Obama goes for gags to plug health care plan on Funny or Die

President skips news media and hits online channel to draw in the views from young

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2014, 11:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 March, 2014, 5:43pm


Zach Galifianakis brought the ferns, and US President Barack Obama opened a new avenue of presidential communication.

Obama urged young people to sign up for his health care plan via an appearance posted on Tuesday on the comedy website Funny or Die, bypassing news media and previous favourites such as TV talk show titans Jimmy Fallon and David Letterman. Instead, he chose to be a guest on Galifianakis' absurdist faux talk show Between Two Ferns, which is aimed people aged 18 to 34.

The video reached one million views within 3½ hours of posting and was adding more at a pace of a million per hour in the middle of the day, according to Funny or Die. The website was briefly the top source of referrals to Healthcare.gov, the Obama administration said, with 19,000 people navigating directly from the video to the website in the first few hours.

"Gone are the days when your broadcasts - or yours or yours — can reach everybody that we need to reach," Obama press secretary Jay Carney said to broadcast journalists at the White House press briefing on Tuesday.

With four million viewers, Obama exceeded in six hours the typical audience he would get by appearing on television shows hosted by Letterman, Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert. That doesn't count the ancillary views - clips of the interview aired repeatedly on TV.

Between Two Ferns has a focus on the 18-to-34 age demographic. In contrast to audiences for Fallon and Kimmel which have a median age of 52.7 and 56.2 respectively.

For web entertainment, it's a moment that rivals Emmy or Golden Globe nominations for Netflix's House of Cards.

And in presidential annals, it breaks form much like Richard Nixon did with his awkward jokes on television's Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In.

In the clip, Galifianakis peppered Obama with ludicrous questions, including whether he would locate his presidential library in Hawaii or Kenya.

"What's it like to be the last black president?" he asked.

"Seriously?" Obama said. "What's it like for this to be the last time you ever talk to a president?"

Galifianakis feigned annoyance when Obama, about halfway through the six-minute clip, began urging young people to sign up for health care, sighing heavily before muttering: "Here we go."

"I think it's fair to say I wouldn't be here today if I didn't have something to plug," Obama said. As he went on, the Hangover star asked: "Is this what they mean by drones?"

Funny or Die was launched by Will Ferrell and partners in 2007 and has gone beyond being a niche location.

There have been about 20 Between Two Ferns episodes, drawing an average of six million viewers each, and the Obama appearance is expected to go well beyond that number. The White House began talking with Funny or Die last summer about ways to promote the health care plan, and the site had posted several comic videos about the topic, said Mike Farah, production president of the site and executive producer of Between Two Ferns. The interview was taped two weeks ago.