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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]



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.