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. Frank

    They've got a huge problem: Nobody is signing up. If you try, it's just a mess that makes no sense. My wife & I need health insurance. We're unemployed and have no COBRA coverage. We go online, and it's $600 a month. Whaaaaa? We didn't sign up.

    March 11, 2014 09:15 pm at 9:15 pm |
  2. Smitty

    Real presidential, what a jerk and yes he is a joke.

    March 11, 2014 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  3. CNeder

    It is quite eve ident by now that OWEbama is NOT self-aware.

    March 11, 2014 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  4. Bismarck

    GOPers love FOX, the fascist network, because hate almost rhymes with fake.

    March 11, 2014 09:31 pm at 9:31 pm |
  5. Logic

    The leader of the free world... looks like a m0r0n. Putin is probably planning another invasion.

    March 11, 2014 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  6. Independent Thinker

    It was reassuring that Galifianakis showed more respect to our president than Putin does.

    March 11, 2014 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  7. Polrbear

    Good for the POTUS!!!! He certainly knows how to reach the people AND shows that he has a sense of humour!!!! I may not agree with all of his policies, but his heart is in the right place and does try to get things done for the people!

    March 11, 2014 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  8. SmartPotato

    This is awesome. Two intelligent, funny people. Nice to see the President smiling–he's got SO much on his plate. 🙂

    March 11, 2014 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  9. ficall

    Really Zach? Really????
    The day comedy died.

    March 11, 2014 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  10. TheSadTruth

    I can only imagine how this would have gone with Romney in the hot seat- Probably he would never have said a word- just smiled that plastic smile and been very confused.

    March 11, 2014 09:42 pm at 9:42 pm |
  11. marsha malone

    Loved the interview, Obama was terrific.

    March 11, 2014 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  12. Strategerist

    How low can he go? How low can he go?

    March 11, 2014 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  13. Smitty

    What a total embarrassment the BIGGEST LIAR OF THE YEAR has become

    March 11, 2014 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  14. Steve

    ROFL 2 million watched and only 16k clicked on the link??? How much did this cost the tax payers? Couple million? Could have just bought health insurnace for the 16k for the amount of money wasted on this moronic display.

    March 11, 2014 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  15. He's A Chronic Liar

    Glad Obama can laugh about the economic disaster he owns now. You know who's laughing? Jimmy Carter.

    March 11, 2014 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  16. Jim

    Wow, CNN chose SoundOff vs Disquss for this and the defeat of the Obamacare supporting lib representative in the. Florida special election tonight. Not a good night for CNN that they have to resort to the forum that allows them to censor the comments to ensure you see only those messages they view fit for your consumption and the few they think are not bad enough to let through to not seem too obvious to their stoner base. Really kind of pathetic, don't you think?

    March 11, 2014 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  17. Mark

    He is right! Obama and the media ruined for anyone else democrat anyway

    March 11, 2014 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  18. lamestreammedia

    This was funny, just not in the way the Hollywood low information progressives wanted.
    It used to be cool in Hollywood to be anti-Establishment..now these Government toadies fall over each other shilling for the Big Government Establishment...pathetically laughable.

    March 11, 2014 10:56 pm at 10:56 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    Everyone on this message board takes things way to seriously! This is 2014 and take it for what it is, a funny video made during this technological age we live in. At least we do not live in Russia, Iran, or North Korea, we are blessed to be from this nation. Chill Out!

    March 11, 2014 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  20. anonymous54

    This was really good and quite hilarious. I don't care what you think of Obama, he did a great job in this. Very entertaining.

    March 11, 2014 11:12 pm at 11:12 pm |
  21. GTS58

    Instead of asking why Obama was between two ferns – someone should ask "how did Obama ever get elected?" Obama is a joke, a complete farce incapable of leadership! And we have 3 more years of this fool to look forward too!

    March 11, 2014 11:36 pm at 11:36 pm |
  22. Barry O

    Even Galfinkalakalufagus can't save this train wreck.

    March 11, 2014 11:51 pm at 11:51 pm |
  23. nibirutruth

    How does it feel to be the last black president . . . how apropos. And how incredibly funny.

    March 11, 2014 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  24. J

    Every time I saw his face .I can help but think , when will this nightmare end.ps:impeach obama.

    March 11, 2014 11:58 pm at 11:58 pm |
  25. Binyam

    I have never seen a very relaxed president as Obama is. His leadership style is educational to the rest of the world.
    I am proud of being an American.

    March 12, 2014 12:07 am at 12:07 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10