creative:impact - Mike Farah of 'Funny or Die' keeps the laughs coming
Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.
ABOUT MIKE FARAH:
Mike Farah is the Chief Executive Officer of Funny or Die, the premiere comedy brand known for its award-winning long- and short-form content. Mike has been with FOD since 2008, starting as its first producer, rising to President of Production, and then taking over the reigns as CEO in 2016. This past year, Mike oversaw FOD's acquisition by the prominent business leader and social activist Henry R. Muñoz III, with the vision of growing from a successful production company into a full-service independent studio. Select credits include two-time Emmy-winner Between Two Ferns, the Emmy-nominated Billy on the Street, and the Peabody Award-winning American Vandal.
Mike is from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and is a graduate of Indiana University. He began his career in entertainment as a food expeditor at The Standard, Hollywood.
ABOUT FUNNY OR DIE:
We tell fun, original stories that make people laugh.
Funny Or Die (FOD) is a premiere entertainment brand and independent comedy studio that creates award-winning, premium comedy with today’s biggest stars and tomorrow’s freshest voices.
Funny Or Die reaches a global audience of more than 40 million people across all our social platforms. The company has produced the critically-acclaimed Brockmire for IFC, Emmy-nominated Billy on the Street, the Peabody award-winning American Vandal for Netflix, the Emmy-nominated Sarah Silverman series "I Love You, America" for Hulu, and the feature films, "Between Two Ferns: The Movie" for Netflix, and "Impractical Jokers: The Movie" for Warner Media.
Funny Or Die’s new true crime documentary series "For Heaven’s Sake" recently premiered on Paramount+ as did the new animated fourth season of "No Activity." Funny Or Die produced two primetime specials in 2020, "Essential Heroes: A Momento Latino Event" on CBS, and Feeding America Comedy Festival on NBC.
We have a passion for treating talent well and making premium comedy that never fails to surprise people, including ourselves. With those principles as our constant guide, we look forward to dominating the known comedy universe and one day, perhaps, maybe even breaking even.
Funny Or Die was founded in 2007 with Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Chris Henchy’s infamous “The Landlord” video and has since become a comedy juggernaut. In May 2021, Henry R. Muñoz III, a national leader in design, healthcare and cultural empowerment, announced that he had acquired Funny Or Die and now serves as its sole owner.
We hope you like the site. If you have comments, suggestions, or don’t like our driving feel free to message us via our Contact page.
Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. Thanks for tuning in every Tuesday as we meet creative guests rooted in Washtenaw County and explore how their creative businesses, products, programs and services impact and add to our quality of life, place and economy. And they also give us bragging rights. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host for creative impact. I can't wait to introduce you to our guest. Raised in Ann Arbor, Mike Farah began his career in entertainment where so many creative media artists do. As a food expediter at a restaurant, now he is the CEO of Funny or Die, the production company behind such hits as Between Two Ferns, Brockmire, Guilty Party and Flipped. Let's hear how one thing led to another. Mike, welcome to creative:impact.
Mike Farah: Thanks so much for having me.
Deb Polich: Yeah, so food expediter. You know, if you were writing the epilogue to your stint in that role, how would you end it with Mike Farah went on to dot dot dot and now is busy doing dot dot dot.
Mike Farah: Well, first, the dot dot dot won't be complete if I then add I was fired. As all great food expediters are, they're typically let go. But yeah, no, my experience at the standard on sunset was just so impactful for me because it was the first time I got to be surrounded by other creative people. Everyone there was an aspiring writer or director or actor. And that's how I learned basically to be a producer is working and organizing all the hopes and dreams of the people working at the standard.
Deb Polich: You know, this isn't the first time I've heard this. You know, the whole production of food preparation and getting it out on time and to the people and making them happy really is a lot of what happens in your job now. You know, Funny or Die came on the scene in about 2007, and you joined shortly thereafter. I'd like to ask when you describe the company Funny or Die to people, what do you tell them?
Mike Farah: Oh, that's a good question. Well, I lead with our brightest and best, and that's Will Ferrell. Funny or Die was founded by Will Ferrell back in 2007. And like you said, I joined in 2008. And, you know, it kind of depends on the audience, but we tried to make funny, original, diverse comedy on any platform that could have us. That could be our own through our social media or big platforms, you know, internationally, like Netflix or Apple or Amazon, you name it.
Deb Polich: So is Funny or Die as much of a life philosophy for you and your team as it is the name of your company?
Mike Farah: That's a great question. It definitely is for me. I've been at Funny or Die for 14 years now, and in many ways, I feel it's much more of a vocation than even a career. I love the company. We've been around for a long time. We've had a lot of success. We've had a lot of failures. We've been in between. But the people that I get to work with and the creators that I get to partner up with just I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Deb Polich: It's so great. Loving what you do. You know, you mentioned that the various platforms that you use to distribute your content. When Funny or Die came on the scene, the social media platforms and streaming are really pretty brand new and that had to be rather risky. But you guys mastered them. Why was social media the platform of choice for the company?
Mike Farah: Social media was the platform of choice for Funny or Die because it was free. We didn't have to spend money on billboards or commercials, The launch of Funny or Die in those early days of the internet and also the early days of social media, which was very fortuitous. And it just allowed us to get our voice and our brand and our content and all the creators that we were working with out in the world on a consistent basis.
