeblood of the site is the way that it allows amateur videos to brush up against the successes: in the site’s “Platinum Club” section, which lists all the videos that have received over one million hits, you’ll find not only a bunch of Ferrell videos, but a clever masturbation joke from the scruffy unknown Nick Thune. Funny or Die acts as both an entertainment and networking site — put up a video and Judd Apatow might select it as one of his favorites.

Venture capitalist Mark Kvamme first pitched the concept to the Creative Artists Agency and fronted the $17,000 to start up the site after a conversation with his teenage son. As the Mercury News’ Scott Duke Harris has reported, the company has evolved into “Or Die Networks,” and is now backed by $20 million. It’s started up sister sites “Shred Or Die” (for skateboarders), “My Blue Collar” (featuring Southern comics) and, apparently, “in the works is a culinary site to be called ‘Eat, Drink, or Die.'” With its brand fully in place, the Funny Or Die tour acts as its coronation into the big time, replete with movie studio backing.

The tour is promoting Ferrell’s (and New Line’s) upcoming movie “Semi-Pro,” and the site itself is laden with promos, interviews and trailers for the film. Aside from Radio City, every other tour date was set on a college campus, luring in that delectable 18-35 year old age group that studio execs drool over. All of which is good business, but it would be a mite distracting if the show wasn’t so inspired and almost entirely clear of cross-promotion itself. All the hucksters were outside the arena, with afro’d “Semi-Pro” hype men handing out swag and timid Funny Or Die interns blanketing folks with t-shirts. There was even a “Harold & Kumar” sighting — two guys in orange jumpsuits tossing out one-sheets for the Guantanamo Bay-set sequel. Variety has said that “Semi-Pro” is receiving “the kind of buzz building push that movie marketers dream of” from the tour, and a similar one might take place in support of the Jeremy Piven starrer “The Goods: The Don Ready Story,” the first feature being made under Ferrell and McKay’s production company, Gary Sanchez Productions.

Inside the theater, though, there was barely a whiff of money — just the overpowering stench of Ron Burgundy’s man musk. After two solid opening sets from Martin and Swardson, Ferrell’s most popular character took center stage. With McKay as the announcer, the crowd got a taste of how “Anchorman” was filmed — in a flurry of improvisation, each man trying to top the either with absurdist glee. In a revealing history of the poorly named “Frat Pack” in Sight & Sound, Henry K. Miller quotes director David O. Russell as calling “Anchorman” “a balance between performance art and narrative film.”

There wasn’t much narrative on this night. When Burgundy called out Tom Brokaw on stage at Radio City, the show turned into pure performative insanity. Brokaw immediately seemed to regret his decision to appear, but gamely soldiered through it, even when Burgundy asked him about the time Diane Sawyer went topless — or if he would smoke a vial of crack if it would save the president’s life. Brokaw parried by saying he’d give it to Farrell’s staff, who would probably eat it up. The whole interview seemed close to imploding at every turn, and at one point Brokaw turned his hostility to them, wondering whether the system should allow people our age to vote. Graceful as he is, he quickly maneuvered away from it, and they navigated back to safe waters — plugging his books (including Burgundy’s own “The Greater Generation: The Story of the ’69 Miracle Mets”), joking about hit and runs and saying goodbye.

It was a riveting performance by both men, even if one wonders if Brokaw entirely knew what he was getting into. It’s clear Farrell improvised most of the bit — audibly cracking up McKay behind the mic and getting energized by the unexpected combativeness of his foe.

After such a display, Zack Galifinakis could only lip-synch to “Tomorrow” in a Little Orphan Annie outfit and toss glitter in the air. It worked, as did his closing slam against Dane Cook. The evening ended with the whole production on stage, dressed in Capezio dance pants tucked into Uggs, warbling to Alicia Keys’ “No One” with reckless abandon. But they couldn’t let the night go without a nod to Friday’s release. Tight shortsed “Semi-Pro” co-star Woody Harrelson was roped in to stand up from his seat, awkwardly take a kiss from Will, and disappear into the poster-strewn night.

[Photo: Will Ferrell on the Funny Or Die Comedy Tour, © Funny or Die Inc., 2008]

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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