The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

“Between Two Ferns” meets goal, but at a price

4 min read
This past week, President Barrack Obama took to the satirical internet talk show, “Between Two Ferns,” a series sponsored by renowned internet comedy platform

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This past week, President Barrack Obama took to the satirical internet talk show, “Between Two Ferns,” a series sponsored by renowned internet comedy platform

Obama’s reasoning for appearing on the show was to promote his signature healthcare law to the demographic he is struggling with most: young people.

The occasionally raunchy, often awkward show made a name for itself by doing faux interviews with the likes of Sean Penn and Natalie Portman, with a common combative theme oftentimes aimed at the interviewer, Zach Galifianakis. Galifianakis, a staunch liberal and zany funny-man, provides a near perfect foil to the stoic and austere Obama, making for some funny quips and a few uncomfortable jokes.

However, the overall message that young people need to start getting involved with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by signing up seems lost in a wash of offensive one-liners and cringe-inducing jabs between the president and the interviewer.

“Between Two Ferns” is known to push the envelope on comedy and the buttons of its guests. Yet, the scripted nature of the Obama interview seemed to move away from the openness of interviews past, and I understand that considering the show’s format.

The real problem with interviewing an official, let alone a president, is that there is a serious limit on what one can say to them and what they can retort with; there is an unspoken barrier of respect for that official that is not to be passed by citizens.

The prestige that comes with the office, the sense of dignity and authority, would make it impossible for the president to shoot back with some sort of barb about Galifianakis’ weight (as almost every guest does). Moreover, while the intent may be to simply bring attention to the ACA, a series of petty insults between the president and Galifianakis is not going to accomplish that task at least not well or smoothly.

Historically, presidents do not fare too well when venturing into the world of comedy, with the lone exception of Bill Clinton in his work with Saturday Night Live’s Darrell Hammond. Ronald Reagan did skits with Bob Hope, Nixon had it ‘socked to him’ on “Laugh-In” and George W. Bush appeared on “Deal or No Deal.”

By and large, those comedy excursions were not that great, and, like the “Between Two Ferns” segment, were more awkward than anything else.

Obama received some harsh criticisms from the conservative media, such as Bill O’Reilly, as well as moderate voices, such as CNN and ABC analysts and pundits. Various talking heads criticized the fact that the interview came off as odd, which is not to say that it did not have its moments- such as when Obama asked Galifianakis how it felt to know he would never meet with another president again.

Many figureheads in the media seemed to think that both the choice of the show to appear on, as well as the execution of the interview left much to be desired.

For example, sitting down with the man famous for playing a child-like character to talk about a serious and divisive political issue and to sell it to a demographic that is not particularly keen on being sold healthcare was not such a great idea in hindsight.

The interview is mostly flawed because it just became too awkward when the interview shifted to a promotion for the ACA.

The huge shift from a comical interview to a selling point was a little bit strange. The unrestrained and open flow of the show was lost in an instant, making the end of the “interview,” the last two minutes, nearly unwatchable.

Perhaps I am too curmudgeonly or unreceptive to that awkward brand of comedy, but I still do not get it, and, having watched it almost ten times, feel like I will never understand it.

While politics and politicians can be funny, whether intentionally (Bob Dole) or unintentionally (Joe Biden), and comedians can be political, they mix as well as peanut butter and hummus.

Some may say that this is away for a president to go out and show character or personality, to which I say that there are plenty of other ways to go out and show what kind of person you are. Bill Clinton used to run and play saxophone and George W. Bush used to toss out little jokes throughout interviews. Looking back, President Obama has continually shown a good sense of humor.

Yet, for an issue as serious as healthcare, he certainly could have taken a better, more direct road, despite its apparent success in numbers.