I knew the President’s communications team had hit its target market when my 24-year-old son emailed me a link last night with a “thought you might find funny” subject line and the note, “Barack Obama gets interviewed by the fat guy from ‘The Hangover’.”
The fact that I’d sent the “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis” out to a bunch of wizened cronies right after deadline yesterday morning is irrelevant. So is the fact that I’ve long been a guilty-pleasure fan of the sophomoric “Funny or Die” videos — this is Episode 18 — during which Galifianakis displays an astute lack of tact and empathy with guests such as Justin Bieber, Natalie Portman and Jon Hamm.
What’s relevant is that it reached and resonated with someone who is quite fit (he’s a personal trainer), who communicates sparingly with the elders of his tribe but will soon be off their medical coverage and wading into the Affordable Care Act pool (or, alternatively, paying a small fine at tax time for failing to do so).
“Mike Farah, the executive producer of ‘Between Two Ferns,’ said the website’s creators approached the White House with the idea last summer after Mr. Obama reached out to Hollywood for help with the health care rollout,” reports Michael D. Shear in the New York Times. “Mr. Farah said Mr. Obama was a good sport.”
“I have to give the president credit that they were willing to trust us,” he said. “They were definitely easier than working with most Hollywood publicists.”
The Chicago Tribune has a transcript of the dialogue here.
Shear also writes that the “pop-culture appearance is the latest public relations gamble that Mr. Obama and his aides have taken in their pursuit of new ways to deliver their message to the connected-but-distracted generation.” To which Politico’s Dylan Beer’s responded (before actually seeing the video that went live at 7:30 a.m.): “This isn't a ‘public relations gamble.’ It's betting the farm.” But, he concluded after viewing it, “Turns out this actually went pretty well.”
“Basically, the appearance is a canny attempt at fighting fire with fire,” writes Christopher John Farley on the Wall Street Journal’s “Speakeasy” blog. “After months of conservatives trying to turn Obamacare into a punch line on comedy shows, the president is attempting to take control of the national conversation with some humor of his own.”
Not everyone thought it went so well, of course.
“Obama made just about every conservative with a Twitter account whine and cry Tuesday,” writes Jason Linkins on Huffington Post. And conservatives with their own television shows, too — such as Bill O’Reilly.
“Abe Lincoln Would Never Appear On ‘Between Two Ferns,’” he points out in his “Talking Points Commentary,” suggesting that some thought that it was “demeaning.” O’Reilly also finds the appearance untimely with the Putin-fueled crises brewing in the Crimea, as well as “a little bit desperate, doncha think?"
The viral video has already racked up more than 6 million views in less than one day,” reportsEntertainment Weekly’s Jake Perlman. He spoke with “Between Two Ferns” director/producer Scott Aukerman who “was on a plane Tuesday morning and was shocked to see such a large reaction right away."
“That's super nuts! It's hard to imagine six million people watching something in less than six hours,” Aukerman told Perlman. “How many people are there in the country, though? 300 million? We still got a little ways to go.”
As for the process, “Obama came on set with a lot of ideas and improv’d a lot, surprising many on set with some great lines.”
David A. Graham ponders weightier questions in The Atlantic, writing, “Some detractors complain that Obama has serious work to do and oughtn't to be gallivanting around with 'Hangover' stars. Claims like this are more complex than they initially appear.”
He also points to Richard Nixon’s appearing on “Laugh In” back in the day, writing that it’s ironic that the video surfaced on the day obituaries came out for Joe McGuiness, author of The Selling of the President 1968.
“Complaining that Obama spends more time on internet video than his predecessors is a little like complaining that Calvin Coolidge spent more time on radio addresses than Warren Harding. True as far as it goes, but ...,” he writes.