The physical layout hints at an organizational structure that has something of a split personality. Upstairs is the Ferrell-McKay-Henchy company, Gary Sanchez Productions. It's predictably slick, flooded with sunlight and boasting lots of glass, steel and stained concrete.
"It's pretty crazy, but it's great," says Ferrell, who thinks of the site as "modern-day vaudeville." He stresses how little time and resources go into each video. "It's very low impact in terms of the writing and the acting, and yet it can have a huge impact in terms of how many people can see it."
President of Production Mike Farah's lean staff of producers and writers-directors-editors puts out 40 to 45 short videos a month. And all on a compressed timeline by Hollywood standards. Concepts are nailed on the fly and Web videos are set up via quick phone calls to friends, often bypassing agents and managers entirely. At the height of the Charlie Sheen media frenzy, they pitched him a cooking video. Three days later they shot it, and it was live on the site the next day.
"It was a 24-hour turnaround. By Hollywood terms, that's lightning speed," Farah says.
The insular, almost frat-like network of A-list friends itching to work with Funny or Die further accelerates an already quick Web production cycle. The idea for the video "When Harry Met Sally 2," starring Billy Crystal and Helen Mirren, was sparked at Crystal's grandson's birthday party and came together within days. His daughter directed it, another daughter appeared in it and his sons-in-law wrote it.
Speed and access to talent are key to Funny or Die's success and gives it an edge when pitching projects to networks. It's able to quickly and cheaply make pilot samples and sizzle reels to show executives what they're going for as well as test-drive material on the site to get user feedback.
The latest brainchild — and a hint of FOD's broad ambitions — is a book publishing arm, still in the exploratory stages. Though that might seem counterintuitive to FOD's digital roots, Farah envisions it being an innovative hybrid of paper and e-books. He sees old-fashioned, classic humor books on the one hand and a Mad Magazine/McSweeney's-type e-magazine for iPads on the other.
Just as two- to three-minute videos work online, so too would short stories, blogs-turned-books and novellas work for its book brand. They've just begun to meet with authors and publishers, and Farah thinks the idea of marketing books for free on their site will be "very compelling to traditional publishers." The goal is to have a book out "in some form" by year's end.
Mark Groubert, an editor for five years at the humor magazine National Lampoon, urges caution about Funny or Die's expansion. "This is a very small, dark, sarcastic comedic little world that they're in," he says. "Culturally, for them to go that wide out, they'd have to broaden the comedy, thereby dispersing or diminishing the brand."
And if the launch of "Funny or Die Presents" on HBO is any indicator, there's much to be learned about crossover. The show proved challenging to adapt from Web to TV at first. According to co-creator McKay, they initially envisioned a show comprising user videos from the site but quickly realized that wouldn't work legally. "We went from 'There's no rules, we can take stuff from the Internet' to 'Oh, wait, there are rules,'" McKay says. They ended up hiring users whose content they liked on the site and had them create original material for the show, supplemented by the "exclusive" in-house produced videos they're known for.
McKay says the site hasn't been as timely as he'd like it to be. He's pushed the writers to create more sketches in sync with the news cycle. Like a pig in a Donald Trump wig, for example, or a Kate and William reality show spoof. Unlike "Saturday Night Live," which is tied to a weekly production schedule, McKay says the FOD site can respond to current events practically while they're happening.
Where could the seemingly elastic Funny or Die possibly stretch from here? Steele says he'd like to do a Sunday morning "week in review" sports podcast with Ferrell, who envisions one day premiering feature films on the site via download. "That's something we're striving for," Ferrell says.
And then there are … concert tours? Which is why Matthew Morrison is hanging upside down from the ceiling of an elevator today — or at least that's what this trick shot will have the viewer believe. The "Glee" star will soon embark on a 22-city concert tour, during which he'll show clips of the spoof biopic he's filming with Funny or Die. It's the first time the company has inserted videos into a performer's live show.
"I'm just hoping this will be one of the Funny or Die classics," Morrison says.
His costar today, "Lost's" Mader, is just happy to be here. "I just shot [an ABC] sitcom and my friends were, like, 'Funny or Die? Shut up!'" Mader says. "They care way more about this."