March 11th, 2014
04:53 PM ET
6 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. rlj

    It's like the people who were so pained to have to accept Obama as president wrote 3000 petty little hate notes on day one and keep posting one everyday whether it's relevant to the site or not, just so they can feel better.

    March 12, 2014 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
  2. Dave

    The two ferns were the smartest things on the stage.

    March 12, 2014 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  3. TAJ

    I knew aftere all the MSM 'raves' about Obama's comedy chops, that this show would really suck. I was right.

    March 12, 2014 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  4. Rodgers

    It's hard to take your job seriously when you don't have a clue what you're doing

    March 12, 2014 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  5. Rudy NYC

    One cannot help but wonder what the reaction would have been had it been Sarah Palin appearing on the "talk show" to discuss her poem that she had read at the recent CPAC convention.

    March 12, 2014 09:22 am at 9:22 am |
  6. Fair is Fair

    Rudy NYC

    Fair is Fair

    Soooooooooooo beneath the office of President to appear on such an interview. A desperate attempt to put lipstick on a pig.
    ---------
    How is this any different from appearing on SNL, Kimmel, Lederman, O'Reily, Stewart, or any other talk show? I think you're taking the "interview" way too seriously. Let's be fair. Lately, you never seem to have anything to say about Obama that isn't some sort of personal attack against the man of one kind or another. Your approval rating is falling.
    --------
    Really? Really???? Whether or not this was meant to be a parody, it's beneath the office of the presidency – no matter WHO did the president was. To not acknowledge that is proof of your partisanship and speaks volumes to YOUR credibilty.

    March 12, 2014 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  7. johnrf

    Of course the usual irrational Obama haters hated the video. What a surprise! The right wing extremists attack anything Obama does. They weren't even happy when Obama got OBL ("most courageous decision I've ever seen", Robert Gates, Sec, of Defense). For us normal people this video was hilarious. Of course when other presidents appeared on tv it was just fine. But the black president isn't supposed to ever relax, every vacation is just horrible, he can't play golf, his wife can't leave the White House and many have even stooped so low as to attack his children.

    Obama will go down in history as a great president who saved our nation. And you haters will be mocked and ridiculed as the un-Americans that you are.

    My wife and I just signed up for new insurance under ACA. We saved money and got a better policy. Don't go there if you hate Obama, you might save money....

    March 12, 2014 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  8. johnrf

    Fair is Fair
    Soooooooooooo beneath the office of President to appear on such an interview. A desperate attempt to put lipstick on a pig.

    How did you feel when GW Bush appeared on Howie Mandel's game show? Nixon on Laugh-In saying, "Sock it to me"?, Eisenhower on The Colgate Comedy show, Reagan on tv with George Burns or Bob Hope? You didn't care. You just hate Obama because you've been brainwashed or maybe just tricked.

    March 12, 2014 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  9. USAF Vet

    Oh my Gawd! The President took time out for this instead of solely focusing on the Ukraine!! I'll bet he takes time to sleep and use the bathroom too! How dare he!!

    March 12, 2014 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  10. Rudy NYC

    Fair is Fair wrote:

    "How is this any different from appearing on SNL, Kimmel, Lederman, O'Reily, Stewart, or any other talk show?"

    Really? Really???? Whether or not this was meant to be a parody, it's beneath the office of the presidency – no matter WHO did the president was. To not acknowledge that is proof of your partisanship and speaks volumes to YOUR credibilty.
    ---------------------–
    But, why? I asked how is it any different, Fair. I think O'Reilly pointing his fingers in the President's face and cutting him off mid-sentence shows disrespect that's beneath the office of the presidency. O'Reilly turned it into a personal difference, not a political difference.

    March 12, 2014 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  11. James Hall

    Apparently viewers at Funny or Die found it funny. So did I. Obama's deadpan comebacks were hilarious. He has the best comedic timing of any President since Ronald Reagan. People used to love President Reagan because they saw Reagan cracking a clever punchline on the evening news at least three nights a week. No story was complete without a Reagan punchline. People opposed his policies but loved his jokes which were very seldom intentionally mean. Today everything political is usually mean which makes Between Two Ferns even funnier.

