March 11th, 2014
04:53 PM ET
9 months ago

The backstory to the Obama-Galifianakis Funny or Die video

(CNN) - Anyone who's watched Funny or Die's interview segment, "Between Two Ferns" with comedic actor Zach Galifianakis, knows the interviewee is in for a few minutes of sheer awkwardness.

The back-and-forth takes place in between two ferns. Literally. And the most popular episode was when Galifianakis belt-whipped Justin Bieber.

So imagine the surprise when the Internet world woke up Tuesday morning to a new episode, this time with Galifianakis grilling President Barack Obama.

"What is it like to be the last black president?" the actor asked a little more than a minute into the interview.

"Seriously, what's it like for this to be the last time you ever talk to a president?" Obama shot back.

By Tuesday afternoon, the video had more than 6.5 million views.

The 6.5 minute interview covered a range of topics, including same-sex marriage.

"You know what I would do if I were president, Mr. President, I would make same-sex divorce illegal. Then see how bad they want it," Galifianakis said.

But the main point of the segment was to give Obama a chance to plug the federal health care law to a younger audience.

Started in 2008, Funny or Die is a comedic video website where users can vote on a video's funniness. Both celebrities and users produce content for the site.

Mike Farah, president of production at the company and executive producer of "Between Two Ferns," told CNN he'd always wanted to do something with Obama since he started working at the company.

That opportunity came knocking when the White House invited celebrities last July to discuss ways to promote Obamacare, as the open enrollment launch date of October 1 was approaching and the law's success depends on having at least 40% of its enrollees comprised of people between the ages of 18 and 34.

A couple months later, singer and actress Jennifer Hudson teamed up with Funny or Die to release a video on the eve of the Obamacare website rollout, parodying the popular ABC program "Scandal."

4.2 million have signed up for Obamacare

Keeping in touch with the White House, Farah said Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett flew out to Los Angeles in September for a meeting with Funny or Die, where they floated the idea of doing an episode of "Between Two Ferns" with the President.

Fast forward to late February: a Funny or Die team came to Washington to film the segment. With the March 31 deadline to enroll in Obamacare fast approaching, Farah said the President wanted to get "more personally involved."

The President was "familiar" with the Galifianakis segment, Farah said.

"He kinda got it," he added. "He knew Zach's persona. He knew what it would be like."

When the crew showed up at the White House, Farah said they had no rehearsals and "handled it like every other episode." The filming didn't take much longer than the edited 6.5 minute video, he said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday they knew "loosely" what the interview would look like, but "there was a lot of ad-libbing in there."

Galifianakis and Obama had to stop the interview at points because the President would break out in laughter, one White House official told CNN.

Farah confirmed that the two "broke a few times."

"It was fun, because then everyone can laugh and it was a huge relief," he continued.

Photos: Comedian in chief

White House officials say knew some of the questions were going to be "edgy," but the President was ready for it. An official said Galifianakis expressed some concern about his questions, but they assured the actor that Obama would be just fine, they said.

The questions were "obviously not done in a way that was mean spirited," Farah added, but he acknowledged "we shoot it and edit in a way that feels awkward."

Asked how they kept it a secret for two weeks, Farah said "we all just like the idea of surprising everyone."

Funny or Die edited the video and waited to make it public on a day that didn't conflict with the White House's schedule.

"The White House has tons of things going on, and we wanted to make sure it was on a day that they were comfortable with," he said.

Carney said in the daily press briefing that Funny or Die was the No. 1 referrer to HealthCare.gov on Tuesday, but he didn't give specific numbers.

Carney also took issue with a question from a reporter asking whether the interview may have damaged the dignity of the presidency.

"We made the right call here," Carney said.

And Obama tweeted out his own personal thanks.

CNN Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta and CNN White House Producer Matthew Hoye contributed to this report.


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (244 Responses)
  1. Gurgyl

    This president is very sportive president in American history. Nonetheless of the facts I never liked John King though.

    March 11, 2014 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  2. Sniffit

    "Carney also took issue with a question from a reporter asking whether the interview may have damaged the dignity of the presidency. "

    LOL. I'd bet $10K it was Ed Henry. That guy is a total d-uche and smirks more than a pedophile.

    March 11, 2014 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  3. Sniffit

    "whether the interview may have damaged the dignity of the presidency."

    Nope...but you know what does? Lying to start a war.

    March 11, 2014 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  4. just saying

    it is nice to know we are paying obama to be an insurance huckster because there certainly are no more important things for him to do. is it any wonder people all over the world think obama is a joke? putin is laughing all the way to crimea.

