In the hothouse vacuum of L`os Angeles, getting your name on something—anything— can be the difference between more work and cold anonymity. Mahoney tried his hand at performing, shooting, and editing. As a producer, he soon learned to “help my friends deliver their ideas in an artful way.” Among the artists he worked with was Zach Galifianakis, then a piano-playing stand-up comic who later went on to mainstream fame as Alan in The Hangover.
Mahoney arrived in Los Angeles at the dawn of a new era. As digital video exploded and powerful non-linear editing systems came to everyday laptops, underground comedy found a new venue—on-line. “There was a window where you could make something cheap, and the fact that you could basically broadcast it to the world for free was exciting,” says Mahoney. But even if online content has hit a saturation point, he says, “It’s still more efficient to send someone a link than to mail them a videotape, or have them come to your show in the back of some donut shop.”
One of the industry leaders is FunnyOrDie.com, a website that hosts usner-generated content and original videos from well-known comedians. (The site premiered with The Landlord, a two-minute segment featuring site co-founder Will Ferrell squaring off against his two-year-old property owner, which has since been viewed more than 76 million times.) Viewers vote on the videos they watch—the funny ones stay, the rest don’t.
The site launched a series called Drunk History, created by actor and writer Derek Waters. Here, a comic pretends (wink, wink) to get drunk and then describe a moment in history, which actors recreate. Drunk History 5 is narrated by Kirkman, and Mahoney is assistant editor. It features Ferrell and accomplished actors Don Cheadle and Zooey Deschanel in a slurs-and-all recreation of the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglass. Coming full circle from web content to old-school industry success, Drunk History 5 won Best Short at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.
In 2008, while he was producing a series for TBS.com, Matt Besser, a founder of the seminal sketch comedy group the Upright Citizens Brigade, approached Mahoney about turning the stage show Freak Dance into a feature film.
Mahoney describes it as a “spray-paint by numbers music and dance comedy film,” but written from Matt Besser’s point of view. Mahoney agreed to join up as co-director, and the project was green-lit.
The film stars Besser and Joshua Allen, a winner of the television show So You Think You Can Dance, as well as Saturday Night Live alums Amy Poehler and Tim Meadows. Shooting took place over 13 days in October 2009 in Los Angeles.
“For a feature length musical-slash-dance comedy, that’s pretty insanely short,” says Mahoney. “There’s something like 15 song-and-dance routines in the script, and these are full-on Broadway show tunes kind of dance numbers.” (Mahoney has a cameo in the film, talking on a pay phone outside a strip club.) Scoring, mixing, mastering, and other post-production duties took another 15 months. “We really only got it locked up this March,” says Mahoney. The filmmakers are offering the finished movie to some film festivals and are hoping to land the all-important distribution deal.
Since wrapping the film, Mahoney joined the Motion Picture Editors Guild and is busy editing Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time show for Comedy Central. In every project, there’s a lot of money—someone else’s money—on the line. That means there’s pressure, but there’s a certain challenge to his imagination that he enjoys, a challenge that he likens to an art or a sport. “You’re constantly pushed to innovate and separate your work from others without alienating mass appeal. It takes creativity to walk that line, and that’s a fun kind of thinking for me,” Mahoney says. In comedy, both on-line and in the mainstream, fun comes first.