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. Tch

    Propaganda? IS a difference between propaganda and promotion. I guess Coke commercials are propaganda too.

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

    This is something the GOP will never be able to do because the pre requisite is you need a sense of humour to get it

    March 12, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  3. Dad22

    Presidents are supposed to be stiff shirted white guys that sit behind fancy desks making important decisions, many of them being the wrong ones, with dignity. Yes, this President is certainly against the grain.

    March 12, 2014 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  4. Viktor

    Obama and his health care act are the most ludicrous, idiotic, clueless, and just plain dumb entities known to man. All it does is force more money out of the hands of Americans AND businesses. Obama could care less if it works, he needed something to "leave" behind during his disastrous run as POTUS.

    March 12, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  5. joke

    Dignity? – None here...

    March 12, 2014 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  6. mjs56

    Like him or hate him, the segment was funny.

    March 12, 2014 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  7. ByMyDesign

    Obama was reading a prompter most of the time. It was obvious. Watch his eye shift up. LOL

    March 12, 2014 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  8. Kevin

    If it was a good law, you wouldn't have to promote it to a younger, more gullible generation.

    March 12, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  9. Dave

    Tch – not true!! Coke commercials are 'popaganda!'

    March 12, 2014 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  10. Ben

    This was disgusting.

    March 12, 2014 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  11. sam

    Love it. Best president ever? Zack is a genius too. And for all those out there who just think the ACA is some sort of scam, cancel your insurance and go to the doctors for an emergency room visit, see how it ends up.

    March 12, 2014 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  12. ShawnDH

    Republicans are so bitter and jealous! I love it.

    March 12, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  13. ShawnDH

    Ben whined: "This was disgusting."

    No, this was brilliant! This president is great. Specifically what "disgusted" you?

    March 12, 2014 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  14. NorCalMojo

    He's a better celebrity than president.

    March 12, 2014 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  15. ShawnDH

    RJ whined: "Propaganda disguised as a lame "comedy" skit. Low Information Voters and Useful Idiots in the media will love it."

    Sure. Propaganda. Because you personally don't like the message. Okay then.

    And of course the lowest information voters in the nation are FoxNews voters who are statistically less informed than people who watch no news at all, but you're fine with that giant comedy skit.

    March 12, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  16. CryBabies

    ACA.....more than half of America is disgusted by this "Great deal". Again, if its so great, why the mass advertising campaign funded by tax dollars?? Explain the rational...PLEASE!

    March 12, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  17. ShawnDH

    joke cried: "Dignity? – None here..."

    Republicans with a sense of humor? None here.

    March 12, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  18. haloguy628

    Next the impostor will be featured on EricTheCarGuy's YouTube channel discussing "how to replace brake pads on 1982 Lincoln Town Car. After installing the pads the impostor will give a lecture about enrolling in ImpostorCare because "you are not invincible young people".

    March 12, 2014 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  19. CryBabies

    @ ShawnDH....Bitter? bet. Jealous?...Of what? Government control???

    March 12, 2014 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  20. sly

    America is blessed to have an intelligent, pleasant and humorous President. These are good times for America.

    March 12, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  21. Rudy NYC


    Obama was reading a prompter most of the time. It was obvious. Watch his eye shift up. LOL
    I suppose that you would have preferred that he sit back and spend an hour, or two, or three memorizing all of his lines, instead of "doing his job", so that you could something else to complain about.

    March 12, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  22. Devon

    This was kind of the most awesome and hilarious thing I've ever seen a US President do. It was very effective. No wonder Republicans are FREAKING OUT about it. LOL!

    March 12, 2014 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  23. Rudy NYC

    It seems that conservatives have completely forgotten all about one of the funniest appearances by an active politician in a televised comedy skit. Who can forget Sarah Palin on SNL doing the Weekend Update? Remember that rap song? I must give her credit for appearing to be a good sport about it.

    March 12, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  24. Jose'

    That was really funny, even the part about the Presidential library in Kenya. Right wing nuts are all upset because it's working. The ACA is not going away and the more people sign up, the more people will 'know' how it is helpful.

    March 12, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  25. ShawnDH

    haloguy628 whined: "Next the impostor will be featured on EricTheCarGuy's YouTube channel discussing "how to replace brake pads on 1982 Lincoln Town Car. After installing the pads the impostor will give a lecture about enrolling in ImpostorCare because "you are not invincible young people".

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. This "impostor" (how so???) is the best president of my lifetime and good for him for brilliantly promoting such an important healthcare initiative. It's great!

    March 12, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
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