    March 12, 2014 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  12. Wake up People!

    It's so funny to see the Obama haters, you know the ones that find fault in EVERYTHING he does, once again saying how he is demeaning the office of President. The elected GOP has been doing just that for the past 5 years but that's ok. I'll tell you what I find demeaning. A governor that shoves her fat, funky, fingers into the POTUS's face screaming you lie. Our GOP reps going on news show after news show saying our POTUS is weak and doesn't know what he's doing. Questioning his intelligence, education and his birthplace. Attacking him for doing the exact same things all over Presidents have done and praising a known communist over him while calling him a communist.

    These things are demeaning to the office of POTUS, and the GOP does them every minute of every single day since January 20, 2009.

    March 12, 2014 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  13. A Million to Juan

    "Will you have the presidential library built in Hawaii or in Kenya" Hussein's look was priceless!

    March 12, 2014 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  14. USAF Vet

    Fair is Fair
    Soooooooooooo beneath the office of President to appear on such an interview. A desperate attempt to put lipstick on a pig.
    -----
    How did you feel when GW Bush appeared on Howie Mandel's game show? Nixon on Laugh-In saying, "Sock it to me"?, Eisenhower on The Colgate Comedy show, Reagan on tv with George Burns or Bob Hope? You didn't care. You just hate Obama because you've been brainwashed or maybe just tricked.
    -----
    How about George H. W. Bush appearing with Dana Carvey (famous for immitating him)?

    I said in an earlier post that they are probably outraged that hthe President takes time to sleep and use the bathroom also! Heck if saw a picture of him eating they would howl in outrage that he shouldn't be doing that either!

    March 12, 2014 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  15. ShawnDH

    Chief Do Little whined: "I don't care much for Obama, but I actually felt embarrassed for him. What a Clown!"
    ____________________

    This is because Republicans were born without a sense of humor. It's missing along with your ability to experience empathy and knowing when you're being total hypocrites. This clip was brilliant.

    This is a president with class, humor, values and likability so of course you don't like him.

    March 12, 2014 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  16. ShawnDH

    Obama the Murderer cried: "There is no dignity left in the presidency."
    ________________

    Says somebody who voted for a man who wore a codpiece.

    March 12, 2014 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  17. Rudy NYC

    I think the volume of the outrage is a direct reflection of the success of the clip. "Why didn't we think of that first?"

    March 12, 2014 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  18. Kenman

    Just checking in, and when I looked at just the last comment, by ShawnDH, recognized that there are SOME foolish liberals that will defend this MOST unfunny thing anyone could have done – much less the President of the United States!

    I had seen (I think she's) Kara Phillips, and that Cuomo guy cracking up and saying it was hilarious! How incredibly, pathetically, mindlessly ridiculous that they would even suggest it! Obama's lame jokes were bad enough, IF they had indeed been adlibbed, but it was embarrassingly obvious that he was looking past the other guy at his teleprompter!

    March 12, 2014 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  19. miked

    The re-pubes don't like this because their party reps can't be sincere when put on the spot like this. They are so used to being fake and artificial to fool people into voting for them. Our president is still doing a great job.

    March 12, 2014 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  20. bobo

    "That thing that doesn't work?" LOL

    March 12, 2014 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  21. Mike

    Say what you want, but it's political genius. He understands that the 18-34 year olds are the voting future of America. GOP can keep pandering to the older generations, but they do not have many votes left. Obama's administration sees the big picture, and embraced young voters from the start, utilizing twitter and putting campaign ads in video games, and doing a segment with Galifianakis.

    March 12, 2014 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  22. bobo

    Yes..... A fool show and a fool President.... it's beneath the office of the presidency!

    March 12, 2014 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  23. ShawnDH

    The Obama Derangement Syndrome (ODS) among our goofy right-wing friends is strong today. This clip was awesome and the President is promoting an important healthcare initiative...very well here. Good for him.

    March 12, 2014 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  24. Test Tube Tommy

    Ironic to be touting Obamacare during a segment called "Funny or Die"

    March 12, 2014 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  25. RJ

    Propaganda disguised as a lame "comedy" skit.

    Low Information Voters and Useful Idiots in the media will love it.

    March 12, 2014 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
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