- The Washington Times - Friday, August 8, 2008

Will Ferrell stood atop the film world when he helped create funnyordie.com last year. The viral video site features comedy clips generated by site visitors as well as from Mr. Ferrell, Paul Rudd and other name performers.

It seemed like a goofy vanity project until this week, when Funnyordie.com’s Paris Hilton energy plan clip revealed Mr. Ferrell’s modest Web investment to be a brilliant way to expand his comic reach.

Who knows? He might even have a voice in the presidential election if he and his team keep bringing the funny.

The site, created by Mr. Ferrell, director Adam McKay and screenwriter (and Mr. Brooke Shields) Chris Henchy, draws more than 4 million unique visitors a month.

Mr. Ferrell didn’t originally envision funnyordie.com having this kind of cultural resonance. In fact, he was leery of the whole project.

“Adam [McKay] and I laugh about it because we barely said ‘Yes,’” Mr. Ferrell told The Washington Times’ Jenny Mayo earlier this year. “We thought the idea was decent, but we were still a little bit like, ‘Hey, will this work when so many other comedy Web sites have failed?’ Eventually we thought, ‘Yeah, just say yes — we’ll be bummed if we don’t do it and someone else does.’”

Turns out the site allows Mr. Ferrell to relive his sketch comedy days on “Saturday Night Live” — without editors or censors.

“What we found is it’s really kind of let us return back to some of the stuff we were doing on SNL in terms of short skits, and that’s neat,” he told this paper. “You can literally grab a camera and start filming an idea that you have, and there’s no pressure. It’s very low impact in terms of production and yet high impact in terms of audience.”

And people are indeed watching his online shenanigans.

Mr. Ferrell’s first clip — casting him as a tenant who’s having a war of words with his profanity-spewing, 2-year-old landlord — has had more than 50 million views.

However, the site as it’s currently configured won’t generate a king’s ransom no matter how many people visit.

Funnyordie.com brings in money via banner ads, “but we’re looking for other revenue streams,” Mr. Henchy says. “We’re starting to cover all our costs.”

Expect more political commentary on the site in the weeks to come, Mr. Henchy says. And it could swing from both sides of the ideological aisle, although the Hilton clip was meant mostly to tweak Sen. John McCain.

“We realized we wanted to take a shot at the McCain’s campaign [to write Barack Obama off as a pop idol] and how ridiculous that was,” he says.

Eric Rickson, product manager with WebTrends, says funnyordie.com attracts the kind of audience that not only sticks around to see the clips, but also likely tells their friends what they saw.

That’s gold to online advertisers, says Mr. Rickson, whose company helps clients leverage their Web presence.

“The primary aspects of the site are showing funny content and getting interaction around that,” Mr. Rickson says. The site’s business model likely won’t generate many click-throughs for its banner ads, but it offers a branding opportunity for sponsors who want to appear on the site, he explains.

The site is also paying economic dividends in other ways. Funnyordie.com recently signed a deal with HBO to produce shows and DVDs for the premium cable network.

Mr. Ferrell, the site’s biggest draw, isn’t known as a politically outspoken talent, but don’t forget: He did create a memorable George W. Bush during his “Saturday Night Live” days. And his new film, “Step Brothers,” begins with a mangled quote about education from Mr. Bush: “Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.”

He may get more political this fall with a planned one-man Broadway show that has him running for the White House, according to Politico.

With “Step Brothers,” Mr. Ferrell has yet another hit movie on his hands and is part of the cultural conversation thanks to his viral Web site.

Not bad for a screen comic who acts like a man-child on screen and loves flashing us his flabby physique.

You might even say his fondest wings have taken dream.

Jenny Mayo contributed to this report.

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