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Jason Bateman: Webmaster

January 8, 2010 |  1:16 pm

Jason Bateman Being funny is a lot like speaking a foreign language – if you don’t use it, you lose it. That’s why comedy actors like Jason Bateman and Will Arnett of "Arrested Development" get together on weekends to do impromptu skits at home. It’s as much for fun as it is to sharpen their wits.

Bateman and Arnett today announced that they’ve found someone to now pay for something they already do for free in their living rooms.  At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this morning, the two comedians  said they have teamed up with former NBC Universal co-chairman Ben Silverman and Yahoo to find advertising sponsors willing to subsidize their funny business.

Here’s how it would work: Silverman’s company, Electus, cultivates an advertiser -- say, a retailer of musical instruments -- which has a $1-million budget. Bateman develops a skit involving glockenspiels. Once the retailer agrees to the skit, the skit goes into production, and the finished skit is featured on Yahoo, where everyone keeps their fingers crossed that it will go viral.

It’s not an entirely new idea. Yahoo itself pursued the idea of marrying advertisers with Hollywood to produce online content several years ago with Lloyd Braun, with mixed results. Will Ferrell two years ago launched Funny or Die, a site that features professional and amateur comedy skits.

What, then, prompts a comedian at the height of his career to jump online, where the waters can be treacherous, the competition swarming and the rewards uncertain? (Hint: He told an audience at CES this morning that "the relevance of broadcast television commercials is waning at best.") We asked Bateman this question, and a few others. An edited transcript of his response is below:

What attracts you to the Web?

Bateman: It's driven primarily from a desire to create viral comedic pieces that my peers are also doing. I saw an opportunity to marry that with advertisers in a way that's mutually beneficial.

Why did you hook up with Ben Silverman?

Bateman: We share a similar sense of humor. And I know he will give me the creative autonomy to explore.

Do you worry that advertisers will try to put words in your mouth and limit what you can do?

Bateman: It's all part of a healthy creative negotiation. If it doesn't work out ...

... there are a gazillion other products out there. 

Will you be doing videos that are fast and cheap? Or more polished work?

Bateman: Some will be cheap and fast. And some will be high-scale. That will be informed by our discussions with the advertising sponsors about what it is they want. Sometimes, the cheapest home videos end up going viral because there's an audience that appreciates a low-fi approach.

We may do a skit on spec, based on whatever we feel like doing, then offer that up to a sponsor. We could hold a can of soft drink that's wrapped in green screen, and the advertiser can put their logo on it later.

Will you be tapping amateur comedians or professionals to do these videos with you? How will they be paid? 

Bateman: We haven't nailed that down, yet. For most of us, this will not be our day jobs. For me, I plan to take some of the money I get and give it to charity. I feel guilty for getting money for something I normally do as a hobby.

With billions of videos already online, do you worry that your work could get lost in the weeds?

Bateman: I'm confident that anytime someone does something funny, people will find it. If it's good content, people will find a way to get it. 

-- Alex Pham

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.

Photo: Actor and comedian Jason Bateman. Credit: Davis Factor for the Los Angeles Times.

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