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. Two Ferns

    The two ferns were more interesting then old 'Empty Chairs'!

    March 12, 2014 06:19 am at 6:19 am |
  2. Funnier if...

    Obama should have sat between two petunias! It would have made him look funnier.

    March 12, 2014 06:23 am at 6:23 am |
  3. DNC=Dunces Needing Correction

    The whole world is laughing at this Prez Lite and his cowardice. He wants to vote "Present" like he used to do on all of the hard calls, but can't do that anymore. He is naive and incompetent, and surrounds himself with those even worse. They are all slaves to failed Leftist "Progressive" ideology. There is nothing progressive about the movement; you people are just the latest generation of suckers to fall for the lies and to promote decay. History is littered with the carcasses of your fellow "progressive" crusaders. Traditional values hold civilization together. Catch a clue...

    March 12, 2014 06:29 am at 6:29 am |
  4. strangerq

    How do you spell desperate? O b a m a.

    ^ How do you spell Obama?

    P R E S I D E N T.

    How do you spell sore loser?


    March 12, 2014 06:38 am at 6:38 am |
  5. justbeamensch

    The GOPers preferred method of communication is a stipend for the homeless to wear sandwich signs.

    March 12, 2014 06:44 am at 6:44 am |
  6. Nick

    Saw this last night. Not even remotely funny, and I would think Obama would have much better uses for his time. His handlers should be fired.

    March 12, 2014 06:47 am at 6:47 am |
  7. Albert911emt

    @just saying –

    Calm down Francis. I doubt the pres is so busy he can't afford to give 6.5 minutes of his day to help promote something that everyone ought to have – health insurance. It's good for the country, and good for you too. Quit being such a baby.

    March 12, 2014 06:49 am at 6:49 am |
  8. tcp

    Just keep saying it's a success...they're starting to actually believe you...well, now that you've moved the bar yet again, compromised HUGE chunks of the law, used your executive order pen to get the stats to say whatever it is your base wants to hear and all that stuff. But, HEY, it's JUSSST comedy, right?

    March 12, 2014 06:52 am at 6:52 am |
  9. Dan

    Brain dead liberal American youth.

    In the 50s we were number one in math and science.

    Today's youth are 17th worldwide.

    Of course they like this stupidity . . . they're stupld.

    March 12, 2014 07:42 am at 7:42 am |
  10. coyote

    we lost all respect for zack... when aca costs half of what I make in a year... what is affordable about that?

    March 12, 2014 07:45 am at 7:45 am |
  11. Barbara

    Every day this president digs a deeper hole for himself. A total embarrassment. No wonder other countries have no respect for us.

    March 12, 2014 07:49 am at 7:49 am |

    Notice how CNN is not reporting on the real story, the rejection of Obamacare. One giant disaster.Obama and his fellow Dems tried to hide this monster from the American people for as long as they could. Heck, they are still trying. But, in the long run, the American people are doing what the House tried to do for them, many times, but couldn't because of Obama's buddies in the Senate. The monster is now feeling the first death pains as the American people kill it by starvation. Congratulations America!

    March 12, 2014 07:49 am at 7:49 am |
  13. Scott

    "Carney also took issue with a question from a reporter asking whether the interview may have damaged the dignity of the presidency."

    Yes. The answer is Yes. The office of the Presidency has been reduced to an episode of TMZ. It started with a little blue dress and some perjury, and has been all but killed by the Teleprompter in Chief, No...the Golfer in Chief, No...the Media Darling in Chief, No...the Narcissist in Chief, No...the Can't take criticism in Chief, No...I got it.....the Leader From Behind of the Free World!

    March 12, 2014 07:54 am at 7:54 am |
  14. Jerry

    HE (0-Bama) must be getting REALLY desperate! Wow! Making a fool of himself and demeaning the People's White House.

    No doubt the Democrat's experiment has been a colossal failure.

    What just happened in Florida is bound to repeat across the nation. Being a life-long Democrat myself, it can be painful and embarrassing.

    But we are reaping what we sowed!!!

    March 12, 2014 07:54 am at 7:54 am |
  15. Brandon

    I dont understand why most of you are just so dang negative, it was funny. get over it, 2 more years you'll have another president to complain about how this and that is not what you want. It'll never end, so just stop and save yourself the stress.

    March 12, 2014 08:01 am at 8:01 am |
  16. quinLee

    tom l
    Nope...but you know what does? Lying to start a war
    Agreed. You know what else does? Lying about people's personal health insurance plans and telling them something that is patently known to be untrue.

    I agree with you both BUT there are soooo many reasons why a sane or reasonable person would never ever consider "Lying to start a war" and "Lying about people losing health insurance" as equals.

    March 12, 2014 08:04 am at 8:04 am |
  17. liberal disease

    We need a digital scoreboard to keep tally of all of Barry's lie's instead of the nations debt clock on 42 nd street

    March 12, 2014 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
  18. Chief Do Little

    I don't care much for Obama, but I actually felt embarrassed for him. What a Clown!

    March 12, 2014 08:13 am at 8:13 am |
  19. ShawnDH

    Hmmm...I'm not sure which I enjoy more: this awesome and hilarious video with a great president promoting an important healthcare initiative, or the frothing, rabid right-wing goofballs crying over it. Either way, HA HA!

    March 12, 2014 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  20. joke

    dumm dee dumb....

    March 12, 2014 08:30 am at 8:30 am |
  21. Madison

    It was hysterical. Obama has a career in show biz when he steps down and President Clinton takes his place.

    I don't know why the media keeps saying Galifinakis was grilling the president – it is far more the president taking him apart. The bits about Bradley Cooper and the Hangover were awesome.

    March 12, 2014 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  22. Fair is Fair

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

    March 12, 2014 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  23. Madison

    Oh...and for the rabid dogs baying about the failure of is slightly behind on signups, but not much. And there is already evidence that this piece had the intended effect of boosting sign ups by younger people.

    If you righties had not spent 3 years, hundreds of millions of dollars on false ads, and used your propaganda outlets to lie about ACA and instead worked toward doing what is good for the American public...........but pigs will fly and he l l will freeze over before the right does what is good for average Americans.

    March 12, 2014 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  24. cneder

    Wow, the guy on the left was such a desperate, small, foolish guest pitching his little failed OWEbamacare. There is no way that the little POTUS is self-aware.

    March 12, 2014 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  25. 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.

    March 12, 2014 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
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