The online comedy talk show Between Two Ferns today became a commercial for the Affordable Care Act. Zach Galifianakis, with his signature awkwardness, interviewed none other than President Barack Obama. It had its moments, but when the host and guest transitioned to a plug for the health insurance marketplace, the show lost all semblance of being an episode of Between Two Ferns. It had become rather a promotional piece set to look and sound like the popular show on FunnyorDie.com.
I don’t fault the president for doing the interview. He needs to sell the Affordable Care Act, to the younger uninsured crowd especially, and appearing online with Galifianakis has netted him and the marketplace website more attention. It was probably a smart move, despite the totally predictable backlash.
I do fault Funny or Die. Not because Galifianakis helped promote the Affordable Care Act, but because he wrecked his art and comedy doing so. Bringing the President on to promote his program turned Between Two Ferns into a vehicle for driving home a political message.
This might have worked if the show wasn’t already defined by its history of criticizing “obsequious celebrity interviews,” to use the words of Sunny Bunch. It’s out of form, to say the least, for the Galifianakis of Between Two Ferns to give such deference to a powerful guest. His barbs fell flat because they were obviously intended to cover the political purpose of the interview.
Political comedy is at its best when it critically resists the prevailing social order, but that doesn’t mean that comedians cannot ever legitimately put their art to political uses that help sustain that order. However, Between Two Ferns wasn’t the place for such an effort. Galifianakis and Obama would have done better to create a standalone skit for Funny or Die that didn’t have any established expectations.
Photo: Funny or Die