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. Bob Hobbs

    Zach Galifianakis is truly doomed!

    He has insured his occupational demise with his attempts to defame the duly elected President of the United States!

    God Bless President Obama!

    March 12, 2014 12:11 am at 12:11 am |
  2. Al

    I love these people who think that after Watergate, Lewinsky, 8 years of GW Bush, etc. that there's actually any dignity left in the presidency anyway!

    March 12, 2014 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  3. Obvious

    It's not DESPERATION at all that Obama has to use stuff like this to sell Obamacare.

    March 12, 2014 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
  4. Hamlet

    Perfect example of a pathetic excuse for the POTUS, only lower was Nixon when he went on a comedy tour.

    March 12, 2014 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  5. CALIFORNIA

    While I think it's funny this doesn't do anything for his international image.

    Something like this should of been done after he left office.

    March 12, 2014 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  6. Dan

    The insane right thinks this was all about Obama. It was about getting younger folks enrolled into the new health care law. Say what you will about that new law, but it's here to stay and even the GOP admits that now. So with that, we need to make sure it works. And for it to work best, younger folks have to sign up. So the President did the right thing to use comedy and Zach's popularity to get the job done. Good job to all that made it happen. It was a very funny piece.

    March 12, 2014 01:39 am at 1:39 am |
  7. Burt

    This is both funny and informative. Excellent job President Obama!

    March 12, 2014 01:55 am at 1:55 am |
  8. Greg

    One of the lowest presidents in US history. This is man has infinitely made American democracy more futile, indolent and and inept.

    You have to credit Democrats for wielding modern communications in a way the GOP has not - that's an honest compliment - but this president, by and large, panders to people who can't read and know little to nothing about politics. And behind the scenes he lives like a pig from Orwell's "Animal Farm".

    He might win over a few suckers, but President Obama isn't doing anyone any favors by pretending to be a celebrity.

    March 12, 2014 01:57 am at 1:57 am |
  9. RP Barrett

    To the person calling Obama an insurance huckster and saying he has more important things to do – Obama has tried to do more important things for eight years and the conservators wouldn't let him, REMEMBER? That said, a step (even a half-step originally drafted BY republicans) in the right direction on health care IS important.

    March 12, 2014 02:07 am at 2:07 am |
  10. EasyRhino

    Would love to see Obama have an unscripted interview with a real journalist (Glen Greenwald maybe) who didn't lob him softball questions.

    But Obama doesn't have time for that.

    March 12, 2014 02:10 am at 2:10 am |
  11. Pat

    I'm sorry but 4.2 million people have not signed up for obamacare. That figure is wishful, but false.

    March 12, 2014 02:13 am at 2:13 am |
  12. Seriously

    The President of the United States should not lower himself to such interviews no matter how kind spirited. Frankly it is not cool. All intentions seemed good but you might as well have done a whoopie cushion at the state of the union. Wow that was 6.5 minutes we'll never get back is how bad it was. Worse than Dukakkis in a tank for the Progress of the world.

    March 12, 2014 02:36 am at 2:36 am |
  13. Seriously

    Honestly. As soon as that clown asked the leader of the free world how he felt about being the "last black president" the tape should have been shut off and this never should have seen the light of day. Do they think global politics is a game? Our commander in chief deserves more respect than this.

    March 12, 2014 02:44 am at 2:44 am |
  14. Javier

    When's the last time a law was so horrifically awful that the president had to tour around like an insurance salesman? Worse part is the numbers don't lie and as much as you try to tell people it's a Cadillac it's ridiculously obvious to see he stuck you with a Yugo.

    March 12, 2014 03:11 am at 3:11 am |
  15. hellsyeahs

    Obama in between two ferns. Tbags between their bigotry and racism. Hmmm, which to front? "White man's burden."

    March 12, 2014 03:28 am at 3:28 am |
  16. saftgek

    The creator of the program clearly has a strange, and lack-of-talent and imagination of programming. The Zack guy (whatever/whoever) is morbidly lacking talent. The entire concept of the program is insulting and NOT FUNNY!

    What a pity people waste time and alleged talent in creating such tripe. I am embarrassed that our President believed it to be so necessary to appear on such nonsense.

    TV, and the Internet are great sources of good, solid information. They are ALSO sources of unadulterated, egregious Male Bovine Excrement – reference this moronic fern show!

    March 12, 2014 03:46 am at 3:46 am |
  17. shimmy

    funny or die youtube channel took down the video. it turned out that the viewers were laughing at Obama and not with him.

    March 12, 2014 03:58 am at 3:58 am |
  18. lean6

    So funny watching conservatives realize slowly that this was part of a campaign for Healthcare instead of the coming out party for a new rabid political hack whom they could start to worship. Let me go out on a limb and predict a right wing copycat parody in the coming weeks.

    March 12, 2014 04:03 am at 4:03 am |
  19. PeterD

    President Obama's desparation about his failed Healthcare Law has reached a new high or new low. You decide.

    March 12, 2014 04:32 am at 4:32 am |
  20. steinborn

    It is painful to watch

    March 12, 2014 04:37 am at 4:37 am |
  21. Iamnotfooled

    President Obama was awesome as usual. Obamacare is doing great too.

    March 12, 2014 05:02 am at 5:02 am |
  22. flecka

    Clever way to get the message of Healthcare.gov further out there. LOVE that PrezO is such a good sport!

    March 12, 2014 05:13 am at 5:13 am |
  23. Solomon Walker

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

    Kinda.

    March 12, 2014 05:48 am at 5:48 am |
  24. Logical Positivist

    Presidents have been doing things beneath the dignity of their office since the office was invented–it's called campaigning. Dignity? Lying about going to war, Iran-Contra, extra-marital affairs in the whitehouse...pick a scandal, any scandal. As for cheesy comedy bits, I guess most of us are too young to remember Richard Nixon saying "Sock it too me" on laugh in...speaking of doing things beneath the office of the President. I always thought George W. would have done well being a guest on "Hee Haw".

    March 12, 2014 06:12 am at 6:12 am |
  25. hkirwin

    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.
    ==============================================================================

    This is a great example of Obama's base. Do you really want to be associated with this?

    March 12, 2014 06:18 am at 6:18 am |
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