Celebrating Ten Years of Funny or Die with CEO Mike Farah

mike-farahYou’ve probably heard by now that Funny or Die is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The comedy behemoth founded by Adam McKay, Will Ferrell, and Chris Henchy has come a long way since putting out its initial viral video, “The Landlord.” This internet sensation emphatically announced that the world was ready and eager for good web-based comedy. 

For more on “The Landlord” and Funny or Die I highly recommend the Wired feature story, “Funny or Die at 10: An Oral History.” It is a fascinating read. Furthermore, for a hilarious tongue-in-cheek year-by-year look back at the company, there’s the video series 10 Years of Funny or Die with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. The 2011 video is being released today. But, if you haven’t already, also check out 2007-2010. They are laugh-out-loud funny.  

A huge reason for FOD’s growth and enduring success has been CEO Mike Farah, who has been with the company from nearly the beginning. In addition to overseeing countless web videos, Farah has won two Emmys for his work on Between Two Ferns and is currently an executive producer on Brockmire, IFC’s farcical look at baseball archetypes and traditions. Brockmire currently has a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, has been renewed for a second season, and is IFC’s highest rated new series. 

I recently sat down with Farah to discuss how he got his start with the company, the walking contradiction that is Jim Brockmire, and how rewarding it was to be a part of a brainstorming session at the White House.   

How did you get your start at Funny or Die and in comedy in general?

I started going to UCB shows pretty close to after it opened in LA at the Tamarind Theatre in 2005. I was working in development at Paramount and I started going to the theater and just fell in love with all of the amazing talent on display each night. Then in 2007, coinciding with the writer’s strike, the production company I was with basically disbanded. As a result, I started producing as much short-form comedy as I could during the strike. Then, a bunch of things that I had produced ended up on Funny or Die and I basically became the first producer in the company’s history.

[Adam McKay, who is currently in pre-production on his feature film, Cheney, elaborated:

“Funny or Die had just started and one of our producers at Will and mine’s company, Gary Sanchez Productions, Owen Burke, told me about this guy he had met. He said this guy wanted to produce internet content. This was back in 2008, so I said ‘That job doesn’t really exist.’ And Owen told me this guy knew that, but he wanted to do it anyway. And that was of course Mike Farah. Mike is a force. A constructive, unstoppable force.”]

Tell me a little about the FOD offices and take me through a somewhat typical day?

We are currently in our fourth office, which is located on The Lot in West Hollywood in the same building as Oprah Winfrey and the Oprah Winfrey Network. There really isn’t a typical day in our office, but my favorite days are when we have shoots going on and there’s just so much energy with everyone working together. Those are the days when the entrepreneurial spirit and creative spirit of the company really stands out.

You’ve worked on projects featuring numerous celebrities.  If you had to choose, do you have one particular project/sketch that you were involved with that you look back on most fondly? 

“Prop 8 the Musical” definitely stands out. That combined amazing talent with an amazing song and idea for a really worthwhile cause. I’m also really proud of Billy Eichner and Billy on the Street and how that’s grown over the years. 

Also, Brockmire with Hank Azaria and Amanda Peet, which started out as a Funny or Die viral video. We just had a really fun time working with Hank and found the perfect partners in IFC to turn it into a TV show.  I’m really excited for season 2, which is in a new town and has super funny scripts as Brockmire’s demons certainly haven’t gone anywhere. We should start shooting in the next few months and I am hoping that we find an even bigger audience. 

What do you think it is about America’s favorite pastime that makes it such a ripe avenue for comedy? After all, some of the funniest sports movies ever made are about baseball. 

There are so many traditions, history, and nostalgia connected to baseball that I think it provides a broad canvas to make fun of those tropes. As far as Brockmire, here’s the classic baseball announcer that everyone knows combined with absurdity, crazy stories, and heavy drug and alcohol use, which provides for just an amazingly funny juxtaposition.  

In other sports news, I understand you’re quite the basketball player and fan. Is there a hoop at the Funny or Die offices where the writers or yourself ever go out just to shoot around and brainstorm? 

We don’t have a hoop but we are really close to Poinsettia Park and just had our first Funny or Die 3-on-3 basketball tournament in June, which inspired a weekly company pick-up game at the park. It’s a fun way for everybody to bond and, for me personally, playing in a pick-up game allows my brain to slow down and have a bit of a break from thinking about work.

You were a part of a meeting at the White House that included Amy Poehler, Jennifer Hudson, and Michael Cera that discussed how to inform and to get young people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act. Those efforts culminated with President Obama’s appearance on an episode of Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis promoting the ACA. Tell me a little about this experience.

That whole process was just incredibly rewarding. Everything in America becomes politicized, but we felt healthcare and people having health insurance really shouldn’t be. The law had already passed but because of the gridlock on Capitol Hill it was very difficult to get the word out on how the ACA could help people. That’s a big reason we put the Between Two Ferns with Obama and Zach together. The more people who signed up the more the cost of the premiums would go down. That video set the highest standard for a really funny piece of content and drove a ton of traffic and signups to the ACA website. As Adam [McKay] said, that was comedy that actually saved lives, which is an amazing outcome.  

To wrap things up, tell me where it is you see the company headed over the next ten years?

I don’t know that anyone knows what the future of media holds ten years out. However, whatever Funny or Die does, or wherever we’re at, we’ll always be 100% committed to working with great talent. Whether they are household names or people no one knows, we love the ability to work with great comedians and writers and directors to produce great content, because no matter what the media landscape is, that will always find a home.

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