When it comes to exploiting the powers of viral video in the name of promoting a film, Judd Apatow is no newbie. The prolific writer/director started creating ancillary material for his films with 2007’s Knocked Up, for which additional bonus scenes featuring Apatow clan pretty boys behaving badly were released online prior to it being released in theaters (including the first introduction of my secret online video boyfriend, Internet James Franco).
And since last year, Apatow has been working primarily with Funny or Die as a distribution host. So what’s surprising about Funny People’s viral push is the extent of the many campaigns in action. Though given that the film is an ensemble comedy set in the entertainment industry, there’s plenty of material. Perhaps, dare I say it, too much.
The first big push was structured around Yo Teach, a fictional sitcom starring Jason Schwartzman’s Funny People character, from which five scenes and a “behind-the-scenes featurette” were released on Apatow and Funny People’s official FoD channels. In these, the satire of sitcom tropes is pretty dead-on, but none of them really seemed to go extremely viral — the most popular being Yo Teach: MC Shakespeare, featuring YouTube star Bo Burnham, at a little over 10,000 views. The rest fall somewhere in the 700-7,000 views range, which verges on the disappointing (to be fair, these numbers don’t necessarily include plays from Yo Teach’s official site on NBC.com).
So, moving on from that, we have a series of clips featuring Adam Sandler, who in the film plays… well, Adam Sandler, best I can tell, right down to a career made by playing annoying morons (I say that despite my intense adolescent fondness for Happy Gilmore). The scenes from “George Simmons’” previous movies, including Dog’s Best Friend and Sayonara Davey, mock bad high-concept comedies, which is pretty low-hanging fruit. And how’d they perform? Well, thanks to major promotion on the FoD front page, the Re-Do clip has hit nearly 125,000 views — but the other two haven’t even broken 1,000 hits. Averaged out, that…that’s kind of sad.
OK then. Moving on. The new hero of the Funny People viral campaign is Raaaaaaaandy, a stand-up comedian (played by Aziz Ansari) who’s probably meant to be a rival for Seth Rogan’s aspiring comic in the film. Not only does Raaaaaaaandy have a fully developed web site, but today Funny or Die released part one of an epic documentary on the only working comic to come with his own DJ. After three days online, it’s hit almost 17,000 views, and seems likely to continue climbing.
So the campaign has definitely had mixed success, with some clear winners but a bunch of pieces that failed to connect. Why? Well, I love the concepts, respect the attention being paid to detail, and can definitely recognize that some clever stuff is at work here. But comedy is supposed to make you laugh. And the blunt truth of it is that I’ve now watched close to an hour of comedy created by the current reigning kings of mainstream humor…and I didn’t laugh once. The Raaaaaaaandy material so far is the freshest, truly working to create a world outside of the film (and bits like his thoughts about the crisis in Darfur are pretty solid). But a parody of an obnoxious comedian isn’t any less obnoxious.
Much of the other material that’s been released was likely repurposed from the film itself (the Re-Do scene, for example, is clearly seen in the red band trailer). And while as an environmentalist I’m always a fan of recycling, maybe Funny People would have been better off focusing on just one or two ideas and then refining them to actually, you know, be funny. It could be that the film is a victim of its title and premise — perhaps due to the expectations one assigns to a film about professional comedians, my expectations were too high. So maybe this means that when I see the movie, it’ll actually be hilarious. Fingers crossed, anyway. I could use a good laugh.
By Liz Shannon Miller | newteevee
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