It was a year ago this week that a bottle-wielding toddler demanded rent money from Will Ferrell and kicked off a burgeoning comedy empire. Funny or Die celebrated its one-year anniversary with a celeb-studded tribute video and by sharing some plans for upcoming features.
It’s been a crazy year for the comedy site. The Landlord started the site off with a viral bang, racking up more than 55 million plays to date, but follow-ups failed to generate as much heat as the original, causing some in the industry to question whether the site was too Ferrell-dependent.
While there is a UGC component, Funny or Die is still the online place for celebs to launch viral videos and promote upcoming TV shows and films. Eva Longoria and Jessica Alba both had “sex tapes” on the site to promote their projects (and get fanboys all in a lather), and there is a new series of mock PSAs featuring the likes of Kristen Bell and Hayden Panettiere. Other celebs like Zach Galifianakis and 30 Rock‘s Jack McBrayer have gained web notoriety through their original online videos on Funny or Die.
The site is maturing beyond just a place to stargaze. It has raised $15 million in venture funding, added comedy giant Judd Apatow as a partner, expanded with Southern humor celebs in Blue Collar or Die (formerly My Blue Collar) and into extreme sports with Shred or Die.
But expansion doesn’t automatically translate into success. Neither Shred or Die nor Blue Collar have found any traction yet, which doesn’t bode well for the upcoming Eat, Drink or Die. And The New York Times recently shined a light on the tensions between Will Ferrell’s desire for immediate cash vs. the pragmatic, long-term business approach of venture backers Sequoia.
The site is unveiling a redesign next week, belatedly adding Web 2.0 features like more blogs and a social networking component (yawn). And it’s even kicking around the idea of launching Funny or Die Productions to create more complex webisodes and possibly even movies, which would complete the Hollywood circle: Celebs achieving old media fame start new media company which funds old media projects.