Entertainment A-List

Entertainment A-List No. 10: Funny or Die

From a Miserable Economy Emerged a Laugh- (and Celebrity)-Filled Site That Makes Profit Despite Low Costs

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Dick Glover
Dick Glover Credit: Illustration: Dieter Braun

According to Funny or Die CEO Dick Glover, the key to understanding his company's runaway success starts in the fall of 2008, when the markets took a precipitous dive that sunk the economy into one of the worst downturns in decades.

"All that misery really forced us to focus on what we were good at -- being funny," he recently recalled. "We're like, 'Hey, you know we're really good at this short-form comedy that appeals to a young audience -- let's focus on that ."

But it wasn't entirely about laughs. Mr. Glover also augmented the company's engineering and sales staffs, as well as booking what appears to be all of Hollywood's top comedy performers to put together original comedy clips. Witness Billy Crystal's "When Harry Met Sally 2," a highbrow sendup of the vampire-zombie craze in Hollywood.

The company, which launched in 2007 with actor Will Ferrell as one of its founders, now draws in more than 11 million monthly visitors and features hundreds of exclusive videos. And the way Mr. Glover sees it, Funny or Die represents a new direction for film studios.

"The economic model is every bit as important as the creative model," he said. "By keeping the costs of production and marketing low, you can make profit even with minimal revenue coming in."

That formula has allowed the company to try its hand at a full-length feature. "Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie" will be distributed in theaters and will be marketed online and in traditional outlets.

It also works for advertisers. Nissan's marketing manager, Rick Ash, recalled being taken aback by Funny's loose, ad-hoc production style when they partnered to create a short video series for its Juke car.

"It's not like working with a regular production company where everything is planned out by the second. Funny or Die doesn't really work that way. But we ended up really enjoying how they worked with us."

Stars turn up on Funny or Die.
Stars turn up on Funny or Die.

Mr. Glover says Funny has been reaching out to advertisers and agencies. "We really think we have developed a great expertise in branded entertainment," the former ESPN and ABC executive said. "Working with agencies and clients to get messages to our audience to entertain them is becoming more important to us."

Strategically located in Hollywood, Palo Alto and New York, the company is set to expand along the fault lines of media and entertainment, but Mr. Glover insists on referencing his earlier point about the root of the company's success.

"You have to have passion for being funny," he said. "We love what we do."

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