President Barack Obama is going out of his way to reach the public to promote his health care law sign-up. On Tuesday, March 11, 2014 the president's interview with Zach Galifianakis on his "Between Two Ferns" web series was released on the comedy website FunnyorDie.com promoting his healthcare law, the Affordable Care Act and urging millenials, 18 to 34-year-olds to sign up for health insurance before the March 31 deadline.
President Obama's freestyle interview with actor and comedian Zach Galifianakis on the actor's "parody talk show" "Between Two Ferns," released on Funny or Die was unprecedented for any president. It sure had Americans and the news media talking, receiving 11 millions views in a day and as ABC News reported becoming the "number one referral website to the healthcare exchange."
The White House and White House adviser Tara McGuinness boasted about the increase in traffic on Twitter. The White House wrote on Wednesday, March 12; "890k+ visits to http://HC.gov on Tues, up 40% from Mon. Lots of consumers shopping to get covered before 3/31. #GetCoveredNow." While McGuinness tweeted on Tuesday, March 11; "Funnyordie video has 11 million views. http://Healthcare.gov traffic for yesterday was up almost 40% from Monday." The video interview on Funny or Die resulted in a one day total of "54,000 referrals" according to the Health and Human Services spokesman Aaron Albright.
President Obama personally thanked Galifianakis for the traffic to the healthcare marketplace on Twitter sending the message; "Hey @galifianakisz, thanks for sending so many folks to #GetCoveredNow at http://Healthcare.gov. And good luck with those spider bites. -bo" referring to a gag from the interview.
The Obama administration has been having problems promoting the health care law to millenials, the age group that is lagging behind the most in terms of signing up for the new insurance. The total sign-up for health insurance by the end of February was 4.2 million, the deadline is March 31, after which there will be fines for those who do not have insurance. The administration originally projected 7 million Americans signing-up, but that does not seem possible. At this point millenials represent only a quarter of those who signed up for insurance, without this demographic signing up, the costs will rise for insurance.
The Obama Administration believes the young sign-up later, because of "procrastination" in general and that is why they arguing they are promoting the health insurance now. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told the press on Tuesday; "We learned from the Massachusetts experience that young adults tend to sign up later in the process. So we know that millions of Americans are finally obtaining the security of affordable health coverage and that's there still time for others to sign up."
The comments left it open for Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH to readily criticize the administration in a statement; "It seems the president's push to enroll young adults is far too little, too late. The administration won't tell us how many people have actually paid for a plan or how many were previously uninsured. But what we do know is that young adults -- those who the White House repeatedly said are critical -- are deciding the health care law is a bad deal."
Funny or Die director Scott Aukerman told Entertainment Tonight that the White House actually contacted them to appear on the web interview parody as a method of selling the healthcare law's insurance sign-up to the website's target audience. Aukerman recounted; "The White House came to us [because] they really wanted to get the word out about the Affordable Care Act and they were looking for interesting ways to do it. I don't think there's any more interesting way than doing a small, really weird internet show…. [The White House was] really hands off about the whole thing and they really wanted it to be like a normal episode of Between Two Ferns, which means Zach insulting [President Obama] and [the episode] getting really strange. They fully embraced that."
The far ranging six and a half minute improvised interview was filled with jabs, jokes, insults and sarcasm taking aims at many of the Republicans' favorite criticisms of the President making them in context ludicrous and laughed at the Presidents own missteps or past actions. Despite dismal approval ratings, President Obama had a chance to show the country again the personality that captivated the nation in the 2008 presidential campaign. The interview was taped two-weeks ago on Monday, Feb. 24 at the White House. Even Obama expressed his surprise at the web show; "I have to say, when I heard that people actually watch this show, I was actually pretty surprised."
Aukerman described how open Obama was to the concept and embracing of it; "We shot [the episode] the way we always shoot them, where it's very experimental and anything can kind of happen. [President Obama is a] really funny guy. I mean we've had some really funny people on the show but there's just something magnetic about him when he gets on screen ... [President Obama] definitely had a lot of slams that he wanted to inflict upon [host] Zach [Galifianakis]. He was ready. He was locked and loaded."
The Obama presidency and it historical context was brought up, including the possibility for a third presidential term for the campaign loving Obama with Galifianakis commenting; "It must kind of stink, though, that you can't run, you know, three times."
The president responding mockingly; "No, I actually, I think it's a good idea. If I ran a third time it would be sort of like doing a third 'Hangover' movie. Didn't really work out very well, did it?" The Hangover is the movie series Galifianakis is most known for.
Galifianakis also asked about Obama history making presidency as the first African-American president; "I have to know - what is it like to be the last black president?" To which Obama just mockingly responded; "Seriously? What's it like for this to be the last time you ever talk to a president?" Near the end of the interview, Obama took another jab at Galifianakis'acting when he told Obama that his last guest actor Bradley Cooper, had been funnier, prompting the president to ask him mockingly that "He kind of carried that movie, didn't he?" referring again to the Hangover series.
The jokes ranged from referring to foreign policy with Galifianakis asking "Do you send Ambassador [Dennis] Rodman to North Korea on your behalf? I read somewhere that you'd be sending Hulk Hogan to Syria - or is that more of a job for Tonya Harding?" to the Turkey pardon where Galifianakis asked "In 2013 you pardoned a turkey. What are you going to do in 2014?" Obama deadpanned; "We'll probably pardon another turkey."
The interview even covered Obama's post-presidency with Galifianakis asking if Obama will have his library in Kenya referring to the current race between Illinois and Hawaii for Obama's presidential library and the birther controversy, where some Republicans claimed Obama was actually born in Kenya and not the U.S. The president shot back with a question asking "to see Galifianakis' birth certificate," like many questioning Republicans had asked of him.
The main point of the hilarious interview was promoting the health insurance sign-up for which President Obama sarcastically stated; "I think it's fair to say that I wouldn't be here with you today if I didn't have something to plug. Have you heard of the Affordable Care Act?" With Galifianakis responding with a joke about the disastrous marketplace website rollout last October 2013; "Oh yeah, I heard about that. That's the thing that doesn't work. Why would you get the guy who created the Zune to make your website?" To which Obama replied; "HealthCare.gov works great now," and then plugged the methods to sign up. Galifianakis irritated asked "is this what they mean by drones?" referring to the administration use of drones and the controversy surrounding it. The comedic host also feigned having a rash from a spider bite, showing Obama. This allowed the president another push to sell the healthcare marketplace telling the comedian host; "You need to get on HealthCare.gov, because that's one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen."
Throughout the interview there was a black background which is always used for the "Between Two Ferns" episodes, and on the screen Obama was called a "community organizer" another nod to the GOP questioning Obama's credentials in the 2008 campaign. At the end President Obama pressed a big red button that was on the table between the two, dropping the black background to the floor revealing that they were taping in the White House's Diplomatic Room as Obama asked incredulously; "You've been shooting these shows here in the Diplomatic Room? Who gave you permission to do that?" Galifianakis responded, "Bush," a joke about one Obama's favorite hobbies in during the 2008 presidential campaign and his first term in office, blaming his predecessor George W. Bush.
During his press briefing on Tuesday, March 11 Press Secretary Jay Carney defended Obama's decision to appear on the web series; "The President's interview with Zach Galifianakis on Between Two Ferns was designed to reach Americans where they live. They watch this show in huge numbers…. I think what it says is that gone are the days when your broadcast, or yours, or yours, can reach everybody that we need to reach…. I think we knew that there would be an opportunity to talk about healthcare.gov. There's a lot of adlibbing in there. I can tell you there's a lot of adlibbing."
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.