When Hillary Clinton is introduced on Funny or Die’s “Between Two Ferns,” the show’s (intentionally) clunky chyron gives her a snarky capsule bio: “Had pneumonia.” Clinton’s episode of the deadpan interview series was actually shot Sept. 9, the day she was diagnosed with pneumonia, and two days before her attempts to shrug off the illness led to an embarrassing on-video stumble.
No one at the shoot could tell she was sick.
“It was very surprising,” said Scott Aukerman, the co-creator of “Between Two Ferns” and the host of the IFC series “Comedy Bang Bang,” which begins its final season in October. “The one clue that I had, looking back, was that both Zach and Hillary had drinks just out of frame to sip on, and they’d brought out hot water for her. I’m always kind of interested in what people drink to keep their voices up. But when we heard about the pneumonia a few days later, we couldn’t believe it. Not only was she warm and funny, we kept filming for more time than they originally allotted.”
The Clinton episode of “Between Two Ferns” is drawing obvious comparisons to its 2014 interview with President Obama, in which host Zach Galifianakis asked how it felt “to be the last black president.” (The answer was a cold stare.) Clinton’s interview is earning more skeptical coverage — it’s well known that deputy communications director Kristina Schake has been cuing up chances for Clinton to show more of her personality.
“What we heard was that she was the one who suggested to the campaign that they do one, which really streamlined the process for us,” Aukerman said. “We didn’t have to go through the usual hoops. And she was actually super warm and funny during the making of it. After one of the jokes, she let out a big laugh that put us all at ease. This one, compared with the Obama one, was much more improvisational. We didn’t clear most of the jokes through her people.”
There are less than 50 days for a theoretical “Between Two Ferns” stare-off with Donald Trump. Aukerman didn’t think the Republican nominee would be interested. In 2011, when his aborted run for president thrust Trump into the political conversation, he famously seethed through Obama’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner routine and left without talking to reporters. That same year, he subjected himself to a Comedy Central roast, but with a condition: There could be no jokes implying that he was less wealthy than he claimed to be.
“Most of these times you see a politician in a comedy setting, you can almost hear the discussions being held about what they won’t say,” Aukerman said. “You can guess what was negotiated in order for them to come out well. These have to be authentically awkward, and some of the jokes have to be mean, or they don’t work.”