How FOD Recruited President Obama To Make The Biggest Viral Video of 2014

Earlier this week in the Los Angeles offices of comedy website Funny or Die, Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, and Chris Henchy sat down with their executive team members Dick Glover and Andrew Steele to discuss the website’s future. That meant evaluating the financial worth of a website that has become a producer of some of the biggest viral comedy videos on the internet, including, arguably, this year’s biggest comedy video, President Barack Obama’s “Between Two Ferns” appearance. At current count, the video has been viewed some 27 million times. The site’s most famous video, “The Landlord,” in which Adam McKay’s young daughter, Pearl, harasses Will Ferrell for rent money has been viewed an astonishing 3 billion times.

GQ profiled Funny or Die recently and how the company is now in the position where they’re a valuable online property, and potential buyers are showing interest.

Ferrell told me: “There are periodic offers, but nothing has ever manifested itself in a way that’s been enticing enough to just give the whole thing over to someone else.” And even if it were to sell, said McKay, the founders would definitely keep a piece “because you wouldn’t want to chase everyone out of the barn. That wouldn’t really make any sense. You’d better keep people hanging around.”

The website has been making viral comedy videos for some time now, but it’s the Commander in Chief’s “Between Two Ferns” appearance in March that was really a milestone for FOD’s president of production, Mike Farah. Farah had made a bet with himself that the website would one day get the president to be in a video six years earlier in the form of a handwritten note. Fast forward to May when Farah met the president at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Farah showed President Obama the to-do note he had written to himself and Obama signed it with “I’m glad you won the bet.”

Making that video in which Zach Galifinakis grills Obama with condescending questions about healthcare helped give its biggest traffic spike ever. (The government website saw an increase of 40 percent.) The biggest problem to pulling the video off wasn’t carving out a chunk of time in the president’s busy schedule, but finding a pair of ferns worthy of the most powerful man in the free world.


“Oh, that was a drama,” recalls Rachel Goldenberg, a Funny or Die producer and one of a six-member team that flew to Washington in late February to shoot the video. The FOD crew called florist after florist, she says, but the only ferns they could locate were puny, fake, or both. “We were open to the fake ones,” she says, “but it just wasn’t the right look.”

As evidence shows, the ferns and the video proved to be a hit for both the website and Obama’s often criticized — yet still very popular — “We are proud that over 24 million Americans have watched the president and Zach inform the country about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act between those two iconic ferns,” says White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Not too shabby for a couple of ferns, a comedian and the President of the United States.

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