Watching Barack Obama as he crossed the midpoint of his second term as President of the United States, Hillary Clinton knew exactly where she wanted to be: On “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis.”
Obama appeared on the Funny or Die series to shill for his healthcare plan, which famously provides each millennial with a state-sponsored death panel and a free abortion every Valentine’s Day. His appearance in February 2014 racked up over two million views in three hours. Clinton, impressed by how effective a platform Galifianakis’ web series could be, reached out to Funny or Die and asked to be on the show.
From there, “it came together so quickly,” comedian Scott Aukerman, who directed the video, told ThinkProgress by phone. “Mainly because she wanted to do it. It wasn’t something that was pitched to her. She actually made it happen.”
Clinton does not have a reputation for nailing the cool kid joke or off-the-cuff comment — “Pokemon go… to the polls!” — but according to Aukerman, her nearly six-minute scene was mostly improvised. “The majority of the stuff that we shot wasn’t cleared at all. She was really a good sport about it, and I think the video came out better because it wasn’t overthought and it wasn’t focus-grouped of what could or could not be said or how she was going to come off.”
For “Between Two Ferns,” Aukerman said, “the only way people are going to like it and talk about it is if it’s a little edgy and it goes over the line of good taste.”
“You’re always sort of nervous when you do these with anyone,” Aukerman said. “[You ask yourself]: Are people really going to want to subject themselves to this? She let out a big laugh on one of the early questions after Zach asked it, and it set us at ease that she got it and was having a good time.”
“Ironically,” Aukerman said, Clinton’s shoot was “more of a relaxing fun improvisational scene than President Obama’s.”
Wait — is she funnier than Obama?
“I think she has a more wry sense of humor than maybe Obama does,” Aukerman said. “She’s maybe a little more sardonic… I definitely think she has a different sense of humor from him.”
A lot of that humor, Aukerman added, we don’t get to see. “We wish we could put out a separate video that shows how fun and funny she was in a way, but these ‘Between Two Ferns’ videos are all about the awkward vibe of them,” he said. “Every once in a while, Zach would tell a joke and she would laugh really hard. And of course, we can’t use the laugh because that’s not what these are about. But she was slipping into this sort of deadpan timing of it, really, without much prodding from us. She knew the tone of these and she knew what it was and she wanted to do it.”
It wasn’t Clinton’s first time doing this sort of pop cultural youth-outreach effort. Earlier this year, she made a cameo on Broad City; last September, she gave an interview to Lena Dunham in the Girls creator’s then newly-launched Lenny newsletter just weeks after sitting down with Refinery29. All three outlets are tonally and structurally different, but the thread is the same: They’re all places where women old enough to have voted for Obama but young enough to be susceptible to Bernie Sanders are hanging out.
In the wake of Jimmy Fallon’s decision to invite Donald Trump on The Tonight Show for a play-with-your-hair party, a number of comedians have doubled-down on their anti-Trump stances. Seth Meyers, host of NBC’s Late Night, dedicated a recent “A Closer Look” segment to dismantling Trump’s lies about his history as the man who birthed the birther movement; even Stephen Colbert who, in his new gig at The Late Show, seems to strive to be non-partisan, appeared apoplectic while reacting to Trump’s latest speech.
In this week’s Full Frontal, Samantha Bee tore into NBC for providing Trump with a platform since the beginning of the Obama administration, when he was already advocating for the birther movement, a.k.a., “the most thinly-veiled of thinly-veiled racism.” She told reporters on Wednesday that NBC — a network that, as she pointed out, invited Trump to host Saturday Night Live after he claimed Mexico was sending only its finest rapists and drug dealers to America — “needed to be called out.”
“I think if now is our last chance to see the candidates as they are, I’m tired of having people on shows for great ratings just because you want and need great ratings,” Bee said. “I’m tired of the whole process.”
So if Trump put in a call to Funny or Die, asking to appear on “Between Two Ferns,” what would the answer be?
“I don’t even think that would happen, first of all, because the process of how we shoot it wouldn’t be something that he would subject himself to,” Aukerman said. Clinton, he emphasized, came onto the set essentially blind. “Her team didn’t vet the questions beforehand. I don’t think he would ever do that.”
“And if he did do it, I think that he would probably come off as a poor sport with how he reacted to it, so I just don’t even think it would be any good,” Aukerman said. Not to mention: “I think you can probably tell what our opinion is by the two people we’ve had on from politics.”
Why is it so important to so many Americans to see our presidents, or potential presidents, in this context? Why do we need our Commander-in-Chief to be a comedian-in-chief, too?
“Seeing someone’s sense of humor is important to see how they’ll react in a crisis, a lot of times,” Aukerman said. “And you don’t want a leader who is going to get insulted and then fly off the handle and perhaps make a decision that would have dire consequences. So I think people are kind of interested in seeing how a politician reacts to humor.”