The sketch group Honor Student is David Neher, Matt Villines, Osmany Rodriguez, Jennie Pierson, Daniel Cirilo, and John McKinney. They've been making Internet videos since 2006, but their work with Funny or Die has led to greater exposure, including slots on the HBO late-night show Funny or Die Presents. We caught up with Neher and Pierson separately via email and stitched their answers together. Think of it as The Newlywed Game as a Funny or Die sketch. Maybe Honor Student will make it a sketch? Before we get too carried away with ourselves, here's Neher and Pierson on their journey as young creatives in Hollywood.
Fast Company: How did you guys meet?
Jennie Pierson: David and I met in improv class at ImprovOlympic in L.A. I remember he did this scene where he played a cocky guy who owned a pickle store. I thought he was super funny and we became good friends really fast. David's like one of my girl friends.
David Neher: Jennie thought I was "cocky" when we first met. In reality, I was just compensating for my insecurities by acting too cool for school. I think it's a very common thing for young comedians to act like jerks, but I'm over that now. I'm probably the nicest guy Jennie knows.
FC: Tell me about how your partnership began, and how that led to Honor Student.
DN: We eventually started an improv group named megafancy. I think we bonded over our love for acting like idiots and gabbing about sexual things. I introduced Jennie to a couple director/editors named Matt and Oz and we started making videos for the love of it. Thus, Honor Student began. We got super lucky and a new Web site called SuperDeluxe.com saw our first video "Tuesday afternoon orgy" and offered to pay us a boatload of money to make more. It was beautiful. They paid us and a bunch of other comedians to make comedy videos. It lasted a couple of years and then SuperDeluxe realized they weren't making a dime, but actually losing a bunch of dimes. Millions of dimes. And went belly up. I think a lot of Web sites were paying for videos back then and the business model didn't make any sense or cents (dimes). It was great for comedians. I was able to quit my job selling vintage t-shirts.
JP: We were just always really silly and dumb together and realized that maybe we should just start writing up all the weird shit we came up with while hanging out. At the time, David, Matt and Oz had just gotten together as Honor Student to start making videos for SuperDeluxe.com, so I sort of snuck in. I definitely always wanted to do comedy, so it was great to meet Honor Student who really knew what they were doing, had a vision, and were so talented.
FC: How did you start working with Funny or Die?
JP: SuperDeluxe had died and we were trying to figure out where to go next to be able to make comedy videos. Funny or Die was the obvious choice mainly because Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (big idols of ours) were behind it and the Web site was sort of the up and coming thing in comedy. Everyone was talking about it and saying good things so we just tried our best to sneak in somehow.
DN: After the bubble burst, we were approached by Mike Farah at Funnyordie.com. Funny or die doesn't pay us to make videos, which is probably why they are still in business. But he offered to produce our sketches at no cost to us. They let us have total creative control over our videos, and that's a very rare thing in showbiz.
FC: What's your relationship with FoD now, and how did that grow over time?
DN: Funny or Die expanded to TV and asked us to contribute a few sketches to their series on HBO. We are now wrapping up production on Season 2.
JP: We are like those little fish that swim alongside sharks and eat the parasites off its body. The shark gets more parasite-free and we get super fat. We also get to meet other cool parasites and even cooler sharks.
FC: What's the most popular thing you've done for Funny or Die?
DN: The most hits we ever got was for a sketch I wrote about an Iraq war veteran who lost his sense of smell so everyone feels comfortable farting around him, and while the premise is great, I think the hits came because Funny or Die got Brian Cranston to play the lead.
JP: The Amazing Adventures of David and Jennie was probably our most successful Internet video all around. We just made it for fun and it's what ended up getting us on HBO. It got a good response from all the right people. Hits-wise, and one that everyone really loved (and is my favorite) is "Sense of Smell." Bryan Cranston (from Breaking Bad) was in it and he just absolutely nailed it. He very seriously and dramatically played a guy who could taste farts. David's script was so funny and it was so well shot and well acted by Bryan Cranston. All of the elements were there and it was definitely a hit with the Funny or Die viewers.
FC: Are you making a living (paying rent?) off of this and/or a combination of other entertainment gigs?
DN: I've been living off of the occasional TV gig, mostly commercials.
JP: Unfortunately, it's hard to make a living doing comedy videos for the Internet. I go out on commercial auditions, etc and just booked my first commercial last month! But to pay the bills I've been known to have about 35 different jobs at any given time. I babysit; work as a part-time receptionist; work a booth at a few different Farmer's Markets; clean houses; write a comedy blog for the Black Eyed Peas music Web site (they are into comedy, who knew?); housesit; petsit; and I do the shopping and deliveries for a small local gourmet ice cream company. I'll do just about anything for a few dollars so that I don't have to work a full-time desk job anymore. Once a friend convinced me to check the "adult gigs" on Craigslist, and I was about three steps away from letting some dude smell my armpits for $400. Don't worry, though, I'm much too worried about airborne breath germs to have actually done it.
FC: Do you have anything planned for FoD for the fall or winter? What other projects are you working on?
JP: We just finished filming 3 more episodes of The Amazing Adventures of David and Jennie for the second season of Funny or Die Presents! We are in post-production now so hopefully it will end up coming out soon. We absolutely love working with Funny or Die and are constantly amazed at the amount of creative freedom they give us so we are continually thinking of ideas and ways to keep those parasites off it's underbelly!
DN: I wrote a sketch called Lawyer without a Belt that I'm hoping to shoot in the next month or so, once we attach a celebrity to it. A great part of working with Funny or Die is all the celebrity connections they have. A lot of celebrities are really funny. Plus, people watch your videos and think you're cool when you have celebs in them.
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A version of this article appeared in the September 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.