March 11th, 2014
04:53 PM ET
9 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.

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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 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. Mike Jones

    Jolly beats Sink ....

    I am hearing the talking points on MSNBC as I write ...

    "Well the GOP has held that seat for 4 decades ...."

    But Sink was waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more heavily financed than Jolly.

    It's Jolly time in Florida as ufking liberals SINK ..............

    March 11, 2014 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  2. BJ

    The Obama propaganda machine is in high gear. Whatever it takes because the traditional methods don't seem to be lighting fire under young people who would rather spend their money on their smart phone plan.

    March 11, 2014 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  3. Modupe Sarratt

    I considered the comedy/show to be one of the greatest by a comedian for two reasons. The first is the best Comedy for reality check about healthcare for why the young adult need to apply for Obamacare. Do not forget to register for healthcare to avoid the penalty. Please watch and apply before the deadline.
    Second, a review for a saying or a slang that I like about the Chinese is, “No hanky panky or the Chinese doesn’t do hanky panky” for their devotion to the believe of the homeland against all enemy whether you at home or in abroad. A Chinese man will not compromise any devious act against his homeland, the land that produce their being/give him or her a chance in life no matter what become of him for the notion that the Chinese fought to the end to maintain their devotion to their origin/home land that give him or her the opportunity for going beyond the territory for better opportunity.
    As an American, I thank Nigeria for given me the life that enables me to be an American. I wish be an America including cherishing my heritage as a Nigerian. My devotion to America is cherishing the lives that enable me to be an American. I watch this comedy about president Obama questioning where does he wants to build his library, Kenya or USA.
    Thinking about the question, I suggest the answer will be USA for the reason he was born in the USA, the land that gave him the chance for life.
    When it comes to what you become, I hope we can include the land that give us the life to become the person where in the world will find ourselves. As a Nigeria origin, I do not want to depreciate the country that allows me to have life that enables me to become a USA citizen

    March 11, 2014 08:06 pm at 8:06 pm |
  4. bobloblaw

    Obama is a small pathetic man. Want to bet this episode will have record low ratings.

    March 11, 2014 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  5. Bryan

    He can't run the country worth a damn, he might as well try comedy.

    March 11, 2014 08:07 pm at 8:07 pm |
  6. Rachel

    These interviews just make Obama look even more weak as a president. This just demeans the office.

    March 11, 2014 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  7. g

    This is a burning Hindenburg moment for the president. This skit is going to be replayed in the annuls of history, and it will get worse with each passing view. Not only does Zach attack Obamacare in this skit, he also attacks the NSA. This is a total embarrassment for the leader of the free world to take part in. Pictures of a topless Putin come in a distant second place. Unreal, cannot believe the Pres thought this was going to be a good idea. I cannot believe his press team thought this would be a good idea. This is a disaster.

    March 11, 2014 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |

    I only see 4 ferns.

    March 11, 2014 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  9. elleoop

    Very sad commentary on the office of the presidency. No wonder world leaders look at our president as a lightweight.

    March 11, 2014 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  10. NotLNotR

    Our President should have more IMPORTANT things to do than skits with comedians. He does a great job making the Presidency look like a joke.

    March 11, 2014 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  11. elleoop

    What a sad commentary on the office of the presidency. No wonder world leaders look at the United States with a jaundice eye. We have a comedian for a president.

    March 11, 2014 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  12. Obama the Murderer

    There is no dignity left in the presidency.

    March 11, 2014 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  13. PKRipper

    What an absolute fool and insult to the office. Obamacare is a failure, will liberals ever be able to come to terms with that or are they so enthralled with obama they'll ignore the facts just so they don't have to admit they were bamboozled by the best snake oil salesman this country has ever seen?

    March 11, 2014 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  14. Not gonna happen

    I becha most of the people making snide remarks about this event have never actually seen an episode. Let's see how this works. Correct me if I'm wrong. 1. Any news outlet, world wide (there being thousands upon thousands of them in hundreds of countries) that isn't Fox News is "liberal media". 2. Anyone who isn't conservative isn't a patriot. 3. Anyone who isn't Christian, while ignoring most of what Jesus taught, is a heathen. 4. Anyone with an education above the 12th grade (and I'm being generous) is "liberal elite". 5. Anyone that says anything negative about corporations, is a "Commie" or a "Commy" or a "Comy", depending upon what grade you finished and think how it's spelled. 6. Anyone who is liberal wants all guns. 7. Anyone who wants a background check to make sure you can: a. read and write, b. are not crazy, c. are not a felon, is a liberal Nazi. 8. Anyone who is not white and does not speak English as their first language is "Un-American" and a "terrorist threat." The list goes on and on and on. I don't know about you, but I just can't muster up that much hate. I have happier things to think about. I feel more pity than anything else. Sorry you didn't get an education. Sorry you didn't get a good job because you didn't get an education. Sorry you started drinking because you couldn't get a good job. Sorry you sit in front of the TV and nod yes at everything you see on Fox. Your life is miserable. I agree. But you know what? It's not the liberals causing it. It's you.

    March 11, 2014 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  15. Dave

    Not an Obama Fan - but he was a great sport!

    March 11, 2014 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  16. Die Hard American

    President is EXACTLY where he should be... on a comedy show.
    Two ferns between two ferns.

    March 11, 2014 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  17. Neutral Observer

    Folks, think of it. How many people will die because the lost insurance due to Obama-care? What if it turns out its more than those that died before we destroyed our health care?

    March 11, 2014 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  18. VIcki

    This is an activity that is beneath the office of president. No wonder he gets treated with such disrespect by the Republicans. Trying to seem "with it" or "cool" is not the job of the president. Right now we need a man who is powerful, serious, and decisive to face down Russia and Iran. Get with it for real Obama....signed Disappointed.

    March 11, 2014 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  19. soup71

    Sniffit--Bush was a liar. You're right. But Obama is also a liar. Why do you even choose sides anymore? One party isn't better than the other! They're BOTH destroying our country. You're treating politics like a spectator sport with "hooray for our side" and then you hurl a ton of insults at the other. When will people WAKE UP?

    March 11, 2014 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  20. TvNyC

    Go Obama !!

    March 11, 2014 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  21. Die Hard American

    On here, the lies are in the form of jokes...instead of just lies.

    March 11, 2014 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  22. McLovin

    Obama lied about to you about being able to keep your present coverage, and he lied about you being able to choose your own doctor, and he lied about you being able to see specialists without referrals, and he lied about premiums not going up, and he lied about not imposing taxes, and he lied about the act paying for itself, and he lied about the website being ready, and he lied about instituting mandates, and he lied about the penalties, and now he lied about the deadlines, and he lied about...well, just about everything. But hey, please sign up or face stiff penalties.

    March 11, 2014 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  23. Anonymous

    Any other president would not demean the office, or, themselves at such behaviour.

    March 11, 2014 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  24. Pete Zoria

    Zach Galifianakis..... is talentless, offensive and a phony! I don't blame him, I blame the fools who make him successful!

    March 11, 2014 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  25. Drew

    talk about a desperate ploy to get the under 30 crowd to sign up for ACA.

    March 11, 2014 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
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