Social media exploded Tuesday morning with people talking about President Obama’s appearance on Zach Galifianakis’s web series Between Two Ferns. The response to the video on Twitter was overwhelmingly positive with people calling it: “hilarious, “great,” and “glorious.” (Let’s be honest, if you aren’t a right-wing partisan hack, you had to find at least some of it funny.) Some of the highlights included Galifianakis asking Obama, "What are we going to do about North Ikea" and inquiring as to whether Obama would build his presidential library in "Hawaii or in his home country of Kenya?”
Of course, politics being the way it is, some on the right were outraged by the comedic video. (I know, “outraged” and “the right” is redundant.) For example, Peter Ingemi tweeted: “It's when I see POTUS with Zach G. betwen two ferns that I wonder why Putin has no fear of the US.” And as @WILDMANBS stated: “Glad to see @BarackObama's priorities are in line sitting down with Zach Galifianakis for a comedy bit.”
The real issue today isn’t the right’s lack of a sense of humor but simply this: Will Obama’s appearance on the comedy show result in more young people signing up for Obamacare?
Obama made it clear when that was the very reason he was on the program when he joked with Galifianakis: “I think it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be here with you today if I didn’t have something to plug…Have you heard of the Affordable Care Act?”
With the March 31 looming for people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace, Obama is in full-court press mode in trying to reach younger people. Not just with this comedy show, but also with outreach on college campuses, celebrity endorsements and TV commercials.
Why the push for people under 35? Administration officials have estimated that about 40 percent of the enrollees in Obamacare have to be 18-34 because these ”young invicibles” generally require less health care which will help offset the higher medical costs associated with older Americans.
On a personal note, when I was in my twenties I never viewed myself as a “young invincible." Maybe that’s because I’m neurotic and assume every new pain I have is the symptom of a tumor or another dreadful disease. As a result, I have had health insurance since I was 24.
OK, back to normal people. As of February 1, approximately 3.3 million Americans have enrolled in Obamacare. However, the percentage of younger Americans was still below the 40 percent target. Although on the bright side for Obama was that in January, people under 35 who enrolled had climbed to 27 percent, up from 24 percent in the three months prior.
So back to the big question: Will this comedy sketch make tangible difference? Well if seeing the impact that The Daily Show, Colbert Report, and Saturday Night Live (think Tina Fey as Sarah Palin) have had on public perception of political issues, you have to say yes.
As comedian Lizz Winstead, co-creator of The Daily Show and founder of Lady Parts Justice Ladypartsjustice.com told me, comedy is very effective in motivating people especially when “exposing outrageous behavior of people like Todd Akin and Ken Cucinelli when they are displaying shear ignorance or hatefulness on issues.”
If you deeply hate Obamacare, all the jokes in the world won’t cause you to see it differently. But for people truly undecided, it can sway them. I have seen it first hand in my work as a political comedian, producer and writer.
Winstead did, however, wonder about the impact of this comedic video: "Will they only remember that there was a hilarious video that Zach did with the President?" Or will they say, "I need to sign up for the ACA."
Well, the early results are promising. Tara McGuinness, the White House Senior Communications Director on health care tweeted at about Noon today:
“FunnyorDie.com is the #1 source of referrals to http://HealthCare.gov right now.”
Still time will tell if the Between Two Ferns sketch inspires younger people to not only visit the Obamacare website but actually sign up. No one can dispute that this comedic video will reach some younger people who would’ve never have listened to a speech about Obamacare. Yet today, they are not only watching a funny video about it, they are sharing it with friends in big numbers. And for that reason alone, this use of comedy by Obama has to already be deemed a hilarious success.