The Week in Comedy: President Obama – it's the way he tells 'em


Comedy - it makes people laugh but can it change the world? Barack Obama thinks it can. This week the President of the United States made his debut when he agreed to be interviewed on Between Two Ferns.

Comedy aficionados have been hooked on Zach Galifianakis’ offhand, spoof internet chatshow for years now, but even by its own high standard of guests – Samuel L Jackson, Natalie Portman and Justin Bieber have all been mocked, ignored or misunderstood by The Hangover star and host since 2008 – the leader of the free world is quite a step up.

“What should we do about North Ikea?” asked Galifianakis. “What is it like to be the last black president?” “Is it going to be hard in two years when you’re no longer president and people will stop letting you win at basketball?” Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t a one-sided takedown; Obama got in plenty of jabs of his own between the pot plants. He asked Galifianakis to show him his birth certificate, told him he wouldn’t let Michelle anywhere near him and when asked why he wasn’t running for a third term, jibed, “It’d be sorta like doing a third Hangover movie. That didn’t really work out very well, did it?” For a comedy rookie, it was a solid performance - straight-faced but humorous, well-timed and relaxed. Obama’s funny.

This wasn’t the POTUS’ audition for a spot on Saturday Night Live. He had a message, which Galifianakis introduced with scorn - “Okay, let’s get this out of the way, what did you come here to plug?” Obama duly talked up the Affordable Care Act, and why young people should sign up. “Is that what they mean by drones?” yawned Galifianakis. In one day, the six-minute interview had over 12 million views.  According to a senior communications adviser at the White House, Funny or Die is currently the top referral site to

So it worked. And while certain commentators and opponents have deemed it a trivial act for a world leader, this was an ideal way to engage with young voters on a web-based issue. It would not have worked for an in-depth discussion about events in Ukraine, but used wisely comedy can be excellent vehicle for politicians to get a message out and votes in. That’s why Sarah Palin agreed to rapping with her impersonator Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live, why Joe Biden popped up in Parks and Recreation and why MPs continue to throw themselves into the lion’s den on Have I Got News For You week after week. Rarely do they manage to come out the other side as slickly as Obama did.

Comedians make natural interviewers, too, well versed in holding power to account, ribbing guests and reacting on the hoof. In the UK the schedules are full of people who have swapped stand-up for the sofa – Alan Carr, Graham Norton, Sarah Millican, as well as characters like Mrs Merton and Dame Edna. On Monday Michael McIntyre joined their ranks with his new BBC chatshow. Presented by a man in a dark suit on a shiny set, with Terry Wogan, Lily Allen and Alan Sugar in the green room, there was nothing to scare the horses here. The best bits came when McIntyre appeared to go off piste – complaining about producers talking to him in his earpiece (“I just want to say, ‘I’ll call you back’ to them…”) and reading out the texts received by a hapless audience member. It was fine – nothing more.    

The fact is, the really fun interviews are happening online. Brief, irreverent spots which strip out the sycophancy and studio audiences and ask as many rude questions as they can before the subject calls cut. Bret Easton Ellis’ website interviews and Marc Maron’s WTF podcasts are consistently witty and illuminating. Between Two Ferns started as a segment on Scott Aukerman and BJ Porter’s The Right Now! Show but when the pilot for it was not picked up, it went online to Funny or Die where it has the freedom to be as irregular, surreal and naughty as it likes. It only pops up when it has a guest worth interviewing. It is cool and it confers cool on its guests, even as it makes them look stupid. Expect David Cameron to pop up on a YouTube channel in the dispiritingly near future.

Dying on stage

The Alternative Comedy Memorial Society (ACMS) started a run in London this week. I love this night, not only for its excellent line-up – Bridget Christie and Josie Long are among the regulars –but also for its pantomime heckling. After each turn hosts Thom Tuck and John-Luke Roberts leap on stage and shout “A failure!”, to which the audience responds, “A noble failure!” It’s a warm acceptance of experimentation, a celebration of stand-ups pushing at boundaries and sometimes falling down.

Talking of dying on stage, Robin Ince wrote a compelling blog about a disastrous gig in Caterham this week. “I have just performed a gig to some of the largest amount of silence for some time, I would not be surprised if the estate of John Cage sue me for plagiarism”, he said. “I felt like Mogwai accidentally booked as a wedding band.” It’s a brutal, witty read: unlike Caterham, I laughed a lot.

What I Watched…


At The O2. A likeable, entertaining live outing for the TV star but funny? Not so much. Too little material and some of the jokes are more old-fashioned than her jolly hockey sticks fictional mum. Touring to October.

People Just Do Nothing

One of a raft of new iPlayer comedies announced in the wake of the BBC3 closure, this lo-fi mockumentary follows MC Sniper and his mates at London pirate radio station Kurupt FM. Spotted on YouTube, their BBC pilot was produced by The Office’s Ash Atalla. Check out their early webisodes here.

The Wolf of Wall Street: the remix

Matthew McConaughey’s hilarious, chest-thumping lunchtime speech kicks off an astonishing two-minute remix of Martin Scorsese’s epic.

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Arts and Entertainment
Kate Bush: 'I'm going to miss everyone so much'
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?