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Point, click, chuckle

Super Deluxe celebrates a year of making the Web funny



In a video called "Baby Trade" posted on SuperDeluxe.com, an overweight car salesman in a cowboy hat makes an offer you probably can refuse: "Hey folks, I'm Barry Blintz down at Barry Blintz's Baby Trade and Car Bonanza! Your sonogram is your credit. From cradle to Sable, from soft spot to soft top. Trade your innie for a Mini, trade your outie for an Audi. Zero down, zero responsibility!"

He adds, in conclusion: "Trade your little man for a minivan! If you're not pregnant, go to our cervix department."

The two-minute sketch, which has been viewed some 60,000 times since it was added last March, is typical of content on Super Deluxe, a free, ad-supported comedy website funded by Turner Entertainment. Quick, loud and edgy, Super Deluxe is based on current events – in this case, an incident early in 2007 in which a Colorado woman tried to sell her baby to buy a car.

Celebrating its anniversary this month, Super Deluxe acts as a kind of cyber comedy club, minus the tacky brick wall behind the stage and two-drink minimum. The site produces very little content in-house, instead commissioning work from some of the funniest comedians in the country. From fairly well-known names such as Norm MacDonald ("Saturday Night Live") and Bob Odenkirk ("Mr. Show") to up-and-coming comedians such as Nick Swardson and Chelsea Peretti, the site essentially gives its performers a budget and gets out of the way.

"They give us creative license to do whatever we want. Seldom do they reject a show," says Bill Doty, an actor and co-producer for Fark TV, the outfit responsible for "Baby Trade."

Turner wouldn't give financial information on Super Deluxe; site Senior Vice President and General Manager Drew Reifenberger says it is still in "investment mode" – i.e., not yet profitable. Reifenberger adds that the site employs about 40 dedicated souls, housed in a converted warehouse on Williams Street shared with Adult Swim. "We're big by broadband terms, but small by television terms," Reifenberger says. "We're still a scrappy startup even though we are within a big media company."

Having drawn about 12 million unique visitors in its first 11 months, Super Deluxe is nowhere near as popular as portals such as YouTube or even comedy sites like Will Ferrell's and Adam McKay's venture Funny Or Die. A video on the latter site called "The Landlord," featuring Ferrell being berated by his toddler landlord, has been viewed more than 50 million times. Still, Super Deluxe has outlasted some of its competition; NBC Universal recently shuttered its humor site DotComedy.com, after it failed to draw a critical mass of viewership.

Rather than trying to develop and promote unknown talent, Super Deluxe has prospered by forming symbiotic relationships with established comedy brands. Fark TV, for example, is an offshoot of Fark.com, Drew Curtis' clearinghouse of zany news stories from around the globe that draws some 5 million viewers monthly, according to Doty. Some of that success has rubbed off on Super Deluxe, which airs all of Fark TV's content.

"The viewership has been great," Doty says. "We bring a lot of our traffic from Fark.com, and I'm sure that's one of the reasons they signed us."

Athens, Ga.-based comedians Waco O'Guin and Roger Black were looking for opportunities after their 2005 MTV2 show "Stankervision" was canceled, and now write and produce a series called "Too Soon?" for Super Deluxe. Their "Pacman Jones" video spoofs the Tennessee Titans cornerback of the same name via an actor wearing an oversized Pac Man costume. (The video-game hero snorts cocaine like it's power pellets.) "23 Nights in Paris: Director's Cut" skewers Paris Hilton's dealings in jail, and both videos received more than 400,000 viewings. "Just to put that in perspective, the highest viewership we had for a single episode for 'Stankervision' was 300,000," O'Guin says. "The Internet's where it's at right now."

Super Deluxe also appears to be a creative boon of sorts for Atlanta, where the perils of the writer's strike do not apply. Doty, a native of Orange County, Calif., moved out to Atlanta a year ago to work for the show, and reports that conditions are quite favorable.

"It's a lot different, but I like it," Doty says. "It's really nice to film in Atlanta, because you don't need permits. If you film at a little tiny restaurant in Southern California, they're going to whip out a rate card. Here, they're just eager to work with you. We've filmed in restaurants during some of their peak hours."

Reifenberger says content changes are imminent on the site for its second year. "We kissed a bunch of frogs that didn't turn into princes," he says, referring to sketches that never found favor with viewers. He says they're looking to streamline the talent pool from about 150 performers down to about 30 or 40, and that the site faces challenges ranging from developing its user interface to integrating it into platforms such as Facebook and the iPhone. But beyond the technological ones, the age-old challenge of making somebody laugh will always be there.

"Comedy is very subjective," he says, "and really, really hard."


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