In our ever-ironic infotainment world of pre-packaged celebrity and one-hand-washes-another show biz fawning, satiric talk shows are not coincidentally becoming increasingly ubiquitous.
Jiminy Glick may only exist on Martin Short’s Myspace page these days, but imitations abound, from Stephen Colbert’s self-congratulatory victory laps before his silly Q and A’s to The Michael Showalter Showalter, the comedian’s boorish take on talk show host prima donna antics, to real talk shows themselves, where someone like Jimmy Kimmel does his late night shtick with a wink and a nod even the famously unstarchy Johnny Carson would have had trouble fully comprehending.
As a former real host himself (on Late World With Zach), as well as a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Michael Showalter Showalter, one would guess he knows what he’s doing. But that guess is undermined by the first two of only three episodes of Between Two Ferns on Funny or Die.
The set-up of BTF parodies cheesy local access talk shows with simple computer font graphics and muzak for its introduction and, as indicated by the over-literal title, a sparse soundstage for conducting interviews bookended by that strange talk show staple of two enormous, potted plants.
Episode 1 has the heavy and heavily-bearded Galifianakis interview Michael Cera with all the grace of an even more obnoxious Glick: not knowing his guest’s name, falling asleep during a lengthy answer (then continuing to make snoring noises even after opening his eyes), and openly mocking Cera’s defense of Superbad’s ribald humor with a childish accent.
None of these bits are new or inspired, and as the clock runs out on a seemingly improvised three minutes Galifianakis goes for the uncomfortably inappropriate by tickling Cera. It all comes across as a little desperate, especially when compared to Showalter’s more original take on the insufferable, self-centered host gag.
Episode 2 offers more of the same with Jimmy Kimmel. Galifianakis again gets his guest’s name wrong (it’s only funny once, but again, notice how much sillier and absurd Showalter’s version of the same joke is with Andy Samburg), but this time there are non sequitur questions (“Ever farted on a cocker spaniel?”), an unfairly proportioned warm beer break, purposeful provocation (after Kimmel complains about getting asked whether he and then-girlfriend Sarah Silverman crack each other up, Galifianakis does just that), and purposeful awkwardness (whispering to Kimmel that he has “girl lips.”).
The jokes never go beyond the obvious.
But Episode 3 is genuinely hysterical, and gives promise to the improvement of the series.
Jon Hamm sits down with Galifianakis and receives one of the greatest, most straight to the point questions ever delivered by a host: “You were in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Why?” (If only more hosts would ask questions like these we’d have much more combative, interesting interviews.)
After teasing Hamm about his last name and misunderstanding the premise of Mad Men (“A show about people in their early 60s”), Galifianakis asks a too-personal question about getting around to fingering the attractive women of the show, and Hamm, unlike Cera and Kimmel, outwits him: “You mean identifying them in a line-up?”
Galifianakis should have ended the interview with his funniest question, “Does it make you sick to look in the mirror and see how handsome you are and to know that people are disfigured? And don’t you think you should think that?” but he resorts to more gross out humor by violently sneezing all over Hamm and announcing “I’m allergic to ferns.” Again, the easy way out, but at least we have hope that BTF will only get better, funnier, and less predictable.