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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For those of you who have wiled away the hours listening to Spotify, you may also have found yourself spending valuable time online watching Funny or Die. It established itself as one of the four most comedy websites four years ago with a video of Will Ferrell arguing with the world's cutest and crankiest little landlord named Pearl.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "THE LANDLORD")

WILL FERRELL: (as Character) I'm not doing so good, Pearl.

PEARL MCKAY: (as Pearl) (Unintelligible).

FERRELL: (as Character) Pearl, I'm going to pay you. I'm working three jobs right now. I'm working nights. I'm driving a cab. I'm inside with my buddy right now just going over my resume.

MCKAY: (as Pearl) I'm gonna smash you.

CORNISH: Among Funny or Die's other viral hits - an open letter from Paris Hilton to John McCain. The website gives celebrities both minor and major a big platform with little to lose. NPR's Neda Ulaby went to a Funny or Die video shoot to see how it's done.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Adam Scott is trying on being a director. The actor plays Amy Poehler's love interest on the show "Parks and Rec." But right now he's in a derelict old warehouse in downtown Los Angeles overseeing crew members as they spray fake smoke for his actors to walk through.

ADAM SCOTT: Can we get more smoke to where they're going to be like right in the shot? Hey, what are we making, a Cheech and Chong movie here?

ULABY: The plumes of smoke don't faze Naomi Scott, the actor's wife. She's co- producing the video and says this is the perfect playground to try out something new.

NAOMI SCOTT: They have a great infrastructure in Funny or Die, where they actually provide you with one of their amazing producers to kind of staff up and crew up. So, we really lucked out with them, because they are turnkey. It's really great.

ULABY: So, the Scotts just needed to show up. First first time behind the camera Adam Scott's directing a skit about a movie stunt gone terribly wrong.

SCOTT: It's actually based on something that happened to me on the set where I had to do a stunt and there was two motorcycles that were going to fly through the air on both sides of me.

ULABY: Adam Scott is not ashamed to admit he was frightened. He asked to watch a stuntman do it first. An assistant director on the set made fun of him.

SCOTT: And it was really an emasculating experience. This is your mark, OK, and this is your gun. You're going to point your gun at these guys. Now, they're going to charge you full speed. You're going to discharge your gun at them, all right? Keep your elbows in because we don't lose anything. You've got about four inches of breathing room on either side. So, let's get this done. Capeesh, capeesh. We don't want any accident, roll it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTORCYCLE)

ULABY: Actor Mark Duplass is playing the part of, well, Adam Scott.

MARK DUPLASS: I'm hoping I'm funny and I'm hoping I don't die; is basically two very important things.

ULABY: Duplass is a Funny or Die newbie. He's happy to be part of a group dedicated to giving things a try.

DUPLASS: Everybody's done a little writing and a little directing and a little acting and so it was a bit of a throw your hat in and just see what happens.

ULABY: So, here's how Funny or Die makes money with such an experimental model: by keeping it's videos cheap. Dick Glover is the company's CEO.

DICK GLOVER: There are a lot that cost $100 and there are few that cost $8,000.

ULABY: The stars donate their time for a chance to play and raise their profiles among the website's desirable fan base. Funny or Die fans skew young and slightly upscale, so advertisers are also willing to experiment with adventurous product placement.

GLOVER: We talk with them. They go into the writer's room and kick around ideas. Come up with things. Then with them say, oh, great, here are four ideas. They say, oh, I love that idea and then we shoot it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FUNNY OR DIE VIDEO)

TIM: (as Character) Yeah, wow, hit the spot. What is this ice?

ERIC: (as Character) Absolut on ice.

ULABY: Absolut vodka sponsored a Funny or Die web series featuring the absurdist duo, Tim and Eric. They dump sand in their drinks and ironically criticize each other for mocking and hawking the product.

(SOUNDBITE OF FUNNY OR DIE VIDEO)

TIM: (as Character) That's good stuff. That's what I want.

ERIC: Subtle stuff isn't it?

ULABY: Adam Scott's video is subtle in it's product placement. The main actor is yelled at for being too scared to do a stunt.

SCOTT: Well, I'll go over there. I'll be your stuntman, OK, sweetie? I'll be your stuntman. Why don't you sit over there in your chair and get a Vitamin Water.

ULABY: Even while they're filming, Scott and actor Mark Duplass take a break to make sure the product placement is OK.

SCOTT: Derogatory towards Vitamin Water in anyway?

DUPLASS: Yeah, because they're your sponsor, right?

SCOTT: Yeah, they are my sponsor.

ULABY: Sometimes something that just gets mentioned in a video naturally ends up as a sponsored product, says Funny or Die CEO Dick Glover.

GLOVER: There'll be times I'll be sitting in my office and watching a video and I'll call the salespeople. You know, hey, did we talk to Vitamin Water? This is a great thing for them and the answer is often, no, sometimes, yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ULABY: Glover says the online videos function as low cost test balloons for TV shows. Funny or Die has launched two cable series so far with a third set for later this month. Next year, a Funny or Dies first movie comes out starring Tim and Eric, the ones with the vodka sponsorship).

(SOUNDBITE OF FUNNY OR DIE VIDEO)

TIM: (as Character) (Unintelligible).

ERIC: (as Character) (Unintelligible) shrim.

ULABY: And in inexplicable emphasis on the word shrim. It should be noted not everything on the website is that funny, but that's part of what happens when you try different things. Some stuff's funny, other stuff dies. And when it does, it dies quietly and inexpensively. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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