So in some ways, even more than as the host of his “Between Two Ferns” show on Funnyordie.com, Zach Galifianakis could also perhaps stand in for Hillary Clinton’s opponent in debate prep.
Of course, the much-awaited Trump-Clinton debates will be broadcast on Monday on eight networks (and live-streamed on Twitter) starting at 9 p.m. EST. A Super-Bowl-sized audience is expected to tune in.
And as the polls tighten, and Millennial votes are still up for grabs, Clinton agreed to appear on the “Ferns” hot seat. Actually, this particular chair, positioned to bump into a half dead-fern, is probably more dumb than hot.
Galifianakis always plays a self-important, excruciatingly clueless and crude TV interviewer. The great irony here is that this brutal dimness (no doubt a turnoff for older viewers lacking patience) is a twisted way around the Maypole that allows Galifianakis and his guests to reveal surprising truths.
He’s not afraid to “go there,” starting with the way Secretary Clinton is identified in the screen chyron. We see her name, but without a title. Instead, the line below reads “had pneumonia.”
That’s a pitiless and genius way of getting straight to that painful subject and her questionable handling of it, without saying a word. Indeed, it turns out the segment was taped on Friday, Sept. 9, before Clinton announced her illness on Sunday, and no one on the crew even knew she was sick.
So those two words end up as a double-barreled joke that the Clinton camp had the ease and sense of humor to approve.
Otherwise known for his work on the FX series “Baskets,” (a sensitive term, as it turns out, these days) and as one of the stars of the “Hangover” movies, in this episode of “Ferns” Galifianakis establishes his bona fides as a primo jerk-o almost instantly. He asks Clinton whether she is excited to be the first “girl president,” then follows up by telling her that “for a younger, younger generation you will also become their first white president, so that’s pretty cool, too.”
So far, this crazy Presidential battle has been a painful referendum on race and gender. There’s progress, and terrible backlash, and as the first female Presidential candidate, Clinton is often in a no-win position.
She’s not only doing the Ginger Rogers thing, backwards and in high heels, she also has to find her equilibrium at a time when the country and the media find it more alluring (and dangerous?) to watch the erratic, quicksilver moves of a tough, authoritarian daddy, (a Donny-come-lately) than to hang in with a known worker-bee mommy.
But back to our ferns. On the women-front, Galifianakis, now-thin but still slobby, presses on, to ask the former Secretary of State how many words a minute she types and whether she gets President Obama his coffee.
If you recall, President Obama successfully used an appearance on “Ferns” as a way to persuade Millennials to sign up for his healthcare plan. (His appearance increased traffic to Healtcare.gov by 40%.)
The President came prepared for pushback, hurling his own pointed zingers in the face of Galifianakis’ deliberate obtuseness. (Almost the same way Obama aggressively took Trump down on his birther behavior at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011. A “Frontline” report reveals that Trump was so humiliated by Obama’s performance that he decided to run for President.)
By contrast, in this appearance, which was lightly scripted but mostly improv, Hillary Clinton didn’t get angry, try to attack Zach, or make her own jokes. That could have been cringe-making.
Instead, she played along, maintained her composure, and brilliantly deadpanned her way through. At one point, she responded, in a very low voice, “I regret doing this,” which was enough fodder for the Fox crowd to take her at her word and scream the word “regret” in their headlines.
By the time her interviewer got to “What happens if you get pregnant? Are we going to be stuck with Tim Kaine for nine months? How does this work?”
Clinton responded, “I could send you some pamphlets.”
In answering her host’s idiocy, Clinton talks about the double standards she faces as a woman, and suggests that Zach is very backward and should get out more.
I think it was a bravura ad for Clinton. No one can chide her for being too emotional/too closed/too firm/too wonky/too un-relaxed.
But now we have a blueprint for what Hillary should do in the real debate. She should repeat her performance on “Between Two Ferns”: calm, direct and unflappable.
By the way, Zach ended the session by asking “What’s the best way to reach you -- email?"