NEW YORK – Zach Galifianakis brought the ferns, and President Barack Obama opened a new avenue of presidential communication.
The president urged young people to sign up for the new health care plan through an appearance posted Tuesday on the comic website Funny or Die, bypassing the news media and even previous favorites including TV talk-show titans Jimmy Fallon and David Letterman.
Instead, he chose to be a guest on Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns,” the digital short with a laser focus on reaching people ages 18 to 34.
The video reached 1 million views within 3 1/2 hours of posting and was adding more at a pace of 1 million per hour in the middle of the day, according to Funny or Die.
The website was briefly the No. 1 source of referrals to Healthcare.gov, the Obama administration said, with about 14,000 people navigating directly from the video to the health care 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 Tuesday.
With 4 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 televised repeatedly on CNN.
In the interview, Galifianakis peppered Obama with awkward questions, including whether he’d 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 video, 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?”
The White House began talking with Funny or Die last summer about ways to promote the health care plan, and the site has posted several comic videos about the topic, said Mike Farah, production president of the site and executive producer of “Between Two Ferns.” “What I really love about the video is that it’s a funny ‘Between Two Ferns’ first,” Farah said. At the end, the interview’s black backdrop collapses, revealing that the appearance was taped at the White House – implying that’s where Galifianakis does all his shows.