Matt is joined by Funny or Die CEO Mike Farah and chief creative officer Joe Farrell to talk about the state of comedy in Hollywood, why there are less and less hit comedy movies in theaters, social media’s impact, making comedy in today’s culture, and a movie studio’s incentive to take risks on a comedy without a star.
Matt, Mike, and Joe discussed the state of comedy right now: Less hit movies, fewer opportunities for aspiring comedians in the middle ground between social media and a late-night show, and Wall Street pressure on streamers. Part of their conversation is excerpted below.
Matt Belloni: What is the state of comedy right now? Because it’s in this weird place. We just came off this Netflix event that they had in L.A. last week, where they had hundreds of comedy shows around town. Seemed like it was a pretty big success. I saw [John] Mulaney at Hollywood Bowl; it was sold out. There were all kinds of big events in comedy. And yet there’s only one [major studio] comedy in movie theaters this summer. It’s called Easter Sunday with a comedian called Jo Koy. This used to be the pecking ground, the place where the biggest comedies would debut is in, you know, the summer months. Not happening. And the state of TV comedy is kind of weird, too. A lot of these comedies that get nominated for Emmys, they’re not even that funny. If you look at things like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, or even Atlanta, which I love, they’re not strictly comedies as we once knew them. What is the state of comedy in entertainment right now?
Mike Farah: Joe? You want that one?
Joe Farrell: Oh, the nice one. Thank you, Mike, that’s one of the biggest handoffs I’ve seen in Hollywood history.
Mike Farah: No, it is a challenging market. There’s no doubt about it, but I would just say even from a more holistic standpoint, the main contradiction in Hollywood that I think producers are feeling is that there’s never been more money spent on content. And yet it is so, so hard to get things made. And even the definition of success when things get made is just dramatically limited, right? And so I think Joe has a unique perspective because as the chief creative officer, he’s really in the trenches producing these shows and talking to buyers every single day. So we talk a lot about it, right? Because of that evolution that we’ve had—Funny or Die is now 15 years old. And it’s a much different company in 2022 than it was in 2007. So yes, Joe, I did punt it to you, but for a reason.
Joe Farrell: In one sense, the community is thriving. I think, you know, you make the point about the Netflix festival, which was amazing to see so many people locally championed. I think ways to break into comedy are very easy through social media and the internet and ways to sort of get that start. I think, where we’re seeing the challenge—and you know, I’ve been at Funny or Die for 12 years, started as an intern, so it’s like, I’ve come through the sort of generational shift—that middle class where you can get training, doing things that aren’t TikTok, Snapchat, that chasm between a television show and a movie and breaking in … that sort of middle-class time has really shrunk. And so I refer to sort of, it’s not a lost generation, but it’s a generation of creators that are looking for outlets to make things.
And if you’re not on SNL or a late-night show, where do you go to do your comedy to be seen and noticed? And I think with the outlets and the consolidation of streaming, we are just seeing this sort of crunch happen. So it’s not a surprise that there’s just one studio film that’s a comedy this summer, because there’s just not that many being made. At Funny or Die, we are in the business of getting people their first or second show. And that is our challenge: How do we get people their first show? And it used to be, we could get them a short, we could do a couple shorts. Then they get plucked by a late-night show. Then they get to SNL. Then they get staffed. And there was that ladder, and the ladder is being dismantled. And we’re trying to put it back together in real time.
Belloni: Yeah. It doesn’t seem like there’s that engine. I mean, there’s no Apatow machine where, you know, you had 15 years ago, there were five, seven people that became legitimate stars off of his shows and movies. And that generation is now 40 years old. You look at guys like Seth Rogen or Jason Segel—that crew is kind of aging up and there’s really nobody behind them. I heard one person say to me the other day, “Reality TV killed comedy.” People look to those shows now for laughs and there isn’t that desire for scripted comedy in the TV space. I disagree. Shows like Schitt’s Creek and Veep and other legitimately funny comedies are successful, there’s just a lot fewer of them. And I don’t know why.
Farah: Well that brings up the classic point about comedy—that person saying that to you shows just how subjective comedy is, right? It is subjective and it’s purely original. And these are things that freak streamers out, right. There are three very distinct forces at hand. You have, like, traditional Hollywood that just wants to go with its gut and kind of like pay the same people to do the same stuff. You have the engineers who just totally believe in the algorithm. And now because of the response of Paramount Global and Netflix, you have Wall Street finally putting pressure on streaming in a way that didn’t exist. So we’ve never been in this moment where you have these three competing forces, all colliding. And that’s why I feel like streamers and studios, comedy just feels less essential, which is unfortunate because now with everything going on in the world, comedy has never been more needed.
This excerpt was lightly edited for clarity.
Host Matt Belloni
Guest: Mike Farah and Joe Farrell
Producer: Craig Horlbeck
Theme Song: Devon Renaldo