TV on the Radio‘s Tunde Adebimpe had a vision: Paul “Pee-wee Herman” Reubens is driving a racecar through a desert, having a fever dream where every time he looks to the side of the road, strange people are dancing in different weird costumes and formations.
“Yeah, we can do that,” Funny or Die’s producers told him.
The band’s “Happy Idiot” video subsequently premiered last September as a Funny or Die exclusive— something more artists are doing at a time when record labels lack budgets for MTV-style videos. “The first thing anybody says is, ‘There’s no money for videos.’ So it’s great when you walk into a room, you tell someone an idea, they work on their end of it and literally a month later it’s done,” Adebimpe tells Rolling Stone. “If you don’t have ideas, they’ve got millions of ideas to throw you.” The humor site helped fund the video as well, co-producing the clip with Universal Music.
Musicians from Justin Bieber to Waka Flocka Flame to Kenny G have always been a crucial ingredient for Funny or Die, the website created by comedy star Will Ferrell, writer Adam McKay and producer Chris Henchy in 2007. (You may remember a meta Huey Lewis brilliantly satirizing “American Psycho” by murdering “Weird Al” Yankovic in a 2013 clip that has racked up 1.4 million views.)
But since Dinosaur Jr.’s “Watch the Corners” made its debut in August 2012 as one of the site’s first pure music videos, Funny or Die has become a sort of YouTube Plus, creating and hosting content and providing viral marketing. In recent months, Bob Mould, King Tuff, Guided by Voices and Ted Leo have put out videos this way. “We make things easy and fun, and we’re able to bring a lot to the table in terms of comedic talent and views,” says Sean Boyle, a prolific Funny or Die music-video producer. “It comes down to our own sense of pace and editorializing. People who wouldn’t work are probably people we think are lame, and [who we] probably would just make fun of — in a funny way.”
For artists, Funny or Die is an opportunity to stretch out a comedy muscle and reach a potential new audience. In King Tuff’s “Headbanger,” released in late January, the indie-rock band jams as snapshots of fake, long-ago Top of the Pops bands, from the “Jerry Crystals” to “Cowboy Scott,” flash by; in J Mascis’ “Every Morning,” from last summer, the long-haired, gray-bearded guitarist plays a deadpan, Kool-Aid-dispensing cult leader.
“We go to Funny or Die and it’s not, ‘Are you interested in debuting a video I made?,’ it’s, ‘Let’s do something together that you premiere,'” says Brian Schwartz, manager of J Mascis and Dinosaur Jr. In addition to collaborations with high-level writers, 35 million users per month and connections to actors and comedians (Fred Armisen appears in “Every Morning”), the viral-comedy giant provides another benefit. In “Headbanger,” King Tuff dresses in drag and poses as a bearded girl band called Foreplay. Says the trio’s manager, Christian Stavros: “Funny or Die has a well-stocked closet of great costumes.”