Only in the upside-down world of the Internet could a Web site overseen by comic superstar Will Ferrell and backed by big bucks from Silicon Valley be lifted to success on the slender shoulders of a 2-year-old girl.
You remember Pearl, don't you? Her tough-talking appearance as a dipsomaniac demanding the rent made "The Landlord" a viral video classic from the moment it was posted in April on the site funnyordie.com. Funnyordie's Adam McKay has been a writer for "Saturday Night Live" and has directed $100 million movies like "Anchorman," but he was just as excited when "The Landlord" went viral.
"We did no advertising or lead up to our site whatsoever," he said. "The Pearl 'Landlord' clip just got shot around, passed from person to person and then when it started hitting like 2 [million], 3 million. We couldn't even comprehend what was happening."
It's now at 43 million and you can understand his excitement. Not only does Adam McKay help to run funnyordie; he is also Pearl's father.
The genesis for the clip, he said, came from his daughter's ability to enunciate well at an early age. "For months, I was going to dinner parties or people would come over and I'd get her to say absurd stuff like, 'I'm not happy with our nation's fiscal policy,' or 'Have you read the latest Ian McEwen novel?' Or we'd be in traffic and I'd have her yell out the window, like 'Hey, watch it, buddy.' You know, 'Where'd you get your license? KMart?'
"So when we talked about doing shorts, I thought well, this is perfect. We're not scripting it out and sweating over it. It's just my daughter who knows Will, and we'll go over to his house and we'll goof around. That was basically it. It worked out well."
So, at least for now, here's the funnyordie concept: a Web site dedicated to short comedic clips, some performed by viewers, others, by comedy professionals. The initial concept was the brainchild of Sequoia Capital's Mark Kvamme; actually, he said, of his 18-year-old son. ?"He said, 'You know, Dad, there's no good place to find comedy," said Kvamme. "There was this hot site on the Internet a little while ago called Hot or Not. And he says, 'We need Hot or Not meets comedy.'"
Part of a venture capital outfit that over the years has provided key finding for everything from Apple to YouTube, Kvamme approached McKay and Ferrell, who were far from Web-savvy. At the time, McKay's web use was limited to "fantasy basketball, e-mail and suicidegirls.com."
"We never really thought people were going to the Internet directly and solely for content. Then we realized we were old, and we were wrong," McKay said.
Rena Furuya contributed to this report. Now they know and they've quickly learned what works best on the Web. "You can do a quick little three-minute absurdist idea," he said. "You can do a one-minute idea. You can do a 20-second idea. You've seen the clip of the chipmunk, the dramatic take? That could never exist in any other medium except the Internet."
Now, suggests McKay, an audience can see on the Web the sort of quick, inspired comic bits that they'd never have gotten access to before. "A lot of these ideas are the type of ideas we would do at the writer's room at 'Saturday Night Live' that could never make it to air."
That freedom is what's brought to funnyordie stars like Jenna Elfman, playing a very pregnant basketball player; Danny DeVito as a demanding actor; or as a seriously twisted version of himself, improv ace Jack McBrayer, best known as the wholesome Kenneth on "30 Rock."
In a small apartment in the San Fernando Valley, McBrayer performed a series of clips that'll be posted on the funnyordie site on September 5th. "Let's just say that the clean-cut Jack McBrayer gets to get his hands dirty and his mouth filthier," he said and the clips bear him out.
What may surprise people is that, at present, there's no mechanism for paying people who do clips for the site, be they civilians or superstars.
"What we're saying is it's exposure. In the future it will be sharing in the advertising revenue," said Kvamme. "Right now, they're doing it for free, yes."
And what about Pearl? After getting offers to go on talk shows and be in a Jackie Chan movie, she did a sequel with Ferrell: "Good Cop, Baby Cop." With tongue firmly in cheek, McKay said working with her was a lot different the second time around.
"She had contacted ICM, the big talent agency, so she had a handler on the set," he said, "and you know, constantly potty breaks. I don't know what she's doing in that bathroom. I mean, I suspect she's eating fruit roll-ups and uh, and drinking 7-Up, which is a big no-no."
But don't expect Pearl to become Hollywood's latest problem child. Her father said he's retired Pearl from showbiz so she can stay just a kid.
And does she have any consciousness of the success and celebrity that she now enjoys? McKay smiles. "I would literally and without exaggeration say zero consciousness," he said. "Absolutely none."