Deb Polich: So, it certainly worked and worked well. You know, the company has evolved and you right along with it. You started early as a producer and then moved on to president of production and now you're the CEO. What do you really like best about your work?
Mike Farah: I've been very fortunate, like you said, that my job has changed organically every few years at Funny or Die, and now we're in a new chapter at Funny or Die. We were bought by an incredible entrepreneur and activist named Henry Munoz last May. And we are working with Henry, and he is investing heavily into the company to turn Funny or Die into a proper independent comedy studio. And, like I said, we're going to be really focused on any content that is funny, original, and diverse. So, it's been such an amazing journey, and we're so thrilled to start this new chapter with Henry.
Deb Polich: That sounds great. You know, you've worked with some of the funniest or most creative people Will Ferrell you mentioned earlier. Sarah Silverman. Hank Azaria--by the way, I'm a huge fan of Brockmire. Zach Galifianakis to name dropped just a few. Take us into production or behind the scene. Is it a laugh a minute, or how do you stay focused when hilarity can combust at any minute?
Mike Farah: It is a lot of fun. You know, it's, like I said, I'm so fortunate to work with these folks. It's not always just fun and games, but when you're working with comedy comedians and you're working on a creative endeavor, there is just a certain level of levity that, I think, I find very rewarding and comfortable. There are tough moments just like any job, and things don't go your way. Whether you're starting out in Hollywood or super-established, you know, it's a hard life, and it's not for everyone. But at the same time, it's what we signed up for. So, I've been very fortunate to have this community of creators to be supportive of Funny or Die, and we try and support them and really collaborate so that everyone ends up with a great finished product and the audiences can see it and enjoy it.
Deb Polich: You know, it sounds magical, but I do completely understand how difficult it can be also. So this is 891 WEMU, and I'm Deb Polich. My guest is Mike Farah, Ann Arbor son and CEO of Funny or Die, the award-winning independent comedy studio. So, Mike, you grew up in in Ann Arbor and your mom and your dad still live here. Can you tie your career choice to your experiences growing up here in this community?
Mike Farah: Absolutely. I love Ann Arbor. I still get back probably four or five times a year. Like you said, my parents are still there, and I feel very fortunate to have grown up in a university town with so many different people and points of view and culture and sports and both of my parents, John Farah and Gretchen Farah, they were both very, very entrepreneurial. And all those different ingredients combined to make me comfortable and confident enough to move out to Los Angeles after college, really not knowing anyone or anything, and make a go of it.
Deb Polich: So, and your brother, Christopher. He's out there with you too on the Funny or Die team. When your kids were little, were you like funny and did you imagine working in comedy, or was that not a thing at the moment?
Mike Farah: You know, we were definitely not for kids running around, shooting short films, or doing stand-up or even improv, but we've always loved creative people. We've always loved comedy. And my role is really, you know, not to be funny. It's to support funny people and help their voices and their stories get heard. So, that's what I feel my calling is. And so, that's what I lean into.
Deb Polich: So, you know, laughing is so good for us. It's endorphin-inducing, and humor also does more. And its use exploring contemporary subjects, though. Sometimes those things that aren't really very funny at face value, but using humor can help us illuminate that. When is that most effective?
Mike Farah: I think it's effective for times right now. You know, we're, obviously...the pandemic has been just devastating to so many people. There's a lot going on internationally right now. And so, I think just those moments of levity that those moments of escape that comedy can bring. And I think comedians just have an amazing ability to put complex and challenging issues into jokes that make you laugh and also think about what's going on in the world in a slightly different way.
Deb Polich: It is definitely a powerful form. So, Mike, what's coming up next for you in Funny or Die?
Mike Farah: Oh, well, we are about to wrap production on our big Weird Al Yankovic biopic.
Deb Polich: I can't wait!
Mike Farah: Oh, thanks. Yeah. So that's starring Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame as Weird Al and Evan Rachel Wood is playing Madonna, and it's just an amazing cast. And that's going to be released on Roku later on this year. And then, one other project I'll highlight is called Players. A few years ago, we did have successful series for Netflix called American Vandal, and this is the follow-up show from those creators. And that's going to be on Paramount Plus in June. And that's kind of inspired by The Last Dance, the Michael Jordan documentary that takes place in the world of League of Legends, which is a very well-known international game show. So I'm really excited for fans to see both of those.
Deb Polich: Well, we're excited to look forward to them and seeing them too when they drop. Mike, you know, thanks really for joining us on creative:impact and giving us a glimpse into your creative world. We really appreciate you being here.
Mike Farah: Oh, it's my pleasure. Keep up the good work, I really enjoyed the conversation.
Deb Polich: Thanks. That's Mike Farah, Ann Arbor son and CEO of Funny or Die, the award-winning independent comedy studio. Find more out about Mike and find a link to the Funny or Die web site at WEMU dot org. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and host of creative:impact. Please join me next week to meet another creative Washtenaw guest on your community NPR Radio Station, 891 WEMU FM and WEMU HD One Ypsilanti.
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