It’s hard to imagine a couple of things: that President
Obama appearing on Zach Galifianakis’ web series Between Two Ferns will really inspire young people to sign up for
health insurance (they may watch, but signing up is another thing); that George
W. Bush would ever have had the wit or guts to sit down with Galifianakis (different
times, but still). What’s easy to imagine is that the newly released Funny or
Die video will be a huge hit and do a lot of good for the President’s image in
other ways. The sometimes hilarious script cleverly takes some swipes at his image,
the better to dismiss them.
It’s a pretty meta event, with both Obama and Galifianakis playing
their characters perfectly. Just as Stephen Colbert plays the fictional right-wing know-it-all version
of himself on his show, on Between Two Ferns
Galifianakis becomes the idiot-host. And Obama deadpans in the face of his
ignorance, playing a version of himself that actually feels true: the comedy
allows him to come back with the kind of blunt, dismissive or sharp-edged
answers he must wish he could use with actual reporters.
Asked whether his Presidential Library will be “in
Hawaii or your home country of Kenya?” he snaps, “Zach, that’s a ridiculous
question. … Where’s your birth certificate? Why don’t you show it to us
right now?” When Zach says he has no phone because he doesn’t want the NSA
spying on his texts, the President says, “Zach, no one’s interested in
The meta quality continues when the President admits he would
never be on the show if he weren’t plugging something: the Affordable Care Act.
His pitch for that actually follows an older script he’s been using for some time:
that the health care web site now works, and that young people need insurance because
they may think they’re invincible (not invisible as Galifianakis says) but are not.
He may reach a huge young audience through Funny or Die, and
you have to wonder why his staff didn’t come up with a fresher, more compelling
argument than “You’re not invincible.” Even if health care doesn’t
emerge as a big winner as a result of the video, though, Obama’s reputation as
a President truly in touch with pop culture is firm, and that’s no small thing
in terms of popularity and good will — in the world if not on Capitol Hill.