Last week, Will Ferrell became the latest "real" celebrity to star in a homemade-looking Internet video. "The Landlord" is a genuinely funny two-minute movie in which Ferrell plays a layabout who is accosted by his angry landlady. The catch: Pearl, the landlady, is played by a 2-year-old.
"I want my money!" she shrieks at Ferrell's character, then taunts him with a string of unprintable invectives.
After being posted on a new video site called FunnyOrDie.com, "The Landlord" quickly went viral and had scored nearly 1.6 million views as of this writing, piling on tens of thousands more every hour.
The questions, too, came fast and furious: What was this new video site, with a direct line to Ferrell's Internet debut? Was FunnyOrDie.com an industry shill set up to generate buzz for an actor with a major picture out?
And who was the toddler whose parents let her wield a beer bottle and swear up a storm?
Reached by phone, writer-director Adam McKay, Ferrell's longtime friend and collaborator (most recently they did "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" and "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby"), confessed to being behind the video and insisted there was no corporate entity involved. "It's just us," McKay said. "That's the fun — this isn't brought to you by GE or Viacom or whoever."
The video took about 45 minutes to make, McKay said. "Will and I were just screwing around and it was like, hey, that's a good idea, let's film that."
McKay plays Ferrell's friend in the short and is also the father of Pearl (it's her real name).
According to McKay, the production company he co-founded with Ferrell set up FunnyorDie.com so they'd have an easy, fun way to showcase their short-form ideas as well as a place less-established filmmakers could come to show off theirs.
They've already shot several other videos, some featuring Ferrell and some McKay. "We put up our funniest one first," he said.
As for his daughter playing the dissolute landlord, McKay said it was no big deal. "She's in that phase right now where you can repeat anything to her and she won't remember it."
Jeff Stern, chief executive of the industry-friendly Net video site the Daily Reel, said there were going to be a lot more of these kind of videos from celebrities, because it's a low-risk, high-reward venture. "It's easy to do, it's fast, you don't have to go through a two-year development process in order to put something funny out that will get to a lot of people," he said. "You put something up that's three minutes long. If it works, great, if it doesn't work, it'll be overwhelmed by other things that do."
Earlier this month, Alanis Morissette's career got a boost after she posted on her website a parody of the Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps" — the one where Fergie brags about how men buy her expensive gifts because they like her "humps" and "lovely little lumps."
Morissette's version keeps the lyrics of the original but replaces the song's pounding bass line with melancholy piano, poking fun at the song's gratuitousness. It has become YouTube.com's biggest hit this month, with more than 5 million views.
But are celebrity viral hits a corporate train wreck waiting to happen? Won't Hollywood's need for control of its content eventually bump up against the near-impossibility of controlling anything once it's online?
Stern says that Hollywood is freaked by the unpredictability of viral video but that for now there's only one way to ride.
"You put it up," said Stern, "and see what happens."