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Obama Between Two Ferns

US President Barack Obama appears on Zach Galifianakis' online comedy show with a message to sell and some tricky questions to face.

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Those not in on the joke should have gathered pretty quickly that President Barack Obama's interview with Zach Galifianakis was not like other interviews.

Posted on Tuesday morning in the US on the comedy website funnyordie.com, it begins with the comedian, best known for the Hangover movie franchise, apologising for prior cancellations. “My mouse pad broke,” he explains.

So how does this work? Do you send ambassador 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? 

The President responds that he is surprised that anyone watches his program anyway. Galifianakis asks Obama what it is like being the last black president. Obama asks him what it is like speaking with a president for the last time.

Funny man ... Zach Galifianakis got a raw interview with President Obama and ribbed him relentlessly.

Ferny guy: Zach Galifianakis got a raw interview with President Obama and ribbed him relentlessly. Photo: AP

The two trade awkward insults for three long minutes until it becomes clear why Obama had subjected himself to one of Galifianakis's cult Between Two Ferns interviews.

Obama was there to plug the Affordable Health Care act and its associated website to the sort of young viewers who have long since abandoned traditional media.

When the President starts discussing healthcare Galifianakis looks at his watch and says, “Oh here we go, let's get this out of the way.”

The straight man ... President Obama showed great comic timing in the interview as he sold his Affordable Health Care bill.

Straight man: President Obama showed great comic timing in the 'Between Two Ferns' interview as he sold his new healthcare package. Photo: Reuters

Apparently it worked and it is now generating record referrals to HealthCare.gov, a White House official says.

The interview was shot last month in the Diplomatic Room at the White House and was part-scripted and part ad-libbed. Filming had to be stopped at times because the President was unable to keep a straight face.

And it has already generated at lot of debate in the mainstream media it is so deliberately sidestepping.

President Obama has taken risks to sell policies via pop culture in the past. Before the last election he crooned – literally – his support for cuts to student loan interest rates on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and his comedic timing has been praised after appearances at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Obama's campaign machine has always been steps ahead of his opponents in harnessing new media to reach young voters.

The Galifianakis interview was a step too far ahead for some, who either did not like the joke or did not get that it was a joke in the first place.

The "interview became tense when Galifianakis probed Obama over what he appeared to believe was his decision to send a series of celebrity ambassadors to countries like 'North Ikea', read one article on the Fox Nation website.

A commenter at the conservative website National Review appeared to believe that all "Between Two Ferns" shows are actually regularly filmed at the White House, bemoaning the waste of taxpayer money.

During the daily lunchtime White House press briefing ABC News reporter Jim Avila asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney if "the presidency is in any way damaged?" by the undignified appearance.

Carney was po-faced in response. "No. We obviously assess opportunities that we have and look at whether or not they're going to be successful and wise, and I think we made the right call here."

By 3pm the clip had been watched 4.7 million times.