Barack Obama appeared on Funny or Die’s Between Two Ferns on Tuesday, making it arguably the weirdest show in history to get presidential attention.
Between Two Ferns is a sort of mock-public access channel show hosted by Zach Galifianakis. It looks like public access, too, with very little decoration outside of a plain black backdrop, two stools and, of course, two ferns. Galifianakis is a master of the art of awkwardness, making an array of famous guests squirm on said stools with excessively long silences, probing questions, and generally bizarre behavior.
None of that was missing from Obama’s appearance. But it wasn’t like most appearances on the show, either:
Usually, Galifianakis is the one making his guests feel incredibly uncomfortable (“I just have never interviewed a 7-year-old before,” he told Justin Bieber when the young star appeared on the show), but that dynamic was mostly flipped with Obama. Yes, Galifianakis did stumble over Obama’s name in the way he does for most guests (‘Bieber’ became ‘Beevers’), but almost immediately Obama was the one making Galifianakis feel awkward. “If I ran a third time, it’d be sort of like doing a third Hangover movie,” Obama dug. “It didn’t really work out very well, did it?”
Obama took a risk going on a show as weird as Between Two Ferns; it could have made him look weird and awkward and bumbling. But he hacked it, flipping that dynamic back around on his host. This also made it easy for Obama, who is clearly trying to enroll the youth stoner demographic though his signature health care law, to make his plug for Healthcare.gov. Yes, the plug did seem canned and forced, but it worked, because Obama was the one dominating the scene and calling the shots.
Obama’s presidency has overlapped with the rise of the meme, and both he and Michelle have taken advantage of this. They have both made frequent appearances on late night shows (Obama is one of the politicians who’s slow jammed the news), and his administration is responsible for the pajama boy meme and the McKayla Maroney ‘not impressed’ face picture. Obama even embraced the existing meme of his ‘Not Bad’ face during a Reddit “ask me anything.”
Not every president would be able to pull off this kind of an appearance, but it’s good Obama is adding it into the presidential repertoire of public relations. It shows that, with some thought, public officials can penetrate even the weirdest parts of the internet.