Funny or Die, the humor website founded by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s production company, Gary Sanchez Productions, is well known for its mix of celebrity-filled viral videos and humorous ones contributed by users. People vote on whether each is “funny” or should be allowed to “die.”
Now the brains behind Funny or Die are branching out into comedic news with the launch of a site devoted to covering current events called “Funny or Die News.” Since it went live last month, Funny or Die News has skewered current events topics with its parent site’s trademark wit.
Many of its pieces follow in The Onion’s tradition of snarky satire, but the site also features a handful of news explainers that genuinely seek to inform without letting up on the jokes. The site’s biggest hit so far is the video “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Man,” a parody of a recent viral video about street harassment. It’s been viewed over 4.5 million times.
AJR talked with Funny or Die News editor-in-chief Dan Abramson about the site’s launch, comedic voice and future plans.
AJR: What motivated Funny or Die to start a news section?
Abramson: We like to make jokes. We were already doing topical content. This just was a way to make a hub around it and form a team to focus on it. We’re already covering news stories because they’re ripe for parody. There’s a lot of fun you can have with it, so you might as well go all in on it.
AJR: How many staff members are on the news team now?
Abramson: There are four, not including myself.
AJR: Does Funny or Die potentially see additional revenue opportunities here, or for the moment is Funny or Die News just going to function as another wing of the site?
Abramson: For now it’s just going to function as another wing of the site. We’re just getting off the ground, so we’ll see where it goes. Ideally, if there’s a way to capitalize on that, [it would be] fantastic, but right now, the more content the better.
AJR: Funny or Die News is entering a comedy news landscape with a few big names, such as The Onion and Clickhole, Cracked and The Daily Show and Colbert Report. What voids do you think Funny or Die News is trying to fill in the comedic news landscape?
Abramson: There’s a lot of great stuff out there. I actually don’t think we’ll necessarily compete with any of them. I think each is bringing something specific to the table, and I think we’re going to do the same. They each kind of have their purpose…we’re kind of focusing on “here’s what’s happening in the news, and here’s our commentary on it.”
AJR: What’s your production schedule like? Does the news team pitch and start pieces on a whim when big news happens, or is there a set schedule for what types of pieces will run on a given day?
Abramson: It’s a combination of both. The news team meets every morning and they go through what’s going on, and they come up with pieces that we think we can make strong jokes about. If something’s going on in the news and we don’t have the right idea we’re not going to force it. But if there’s something that we see [and] we can bring something original to the table…An example being that “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Man” that went up a couple weeks ago. I think we were the first out of the gate to recognize, “OK, this has been going on. We can add our spin to it.” Had some of the other parodies already come out we probably would’ve avoided it. We would’ve been like, “This has been done. There’s nothing new that we can add to the conversation.” But they came in, and that idea was conceived pretty quickly. The news team went out and shot that that afternoon and it was up on the site after a few hours.
AJR: What types of pieces seem to drive the most traffic?
Abramson: It really varies. Like anything on the Internet, [if] it’s a good joke and the concept is accessible, people are gonna click on it. People are going to be excited about it and share it. There’s no formula that we’re inventing or stumbling on. It’s the same game that Funny or Die has always tried to be involved with.
AJR: How would you describe the overall voice of Funny or Die News? Has it been challenging developing a consistent voice?
Abramson: I think it’s going to take some time before we nail down specifically what that Funny or Die News voice is. We’re trying things out, and I actually find that very exciting. That, to me, is a whole lot of fun, trying a bunch of things and seeing what sticks…
AJR: Funny or Die News publishes satirical pieces and informative explainers that have a funny edge to them. How do you straddle that line between being informative and satirical?
Abramson: I think, again, it’s going to come down to the specific topics that we’re covering…[Regarding the explainers,] I think that’s something that we’re going to be doing more of as this goes on, really finding that balance between being informative and funny as well. Obviously, if it’s on Funny or Die, it should be funny…but if you can get some information out of it, fantastic.
AJR: Once the site fleshes out a bit, do you think Funny or Die News will be a place where readers can learn a thing or two but also have some laughs along the way?
Abramson: Yes, that would be great. Obviously, you shouldn’t be relying on Funny or Die for your news, but if you can also get that, I’d be very happy.
AJR: What are things that are worrying you or keeping you up at night?
Abramson: Nothing. I’m sleeping pretty soundly right now…I’ve been working on the Internet for a while now, making content and comedy. The same things have always been there — just make sure we’re making funny pieces. I don’t know if it keeps me up at night, but that’s the goal.
AJR: Would you say there is pressure from Funny or Die as a whole for you guys to publish content designed to go viral and get clicks?
Abramson: I don’t think that’s the case at all. Funny or Die in general is a very supportive company. Funny or Die wouldn’t have started a news vertical if we weren’t going to actively try to improve it and let it grow organically. We’re not going to force anything.
AJR: What’s in store for Funny or Die News moving forward? Are there any big changes or content rollouts planned?
Abramson: I don’t want to give away any secrets…but no. We’re going to keep plugging away and have at it. Naturally, we’re going to stumble onto some things that we’re excited about. If it means sending a writer to cover a story in person — to be an on-the-ground reporter — that would be amazing. We’ll see where it goes.