Virtual reality is officially a funny business. “It’s the most fun way to blow people’s minds,” according to comedian Rob Huebel, one of the funny folk embracing the comic potential of VR.
Huebel and regular on-screen partner Paul Scheer appear in the first virtual-reality sketch from comedy website Funny or Die. In it, Huebel and Scheer play police officers interrogating you, the person wearing the VR helmet, with hilarious consequences. The sketch debuted Friday here at the Sundance film festival in Park City, Utah.
Established by Robert Redford in 1978, Sundance is arguably the coolest film festival on the calendar, so it’s a big deal that VR is playing such a prominent role in this year’s event. Oculus and Samsung are among the tech companies tempting film fans to get a taste of VR.
At Sundance, Huebel and Scheer, stars of TV’s “The League” and “Children’s Hospital”, discussed VR on a panel organised by Samsung. They were joined by the director of the sketch, Lex Halaby, and writers and producers Christian Heuer, Sean Dacanay and Allan McLeod. Also on hand: Owen Burke, boss of Funny or Die, as well as Nick Dicarlo, Samsung’s vice president of immersive products and virtual reality. The riotous panel featured running gags about virtual-reality pornography, Robert Redford’s attitude toward VR, and how the performers took inspiration from “The Revenant”.
“Comedy works really well in VR because comedians are used to performing on stage”, Burke said. The VR sketch was largely performed in two long takes, unlike a TV or movie recording. Some edits were concealed in moments designed to hide a cut, like a moment when a bag is placed over your head or smoke is blown in your face, but it largely involved longer takes. “We’re live performers,” Scheer explained. “We do a live show every week, we do improv, so doing it live in one take is what we’ve been trained to do.”
“When these guys get into your personal space there’s a visceral reaction.”
Lex Halaby, director of Funny or Die sketch
Their improv experience also allowed the comics to embrace the rough edges of each take. “It’s that imperfection that makes it feel so real,” Huebel said.
Dave Fincher “would have an embolism doing VR”, Scheer joked of the man who directed the psychological thrillers ” Seven,” “Fight Club” and “Gone Girl.”
The Funny or Die sketch was shot on a custom camera rig built by director Lex Halaby, who opened up and adjusted a selection of GoPro action cameras. The production design of the sketch added comic elements all around the room, and the creators also payed extra attention to the “blocking” of the scene, or where the actors stand and move around. “When Rob’s talking to you,” Halaby said, “you can look around and see what Paul’s doing that’s funny or interesting behind you.”