How to Make a Successful Comedy Video for the Web

June 23, 2011 7:47 PM

There are lots of ways to get hits on YouTube: use your camera phone to capture your cat failing to jump effectively; your friend getting hit by an ice cream truck; or someone working on a dance routine that ends in severe head trauma.

That said, if you want to create something that will get you more positive attention and might even open the door to future career opportunities, there’s another way: create a professional-looking comedy video for online viewing.

A recent YouTube video about faux-gangsta-style goings-on at a Whole Foods in West L.A. is many things – hilarious, timely, well-produced, beautifully shot and edited, and catchy as hell. It’s also wildly successful.

David Wittman, the creator of the video (who also stars in it and wrote the song) got together a collective of local videographers, editors, musicians and DJs in order to create videos that would be fun to make and fun to watch.

As evidenced by the over 1.5 million views “Whole Foods Parking Lot” has already garnered on YouTube, his vision is being realized with their first project. Here are some lessons to take away from this video and its success:

1. Aim for the Highest Possible Production Values
Empirella attended a talk at the 2010 Just for Laughs Comedy Conference delivered by the makers of this brilliant video about “brostitution,” which, despite being “no-budget,” involved 2 cameramen, sound, lighting, and a professional makeup artist. The finished product looks as polished and beautiful as a real documentary – but it’s way more likely to make you spit out your nachos laughing.

There’s no law that says an online comedy video has to have great production values. But when it does, the whole thing becomes far more impressive. If your video ever gets a million views, it will become your calling card. You want it to look like Whole Foods Parking Lot or Brostitution, not “Single Ladies Fail.”

2. Make It Relatable – and Honest
If you want to reach a large number of people, you’d better be saying something they can understand. In the case of this video, the trope of the Prius-driving yuppie spending way too much on obscure ancient grains at a Whole Foods is instantly understandable, and hilarious when juxtaposed with gangsta rap’s hardcore attitude.

But this video wasn’t made to attack well-to-do people who buy Quinoa. It was made by one of those people. David Wittman is talking about his own experience as a wealthy resident of West L.A., which means the whole piece has the pleasant ring of self-parody rather than the potential anger of mockery.

3. Work With Your Friends
Chances are you know some talented people. If you’re in a creative field, or you’re a creative type, you’ve probably gathered some similar-minded folks around you. Use them.

I’m working on a web series at the moment, the impetus for which was a very strong desire to do…something…with all the amazing, talented filmmakers and actors I know. Working with them is incredible: we don’t have a budget, but we do have raw talent and the pre-existing relationships to get through the painful process of creation together.

4. Listen to Your Brain
One phrase I hear a lot (sometimes coming out of my own mouth) is this: “I don’t have any good ideas.” Many artists self-destruct by overthinking projects before they’ve even begun. An idea that seems clever at 1 a.m. may strike you as foolish in the cold light of day.

If you are creative, though, you probably have several hundred ideas every day. In the case of this video, David Wittman regularly shops at Whole Foods, loves hip-hop, thought of combining the two and created a viral monster. Maybe one of your random ideas is just as good – but you have to believe in it and see it through to completion.

5. Just Add Music
“Whole Foods Parking Lot” wouldn’t be nearly as successful if the music wasn’t catchy, hilarious, and well produced. Empirella spoke to Jon LaJoie a while back about his rise to comedy video success with another sharp rap parody, “Everyday Normal Guy.” It was his use of music mixed with comedy, he told us, that catapulted him to Internet fame.

Even if you don’t want to create a whole video based on a song, you can take the example of Odd Jobs, a comedy web series that includes an original song in almost every episode as part of the plot. Music is a great shortcut to get people’s attention: it’s catchy, it’s fun, and viewers will want to share it with their friends if it’s funny.

Creating a quality online comedy video is hard work, but the pay-off can be amazing. It’s not for everyone, though. If you’re interested in filming your cat or damaging your friends’ health for fun and profit instead, check out this video.


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