Virtual Reality became the center focus at Sundance 2016, with around 37 experiences shown at the film festival. Many experiences put users in intense situations, tapping into internal emotions like fear or empathy. Funny or Die, however, made light of the medium, providing a much needed look into the laughable nature of VR.
We sat down with the director of the Funny or Die piece, Lex Halaby, to find out how this comedy sketch came to be.
“I’ve been directing projects in VR for a little over a year now and had a relationship with Funny or Die. We started talking about a way to work together to try and do something that hasn’t been done with comedy in VR. This project was born from that.”
The 3D experience stars Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer who are most famous for their roles in the hit TV series The League and Children’s Hospital. Together, they form a “good cop, bad cop” duo who interrogate the viewer about a dirty deed done on October 14th.
The initial scene fades in and a cop is watching. Looking down, the user is sitting in a chair inside a holding room wearing a Funny or Die jacket with their arms handcuffed below. On the table in front of them the words “I Did It” with a smiley face scratched into the surface.
Paul Scheer, aka Detective Gladis (but you can call him Bill), comes in and starts asking about that night. A horrendous act took place that evening, and the two worst cops in history are on the case.
Scheer’s counterpart, Rob Huebel, aka Detective Bixby, swings open the door holding a bloody rag. He throws down the two chairs in front of the table in a rage, proceeding to light up an e-cigarette and blowing the vapor in viewer’s face.
After getting no answers about the night of October 14th, Bixby smashes a couple of coffee cups against the wall. Gladis and him go back and forth in typical “good cop, bad cop” fashion.
In between Gladis trying to make out with the user and Bixby pulling a gun out, the underlying narrative is hilariously effective – shot in two consecutive takes. The funny background music adds to the experience as well.
Without actually giving away the reason for the interrogation, the Funny or Die sketch makes great use of the 360-degree space. Everywhere you look, there are hidden jokes all around.
“Bixby sux” is written on the wall. Nearby is a blood splatter with a label that says “Oops!” There is even a moment when another officer comes into the room and in the background a clown can be seen getting arrested. It all flows well together, which is still rare to see in these quickly developing times.
Lex Halaby describes what aspects of virtual reality work well in comedy.
“There are certain tools in VR that you don’t have in another medium when it comes to comedy. Things like personal space, or playing up awkwardness. You can feel very awkward in a VR experience or threatened. These types of things can be used for comedic effect that you don’t necessary feel or have a body sense memory of when you are watching it on Youtube or something.”
When the film premiered at Sundance, it was shown in the Samsung “greenhouse” where groups of people could watch the experience at the same time. Although the headsets were not technically synced, it was a more social environment for viewing virtual reality content as compared to the main New Frontier location where the other VR experiences were located at.
We all know that laughter is contagious, but the virtual reality experience was still inherently isolating. Even though the people watching the “Interrogation” were in the same room at the same time, each of them were experiencing the same bit of content, but in their own world. With headphones on, they couldn’t hear their neighbors giggling.
When asked about how social comedy will be in VR, Halaby suggestions that virtual reality comedy can be inherently liberating.
“It’s kind of nice. They are all laughing in their own way, in their own moment. And it’s not built on a social cue. In some ways, it’s almost a purer form of actual comedy.”
Samsung also sponsored a comedy in VR panel at Sundance (video embedded below). People were laughing non-stop.
As most of the virtual reality experiences at Sundance contained a heavy-underlying tone, it was nice to laugh with a film. The VR community often takes itself so serious. Escaping from that is tough, especially when we as early adopters are immersed in it all the time.
Because of the nature of the film, Funny or Die’s “Interrogation” is a must-see 360-degree sketch. It is ridiculous on all levels, and utilizes the medium so well. The directing, acting, editing, visual effects, and lighting meld perfectly for a fun ride.
Those with a Gear VR headset can watch it on Milk VR. So, go check it out now!