    March 11, 2014 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  5. Ol' Yeller

    Another Epic Win for President Obama.
    Let the haters begin... see below--

    March 11, 2014 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    "is it any wonder people all over the world think obama is a joke?"

    Newsflash: the cartoons in your head that you project onto the inside wall of your bubble are not reality.

    You're just mad that it worked. Cry more. Know what else you can cry about? Obama gets to see the season opener to Game of Thrones before everyone else does. Boo-your-hoo about that too why dontcha.

    March 11, 2014 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  7. Jodo

    Christie gave Romney the shaft at the RNC convention, and then later when he was 'too busy' to appear with Romney.

    What goes around, comes around Chubbs

    March 11, 2014 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  8. Sniffit

    " I never liked John King though."

    If I had a nickel for every sentence I've heard end that way...

    March 11, 2014 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  9. Dubrats

    How do you spell desperate? O b a m a

    March 11, 2014 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  10. tom l

    "The differences that matter are who they work for."

    So rs, to further my point take a look at Diane Feinstein's reaction to her concerns about being spied on. That's the party that's working for you. Her indignation at the very thought of HER being spied on is appalling. Yet if it's just an average Joe or average Jane, spy away! They're just peons to her...

    March 11, 2014 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  11. tom l

    Nope...but you know what does? Lying to start a war
    =====

    Agreed. You know what else does? Lying about people's personal health insurance plans and telling them something that is patently known to be untrue.

    March 11, 2014 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  12. GOP = Greed Over People

    Yep, all you GOPers keep clinging to your preferred method of communication to get YOUR "messages" out, carrier pigeon!

    Avoid using that rumored new method of communication, "The Pony Express".

    Looking into my crystal ball, I think the steam engine will be invented in the next century, the 19th!

    March 11, 2014 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  13. Silence DoGood

    @tom l
    Nope...but you know what does? Lying to start a war
    =====

    Agreed. You know what else does? Lying about people's personal health insurance plans and telling them something that is patently known to be untrue.
    --------
    Obama being wrong about insurance companies. Result: more uninsured people got covered and the fear of being cancelled for health reasons is gone.
    Bush being wrong about Iraq. Result: 1000's of people died for no reason and Al Queada got a new foothold.
    Which to choose – which to choose.........

    March 11, 2014 05:48 pm at 5:48 pm |
  14. sly

    America is lucky to have such an intelligent, funny and personable President.

    These are very good times for America, with a record stock market, the end of Bush Oil war in Iraq, no foreign terrorist attacks, record 401k's, deficit has been reduced 41% in 2014.

    Thank you President Obama for bringing America out of 8 dark years of war and record deficits.

    March 11, 2014 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  15. smendler

    There's actually more interesting backstory here, if you look into who Zach's Uncle Nick was, and what Jesse Helms did to him.

    March 11, 2014 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
  16. GOP = Greed Over People

    P.S. No one will ever hear your "messages" but, you will still have your "dignity" to cling to!

    March 11, 2014 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  17. Ed F.

    Very funny.

    The right are angry because they are not in any way funny.

    March 11, 2014 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  18. Jojola

    To all you haters, get over it. It was meant to be funny but also reach young people who don't watch regular news shows. Kudos to the president for thinking outside the box and showing how personable and forward thinking his mind operates. GOP cry babies only know how to criticize and complain about every step our president makes. They are just upset that they are completely out of touch with mainstream Americans and their only recourse is to gripe.

    March 11, 2014 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  19. DaveinIL

    "How Obama got 'Between Two Ferns"
    That's easy. He looks like a potted plant without his teleprompter.
    I saw excerpts on TV and it's got to be the most scripted, stilled conversation ever. Like reading bullet points on a powerpoint slide.

    March 11, 2014 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  20. CapeCod

    In my opinion this is beneath the president.

    He tries to be cool when he should be trying to fix this country.

    March 11, 2014 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  21. Sandra

    LOVE President Obama!

    March 11, 2014 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  22. VJ

    Rush Limbaugh already blasted about this interview... from now on I am going to call him as Low IQ conservative....

    March 11, 2014 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  23. bspurloc

    those spider bites need some attention!

    March 11, 2014 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  24. lb309

    Appearing in a comedy sketch to plug insurance doesn't seem like something a President should be doing. He has to negotiate with other world leaders and be taken seriously. Makes it seem like the next step will be selling reverse mortgages.

    Also bad sign for current crop of young people, who seem to depend on comedy shows to get their news and viewpoints.

    March 11, 2014 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  25. Wes

    Sniffit

    "whether the interview may have damaged the dignity of the presidency."

    Nope...but you know what does? Lying to start a war.
    -----------------------------------
    I agree, Johnson was a disaster.

    March 11, 2014 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
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