“What is it like to be the last black president?” That was probably the best line in a moderately funny faux interview between Zach Galifianakis and President Obama that was featured on Funny or Die’s Between Two Ferns.
Between Two Ferns, the mock interview web show created and hosted by Galifianakis, is an awkward, sometimes hilariously brutal jab at the mealy, self-congratulating interviews most everyone else in the world does for cable television. But this episode was whatever.
The real charm of the show on normal days is the fact that most of it seems largely unrehearsed—even uncomfortable. Usually the interviewees don’t seem to know what’s going on. I imagine they do have some idea what to expect (if they have ever seen any other episodes of the show), but when the questions come out of Galifianakis’s mouth, sometimes the interviewee just sits there dumbfounded like, “Wait. Did he really just say that?”
This interview wasn’t like that. I’m positive Barack Obama would not have done it if he hadn’t known exactly what was going to be said. One of the bits in the show was the fact that it was actually recorded in the White House. Every part of it was carefully crafted. An interview with the director of the show (Scott Aukerman) featured on Vulture confirms how absolutely deferential (and starstruck) everyone on set actually was toward the president. For instance, check this out:
Vulture: Did he [Obama] pitch jokes?
Aukerman: I don’t think the president has to pitch jokes, he just says jokes and we enjoy them.
[Gag.] Every one of Obama’s answers, though somewhat funny occasionally, were delivered with unspontaneous confidence. I guess I shouldn’t expect much different from a control-freak president who couldn’t get through a speech without a teleprompter, but I had hoped Galifianakis was more than just another shill.
Yes, I said it. I just said that I’m more disappointed that a comedian compromised his artistic integrity than that our president thought it was a good idea to do a mock interview on a web show in a transparent attempt to manipulate young stoners into enrolling in the most expensive policy fiasco of the last half-century.
I guess that should indicate just how little respect I already had for our current president. I know this was an attempt to seem hip and with it, like Obama’s not above criticism and parody.1 But this was just another controlled stunt—a carefully managed PR move without risks. In other words, it was basically cowardly and disingenuous. And worst of all, by the time the inevitable plug rolled around—it just wasn’t funny anymore.