Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Between two ferns

For those of you who keep track of such things, you can add Zach Galifianakis to the list of celebrities of whom I am not a fan.  I find his antics distracting and his comedy less than funny.  He has, however, parlayed a rather limited set of physical features into a sort-of-leading man's film career, and while I wouldn't call him brilliant, in life's casino, he's managed to play with house money for a long time.

The most recent edition of his epically unfunny parody of a local-access chat-show, Between Two Ferns, featured Barack Obama.  If you haven't seen it, head to to check it out, if only for context.  I've seen the gag before several times; its characteristic awkward silences and frequent resort to insult comedy is chuckleworthy at times, but it's as formulaic as watching Carson play Carnac the Magnificent for the eightieth time.  The comedy is in the memory, not in the jokes.

Obama's "plug" in this edition was to get young people, who presumably are fans of Galifianakis, to sign up for health insurance through  That's an admirable goal, and if nothing else, it's great to see the President going to bat for an initiative that will save lots of lives but has taken a lot of unfair lumps from people who want it to fail. 

The White House Press Corps, who collectively apparently think of themselves as guardians of the Presidency, did not like seeing Obama this way.  Obama's a cool character; he's got good, not great, comedic timing; and his lines cut deeply--just as the Between Two Ferns formula mandates.  But some members of the Corps went in search of a fainting couch, worrying that Obama had demeaned the Presidency by deigning to appear in a comedy sketch.

I wasn't alive when Richard Nixon delivered the famous catch phrase on Laugh-In--"Sock it to me!"--so I have no idea what the cultural impact of that was on the Presidency.  As it turned out, Nixon did a lot more damage to the Presidency through other endeavors.  But Bill Clinton played the saxophone on Arsenio Hall (although technically he was only a candidate for President at the time) and even though he was clearly not a professional, he showed himself to be a man of the people.  Clinton and his successor both made short comedy films that were released to the public.  Clinton's included one of the funniest things I've ever seen: the look on his face as Hillary's car pulls away from the White House, headed to the Senate, as Bill runs out with the brown-bag lunch he's made her, not quite in time. (The whole thing is worth seeing again.)  Bush resorted to gallows humor as he pretended to look for WMDs in various locations around the White House.

I won't say I enjoyed Obama's appearance on Between Two Ferns as a comedy sketch, but, like his channeling of Al Green a couple of years ago with the opening line of "Let's Stay Together," it showed that he's the best kind of cool:  the smart, aware kind.  Maybe it's just an act, and maybe it's the product of being surrounded by "messaging" people who are built for the Internet Age, but it works.  That's not demeaning, but humanizing, to the Presidency. 

Not that it means anything, but I approve.

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