Funny or Die Relies on Social Networks and Wit in Winging Its Success

Succeeds in the moment with a blazing wit — and a matching business model.

Funny or Die Relies on Social Networks and Wit in Winging Its Success
BETWEEN TWO FERNS: Galifianakis’s talk show makes A-list guests uncomfortable. | Photograph by Armando Gallo/Corbis BETWEEN TWO FERNS: Galifianakis's talk show makes A-list guests uncomfortable. | Photograph by Armando Gallo/Corbis

Funny or Die CEO Dick Glover has no idea what shows his site will be featuring when you read this. “Unless you tell me BP’s going to do another oil spill,” he says.


But he’s not sweating it. Founded in 2007 by Will Ferrell, Chris Henchy, and Adam McKay, with funding from Sequoia Capital, Funny or Die has made agility its biggest asset. The site relies almost exclusively on one-off, zeitgeist-driven comedy shorts, spreading the word among its 1.5 million Twitter followers and 1.1 million Facebook fans to attract as many as 10 million viewers a month who press play some 35 million times. “If there’s a formula, then you’re doing it wrong,” Glover says. “It really is a social dynamic, being part of folks’ lives in a meaningful way.”

Advertisers love those numbers, especially the site’s success with the coveted demographic of 18- to 34-year-old males. According to Glover, the site is cash-flow positive and “essentially break-even” as it generates in the “tens of millions of dollars in ad revenue” annually.

Right now, FoD prides itself on its ability to take videos from conception to completion often in just 48 hours and for as little as $2,000 (creators work basically for free in exchange for exposure). “We just made it for fun,” says Jennie Pierson of her video “The Amazing Adventures of David and Jennie.” “But it’s what got us on HBO.”

FoD is talking to YouTube about doing a Web series, but it’s also flowering offline. Funny or Die Presents was the highest-rated new comedy this winter on HBO and is returning for a second season. Over at Comedy Central, the sketch series Jon Benjamin Has a Van will air next summer. A feature-length film — Funny or Die Presents Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie — is currently in development. The plot is straightforward, Glover says: “Tim and Eric are given their first billion-dollar-budget movie, and things don’t go as planned.” As FoD shows every day, nobody ever said you need a plan.

3 to Watch

Drunk History

If Timothy Dickinson, the host of the History Channel’s Great and Telling Tales, got hold of a bottle of scotch before taping, it would go something like this. Look for Jack Black as Ben Franklin, Will Ferrell as Abraham Lincoln, and Don Cheadle as Frederick Douglass.


Between Two Ferns

Zach Galifianakis’s public-access-style interview series, where he belligerently confronts his big-name guests, never gets old. In one Webisode, Galifianakis tells Ben Stiller that people from the South are “stupid enough to go to your fucking movies.”

The Ed Hardy Boyz

L.A. meatheads Bobby Bottle service (Nick Kroll) and Peter Paparazzo (Jon Daly) are good at solving mysteries and getting girls. These guys make the dudes from Jersey Shore look like amateurs. Thankfully, this show is fictional and funny. Even Ed Hardy designer Christian Audigier is in on the joke.

Read more of our Web Video package