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. Donnie the Lion

    "Lying about people's personal health insurance plans and telling them something that is patently known to be untrue." I know quite a few people, none of them have lost their health insurance. So careful with the term "patently."

    March 11, 2014 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  2. Chuck

    Hes lost his mind, please step down from office before the Office of Presidency is
    ruined for ever

    March 11, 2014 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  3. Obamablama

    That is Obama's base. Low info voters who get their news from a comedian. This country is finished.

    March 11, 2014 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  4. Ej

    I used to dislike Obama intensely. Now, I just feel sorry for him.

    March 11, 2014 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  5. Name old people

    Even he can't keep a strait face telling all those lies.

    March 11, 2014 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  6. DNC=Democrats NOT CARING

    Yeah, keep on trying to sucker the young ones into paying for something they don't want and don't need and worse, will never be able to use. If you like your death you can keep it. Now off to play golf.

    March 11, 2014 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  7. G_Edwards

    Not funny + a touch of racism = a lame attempt at getting out a message by teh President.


    March 11, 2014 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  8. Pikeone

    How undignified was this for the President of the United States?

    March 11, 2014 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  9. ThinkAgain - Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    @Dubrats: "How do you spell desperate? O b a m a"

    How do you spell ignorant and out-of-touch? G O P

    March 11, 2014 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  10. NameRedeye Dog

    I think the prez should stick to fake b-ball & golf where no one will keep him from winning.

    March 11, 2014 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  11. Kenman

    Pathetic! AND not funny! This President has certainly lowered the dignity of the office! And, if anyone believes that they didn't know the questions and write responses, turn yourselves in for observation!

    Also, the teleprompter was probably just out of camera!

    March 11, 2014 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  12. Name

    I don't care for zack or any of his movies, but this had me balling!!! Obama did an awesome job. And for those who think this makes Obama a joke or takes credibility from our country. Well I have one name for you ted nut-job-gent makes the GOP a total joke.

    March 11, 2014 08:52 pm at 8:52 pm |
  13. R.Lynn

    Is this joke? Serious? No wonder there is no more R-S-P-E-C-T (as Obama spells it!) for our country or our leader.

    March 11, 2014 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  14. Carl

    You'd think that after giving countless speeches to push Obamacare, he wouldn't have to rely on the cue cards. Yet watching those eyes dart back-and-forth between Zach and whoever was off-camera was supremely entertaining.

    March 11, 2014 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  15. Mke

    Appropriate for this joke of a President to pitch his joke of a healthcare law on a comedy skit.

    March 11, 2014 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  16. soup71

    Generation Z's interest in politics is driven by insults. It's all right here for everyone to read.

    March 11, 2014 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  17. Bob Hope's Ghost

    funny how liberals are stating this "president" is the best when millions are losing jobs because of this "president" and even all the unions are beginning to strike AGAINST obama and his insurance scam. But yeah, let's keep blaming bush and the GOP instead of this "president" and his failure.

    March 11, 2014 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  18. lennahc

    What an idiot....both of them. Is it 2016 yet?

    March 11, 2014 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  19. Celebrity Dictator

    I watched the skit and I think it made Obama look pathetic. He looks like an empty suit trying to push a "tax" that no one wants. If the idea was to seem hip and get more people to sign up, I think it backfired. If anything, less people are likely to take him seriously.

    March 11, 2014 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    Obama has to put on a dog and pony show to try to get people to take Obamacare. LOL He can't give that crap away.

    March 11, 2014 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  21. Aaron

    You know, during the first several presidential terms it was not uncommon to have the president field questions from the public at large. The GOP likes to project this air of antiquarianism, but then comment negatively about Obama attempting to be more accessible.

    This seems silly to me.

    March 11, 2014 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  22. marsha malone

    Obama was funny and had a certain attitude that was perfect for Galifianakis' weird character. i thought Obama was terrific. Give credit to Galifianakis, he has created a character as rich and funny as Rosanne Rosanna Dana.

    Obama is a good man, a good father, husband and a great leader.

    March 11, 2014 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  23. Jim

    For all the libs out there, lets see what you say when a Republican adminsitration uses the same tools against you. We should not hear you complaining about IRS targeting, executve orders without your review or consent, ramming legislation you don't like via cloture or other rules. Oh and Obamacare will be repealed.

    March 11, 2014 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  24. Adam

    ""whether the interview may have damaged the dignity of the presidency.""

    "Nope...but you know what does? Lying to start a war."

    I thought that damaged their credibility. 😉

    March 11, 2014 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  25. Ryan

    What do democrats and republicans have in common? They both act like infantile ignorant cult members who think they're in some sort of power over others, when a leader from their gang is in the position of POTUS. (Puppet of the US)

    March 11, 2014 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
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