March 11th, 2014
04:53 PM ET
6 years 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. Some guy in San Diego

    How long is this non-story going to be at the top of the Google News page and leading on the other news sites? Anyone who believes this appearance was unscripted is delusional. As if it's going to convince any young person to buy into Obamacare. Right.

    March 11, 2014 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  2. ann

    Wow, is that really good use of his time when we have so many more important things that need his attention????

    March 11, 2014 06:38 pm at 6:38 pm |
  3. Fukayu

    What a joke...

    March 11, 2014 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  4. Fiona

    Not dignified.

    Bad choice, Mr. POTUS.

    March 11, 2014 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  5. Chris-E...al

    What about Harry Truman ? A democratic president . We are still at war with a nation . NAME . N.Korea .1000's dead and Trillions spent into thin air !

    March 11, 2014 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  6. Wade

    So now everyone is making Obama look like a fool! Great.

    March 11, 2014 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  7. Miami 305

    We'll that what we need a person who get alone well with others ...I like bush to cause he is a funny guy .. That's only thing I like about him ..

    March 11, 2014 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  8. JeniW

    "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.

    If mr. Galifianaks really wants this to happen, he should put his money where is mouth is and start campaigning to become the president.

    March 11, 2014 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  9. Name

    I actually cringed while watching this interview. desperation must be strong. everyone be ready to pay the fine, i mean tax, if you refuse to be forced to join private insurance and prepare to bail these private companies out. crony capitalism.at its best.

    March 11, 2014 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  10. Marie MD

    The teaklans are upset that our President can hang with everyone not just the rich, like the twit, who has absolutely NO sense of humor unless you think strapping a dog crate on top of an SUV and making the dog puke is funny.
    The piece was hilarious. I don't think the teaklans get it. Too busy hating on the 99%.

    March 11, 2014 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  11. jenn,philadelphia

    6 million people watched the video – only 16,000 have visited the site. That says it all.

    March 11, 2014 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  12. Marie MD

    @tom I, our president doesn't lie. He does want the best for the US.
    Your teaklan party not only lies but they lie by omission. The man whose family took government assistance after his father died twisted the story of a man who wrote a book about when he was a kid and a brown lunch bag. He didn't think his mother loved him less, which is what this WI lying altar boy said, but that he wanted a grown paper bag so that his lunch bag looked like all the other kids' bags.
    Turns out the man who wrote the book is black and he now helps others less fortunate. I can only guess that the reason he didn't invite him is that there were NO minorities, except the handful of token fools, at the KKK convention in DC.

    March 11, 2014 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  13. 2016 or bust!

    Has a week gone by when this guy isn't collaborating with entertainment personalities. Perhaps he should focus more on entertaining this country with some actual decsion making and leadership. Are we all blind? We should be ashamed of ourselves for electing this guy into office.

    March 11, 2014 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  14. mecambridge

    This skit and appearance isn't funny – it is pathetic for a President to sink to such levels to sell his health insurance. If it was so good, these desperate measures would not be necessary.

    March 11, 2014 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  15. josh rogen

    Nero fiddled as Rome burned

    March 11, 2014 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  16. Equinsuocha

    The interview was hilarious

    March 11, 2014 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  17. Devon

    Not an Obama fan but it was funny. Have to admit. But selling obamacare is like selling ice to Eskimos. Most people just don't want it. (unless you're very poor, then it's great!)

    March 11, 2014 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  18. joedog46

    Obama Care with 38 executive orders without even a hint of consulting Congress,, Benghazi, and 4 dead American Citizens–"What difference does it make?"– IRS spying and denying citizen rights if opposed to the Democrat Party Machine agenda, the NSA spying, way too high unemployment in urban centers, Syria and crisscrossed Red Lines, the Ukraine mess and we get fawning hipster comedy shows on your front page? Well maybe one could tune in to Chicagoland and get more propaganda. Good grief! Has CNN no shame?

    March 11, 2014 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  19. sickofitall

    between two ferns? sounds like the seating arraignments at an obama cabinet meeting

    March 11, 2014 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  20. John J.

    Obama belongs on stage with other comedians. They are at the same level. I just wish we had a real president...

    March 11, 2014 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  21. Mike Jones

    GOP WINS !!!!
    13th District 99.6% Reporting

    D. Jolly GOP 48.5% 87,963
    A. Sink Dem 46.7% 84,712
    L. Overby Lib 4.8% 8,776

    March 11, 2014 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  22. Guest

    a JOKE. that is what we have as president.

    March 11, 2014 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  23. oharris30

    I loved it. It's called Marketing your product. and the president certainly knows how to do that. in fact he should add that on to his other talents. This is what the repubs are trying to do and would love to do but it "aint" gonna work. Say what you want. and as for the "you can keep your policy" that is just a lie the repubs had going. Sure the president said it but these people would have lost their policies anyway. Known fact that insurance companies will drop you if you are critically ill. They have always done that. These people should sign up for ACA. Won't get dropped. Can't believe how so many people are do gullible to fall for the repubs lies when Romney and Rand had a track record of lying.

    March 11, 2014 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  24. just asking

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

    why is this question even being asked? all obama dos is damage things, why should the presidency be any different. he doesn't give a damn what he does and how it cheapens and lowers the office, as long as he is doing something celebrity related. the joke obama presidency is a mix between the simpsons and american idol. obama is playing homer obama pretending he is americas idol. is any wonder putin sees this and decides to just invade other countries at will? obama simpson mommy pants doesn't make him think twice.

    March 11, 2014 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  25. Tyler

    and the windmill was invented in the 4th century by the chinese. Thanks to the leftist environmental taliban, its back and useless as ever. Looking into my crystal ball, I see billions more wasted and shifted to political allies of the left creating more "technology" that is thousands of years old.

    March 11, 2014 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
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