Recently I heard two women at my gym talking about the “racist” and “disrespectful” interview they’d seen between Barack Obama and actor/interviewer Zach Galifianakis.
Between Two Ferns is an internet-only show hosted by Galifianakis on a website called Funny Or Die. That alone should tell you that the whole point of the series is to make you laugh, but my gym colleagues clearly didn’t get the joke.
They were angry that Galifianakis referred to Mr Obama’s race, his relatives in Africa and his much talked-about birth certificate in his questions. They were shocked at Galifianakis’s rude, couldn’t-care-less body language towards the US President’s answers. And they were floored by his antagonistic and inappropriate offhand comments.
In short, they had no idea they were watching comedy.
When I watched it I initially thought there were no media training lessons worth learning from the six minute segment. To me, it seemed nothing more than a highly-produced, highly-scripted comedy segment masquerading as a real interview.
But, according to the show’s host, the interviews he does are unscripted: “Guests aren’t told what will happen in advance,” Zach Galifianakis reportedly told ABC News Now. “There is no discussion beforehand…It just happens, no real prep, no organisation whatsoever”.
If that’s true, then Barack Obama did very well.
He gave as good as he got, returning the interviewer’s snide comments with thinly-veiled insults of his own, mostly about Galifianakis’s lack of success in the third Hangover movie, his less-than-movie star good looks and his pathetic lines of questioning.
And in between all that, he got to push the case for why young Americans (Galifianakis’s key audience) should support ObamaCare.
So, here are the media training lessons from Barack Obama’s “interview” on Between Two Ferns:
1. Know why you’re doing the interview and who you’re really talking to. Mr Obama did the interview because it was an opportunity to speak to young Americans about his key policies on healthcare.
2. Be prepared with your key messages. Clearly, the President had prepared his key ObamaCare messages in a way that would cut through to the younger generation.
3. Know your interviewer. Barack Obama had plenty of “return fire” comments up his sleeve to counter Galifianakis’s interviewing style. This kept viewer interest, even when he did start talking about policy.
4. Bridge to key messages. Mr Obama took the question about .gov websites and successfully bridged to his healthcare.gov key message. And once he got there, he was on a roll…
Despite the host’s assurances that his show is unscripted, I still doubt it. At the very least, the President’s media advisors would have asked for a list of topics that would be covered, perhaps even exact questions (when you’re the President of the USA you can make those sorts of demands). Even so, my final lesson from Between Two Ferns is:
5. Even though you’re not the President of the United States, ask what questions you’ll be asked. You are perfectly entitled to seek information on why someone wants to interview you and what angles they may take. They’re perfectly entitled not to tell you – but you’ll never know unless you ask.
– Christine Heard
PS: I also think it’s likely that the segment didn’t get to air without the White House viewing it first. Forget asking for that – that’s something only a leader of the free world can command.