Lindsay Lohan and the irresistible rise of 'mockumentary'

Troubled actress has revived her career – by posting a witty video on the website that's redefining comedy

Lindsay Lohan hasn't had much to laugh about lately, what with the public meltdowns, court appearances, and endless fights with paparazzi chronicling the breakdown of her relationship with Samantha Ronson. But the headline-prone actress has, it seems, managed to retain a passing acquaintance with her sense of humour.

In a bold display of self-awareness, Hollywood's most prominent "train-wreck," last week posted a video-taped message to fans on the internet. It took the form a spoof dating advert, in which she claimed to be searching for a life companion who doesn't mind her (alleged) alcoholism, or colourful nocturnal habits.

"I would define my personality as creative, a bit of a night owl," she said, with a perky smile. "I'm a workaholic, a shopaholic and, according to the state of California, an alcoholic… Well crash a few parties, a car or two, but at the end of the day I promise you: I never lose my Google hits - just my underwear!"

The 90 second video was watched by a million people in its first day. Pundits were smitten. "It's not just getting laughs, it may get her career back on track," reported Robin Roberts, the influential ABC news anchor. "It's almost like an audition tape for people who could be hiring her," cooed US Weekly's Dana Sansing.

By yesterday, it had pulled nearly 3 million views, prompting widespread speculation that Lohan, who starred in hits like Freaky Friday and Mean Girls before her erratic private life saw her shunned from major Hollywood roles, might suddenly be on course to light up the screen once more.

So far, so normal, in the fickle world of Hollywood. But the clip's real significance had less to do with Lindsay Lohan than with the website where it appeared. It is called Funny or Die, was founded by the comedian Will Ferrell in April 2007, and in two short years has become one of the most important and talked-about brands in show-business.

Funny or Die, which is essentially a version of YouTube for comedy, is changing the way fallen celebrities rehabilitate themselves. It has become the "go to" venue for film and TV producers searching for new talent, or trialing fresh material. And in the eyes of some experts, the way it makes and markets content represents a blueprint for the future of television.

In October, Funny or Die helped Paris Hilton create a video mocking John McCain, who had used her image in a campaign advert during the Presidential election. "He's the oldest celebrity in the world… like, super old… But is he ready to lead?" It stole the news agenda. Nine million people watched.

Earlier last year, when the rumour-mill suggested that an intimate video of Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria was doing the rounds, she took her heat out of headlines by recording a spoof sex tape for the site. "I've gotta go to sleep," she said, at the end. "I have an audition tomorrow. Something called Desperate Housewives. It sounds crap." The film clocked up eight million views.



Funny or Die works as follows: it contains thousands of short, comic video clips. Some are created by either private users (there are tens of thousands); others by the site's own creative team, which is run by Ferrell, his writing partner Adam McKay, comedy producer Judd Apatow, and the screenwriter (and Mr Brooke Shields) Chris Henchy.

After watching the clips. Users click on a voting switch labelled either "funny" or "die." The more positive votes a clip gets, the more prominently it is displayed.

That, broadly, is that. But recently, thanks in no small part to the starry team that run affairs at the company, it has become a favourite outlet for short comic films recorded by Hollywood celebrities who, for whatever reason, are in need a bit of positive PR.

Last week, in the run up to the launch of his film 17 Again, Zac Efron - who despite his massive profile could use some artistic credibility - appeared on the site. Other celebrities to have volunteered their services for it include Jack Black, John Hamm, Natalie Portman, Ron Howard and Gina Gershon.

"In the old days, if a celebrity had something to say, or if they were in trouble, they would go on the late night chat-show circuit, like Hugh Grant did when he was caught with the hooker," says LA media consultant Jacquie Jordan, the owner of tvguestpert.com.

"Now, they can also do a skit for Funny or Die. In PR terms, it has clear advantages. First of all, it's instantaneous. It also feels a little understated. From the public's point of view, seeing a famous person doing an internet skit is like catching a famous person eating at McDonalds rather than Mr Chow's. Its cute."

The site's first ever hit was called "The Landlord," and featured a character played by Will Ferrell being harassed for overdue rent by a two-year-old infant. That clip, released on the day Funny or Die launched, rapidly went viral. It now boasts 62 million views, and is one of the most watched video in the history of the internet.

Today, the website boasts 45 full time employees in the US. A spin-off UK version, run by Matt Lucas and David Walliams, was launched in September. It is also taking to the traditional airwaves: HBO recently announced that it had struck a deal to develop a series of comedy TV programmes, called "Funny or Die presents."

"I don't want to overstate the importance of this deal, but this is the missing link moment where TV and Internet finally merge," says Ferrell. "It will change the way we as human beings perceive and interact with reality. Okay, I overstated it. But it is an exciting deal."

In fact, Ferrell had a point. Funny or Die's tie up with a mainstream broadcaster may very well represent the future of television programme development.

In the past, new shows could only emerge via the expensive route of filming TV pilots, with all the vetting and market research that entails. Funny or Die, and sites like it, provide a cheap proving ground for new comic material.

"It's an incredibly quick, artist-friendly system," says the firm's CEO Dick Glover. "That's the point of it. You can literally do what you want, when you want, without 28 page legal documents. With the Lindsay Lohan clip, for example, she called us on Thursday, we had a script Friday, it shot on Saturday and went online on Wednesday."

"Studios are also using us to try out new talent and formats and see if public takes to them. On the other side of the coin, they are using it to find new talent. CAA have already signed one or two writers who put material on our site. So have UTA."

Comedy is, of course, a perfect medium for internet TV, providing most of the content for several leading online stations such as the UK's Channelflip which carries a weekly skit by Peep Show's David Mitchell, and Sony's US site Crackle. Most rely on viewers using email to forward humorous clips or shows to friends.

"You can tell a joke in a minute. Or less. And that makes comedy ideal for the internet, which is all about short attention spans. It's about snackable content," says Chris McLure, the president of Candortv.com, a site that carries material by stand-up comedians.

The million dollar question, of course, is whether it can also make a profit. With audiences for network TV falling drastically, and advertisers vanishing in the face of recession, the industry's finances are in a parlous state. Internet TV, with its low overheads, and vast reach, represents a beguiling commercial proposition.

"If you can reach the right audience with the right content, you can make money with all sorts of things that in the past wouldn't wash their face," says Scott Nocas, a Vice President at Sony, who is responsible for helping Playstation users get downloadable video content through the console.

"I think of a show on one of the online TV stations called "You suck at Photoshop." It's just this guy at a computer manipulating images and making snide comments, and it's very, very funny. The show would never exist in a network TV world, where you need 10 million viewers. But online, it can be made for very little, distributed almost free, and with a relatively tiny weekly audience still make commercial sense."

All of which, in a roundabout way, is same as saying that Funny or Die and its peers work on the basis that laughter really is the best medicine. As Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and the host of stars taking a sudden interest in internet comedy, would no doubt agree.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Sport
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
football
Voices
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Sport
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
sport
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
News
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Travel
travel
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

Day In a Page

Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears