President Obama walked into the room, clapped his hands and shouted: "Two Ferns!" Then he sat down to make a viral video.
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?
What followed was an unusual spectacle, to say the least: the president of the United States hurled insult after insult at Zach Galifianakis, host of the oddball web series Between Two Ferns, and listened as the comedian responded in kind.
"What is it like to be the last black president?" Galifianakis asked at one point in the interview. "Seriously?" Obama responded. "What is it like for this to be the last time you ever talk to a president?"
As funny (and awkward) as the video may be at times, there was a larger goal in mind. The Obama administration is eager to find ways to engage with young Americans and get them to sign up for the Affordable Care Act. Between Two Ferns and its parent site, Funny or Die, are part of that effort.
In July of last year, Obama's team hosted a meeting at the White House with reps from Funny or Die and YouTube as well as celebrities like Jennifer Hudson and Amy Poehler to talk healthcare. Mike Farah, the president of production at Funny or Die, was one of those who attended.
"The president talked to the creative community about the Affordable Care Act and some of the challenges facing it trying to get the word out," Farah, who also serves as executive producer on Between Two Ferns, told Mashable about the meeting. "The law works even better when young people sign up for it."
Farah didn't pitch the administration on the Between Two Ferns idea at the time. Galifianakis wasn't at that initial meeting, but he did meet with Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to the president, in September to continue the conversation. In mid-February, the administration reached out to the Funny or Die team and said the president would be available to film something on Feb. 24.
"This whole thing happened so quickly," Farah says. "The president was familiar with Funny or Die and Between Two Ferns and Zach, so he kind of got it."
In the few days they had, the Between Two Ferns team put together an outline for the show and coordinated with Jarrett as well as Brad Jenkins, associate director in the office of public engagement, and the president's speechwriters. Even so, Farah insists that they approached the episode in the same way they do with most celebrities.
"It was no different than any other video we do," Farah says. He declined to say how much of the dialogue was scripted in advance and how much was done off the cuff. "I would say everyone is comfortable with what's going to happen. No one wants to offend anyone, or be disrespectful to the president or any other guest... People are on the same page and there is time to play around."
The Between Two Ferns video racked up one million views after just three hours and 25 minutes and topped three million views in just under six hours, making it the best start for a video in Funny or Die's history, according to a rep for the company. Perhaps more importantly for the Obama administration, the video succeeded in driving traffic to Healthcare.gov.
Funny or Die is planning to do more videos in March to promote the final month of open enrollment for Healthcare.gov, though Farah says there won't be any more Between Two Ferns episodes dedicated to it, and it's unlikely we'll see another appearance from President Obama.
"I think we've got a lot of momentum with this now," he says of the viral video's impact on promoting Healthcare.gov. "So hopefully we can capitalize on it."
As this story was published it had already been viewed 4.7 million times.