CHRIS SCHILLIG: Obama grabs laughs and 17 million plugs for health care

ALLIANCE REVIEW Published:

About three and a half minutes into an interview with Zach Galifianakis, President Obama tips his hand and mentions "healthcare-dot-gov."

"Here we go," sighs Galifianakis. "Let's get this out of the way. What did you come here to plug?"

It's not the way an interviewer should address the president, but this is no normal interview. Instead, it's an example of something we see far too little of in politics and the media these days: humor.

The latest episode of Galifianakis' "Between Two Ferns," posted last week, features a spirited give-and-take between the comedian/actor and the leader of the free world. Its humor depends on how much the viewer likes Galifianakis and/or Obama.

I can take him or leave him. Galifianakis, that is. Apparently, a lot of people feel the same way about Obama, judging from his dismal 41 percent approval rating.

The interview is funny. The duo does indeed sit between the two titular ferns, verbally fencing over vital national issues, such as Obama's basketball skills and whether he will build his presidential library in Hawaii or in what Galifianakis calls his "home country of Kenya." (This last exchange likely had "birthers" foaming at the mouth -- "At last, somebody asks the hard questions!")

It also gives Obama a chance to sell the Affordable Care Act to those healthy young Americans on whose shoulders his law will prosper or wither. Some critics might see this as an indication of desperation -- really, the president had to go on an Internet talk show, the digital equivalent of a community-access cable program, to plug his federal health care law?

But there's a method in Obama's madness. By Sunday, the segment had been viewed 17 million times, and a direct link to healthcare.gov lurks right below the clip on the Funny or Die website. That's a lot of eyeballs for a six-and-a-half-minute interview. If even a few of those viewers, many of whom might never sit still for a more serious presidential interview on "60 Minutes," click over to the government site to learn more before the March 31 deadline, maybe it was worth sparring over diabetic shoes.

In a kinda-sorta-related pop-culture occurrence, comedians Keegan-Michael Lee and Jordan Peele, better known as Key & Peele, scored the front cover of this week's Time magazine. The annual "Ideas Issue" finds the two men waxing almost eloquent on the topic of humor and the importance of making fun of everything.

"When a humorist makes the conscious decision to exclude a group from derision, isn't he or she implying that the members of that group are not capable of self-reflection?" they write. "A group that's excluded never gets the opportunity to join in the greater human conversation."

I'd like to think that includes U.S. presidents, who are roasted regularly on SNL and other late-night programs but who seldom have the chance to poke fun at themselves. Some people think such shenanigans demean the office of the president, but in a world where George Dubaya wore a codpiece on the deck of an aircraft carrier in 2003 or gave the German chancellor a creepy back massage in 2006, we doubt that a little ribbing about drones with Galifianakis will do any damage.

If the executive office -- and the nation -- survived 12 years with two Bushes, it certainly can withstand six minutes amid two ferns.

Chris Schillig is an Alliance area educator and journalist. Contact him at chris.schillig@yahoo.comor @cschillig on Twitter.

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  • Nobody is laughing... So sad the leader of the free world has to sink to such levels. Dems are desperate. Maybe the President should spend more time with the "Pimp with a Limp." Tell the Pimp to get Obamacare and see if he can get that limp fixed.