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Between Two Ferns: More than 30 million Millennial views of Clinton interview

Between Two Ferns: The Democratic presidential nominee took a series of awkward questions from a deadpanning Zach Galifianakis, but will that be enough to court more young voters?  By Monday, it had 47 million views.

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    Zach Galifianakis participates in the 'Baskets' panel at the FX Networks Winter TCA on Saturday, Jan. 2016, in Pasadena, Calif. The comedian interviewed Hillary Clinton on the web series, 'Between Two Ferns.'
    Richard Shotwell/Invision via AP
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Zach Galifianakis left almost no taboo subject for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton untouched in his cheeky interview with the former secretary of State on the web series "Between Two Ferns" posted online Thursday.

The comedian deadpanned what would happen if Mrs. Clinton became pregnant in office. "Are we gonna be stuck with Tim Kaine for nine months?" He asked her if the best way to reach her is by email. Is she "down with TPP?”, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The spoof interview was trending on Twitter Thursday afternoon, with more than 45,000 posts about it by press time. In the first 24 hours, the video had more than 30 million views. By Monday morning, it had risen to 47 million.

Political and media analysts applauded Clinton’s attempts to reach Millennials through the comedy video website, as she seeks to counter the mantra her campaign has said she has faced ever since she first ran for president, that "she is the most famous person no one knows." However, some experts aren't sure how effective the video will be in not just reaching Millennials, but winning their vote come November.

"I don't blame Hillary and her campaign for trying," says Scott Talan, an assistant professor of public and strategic communication at American University in Washington D.C. "But this is not her strong suit with off the cuff, off-color, ironic humor on a very nontraditional set with a super nontraditional 'host.' "

Still, he says, the video won't hurt her. He expects it be shared on social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.

"This should have plenty of afterlife," he tells The Christian Science Monitor in an interview Thursday, as he watched the video while he was on the phone.   

It was Clinton's idea to appear on the web series that has also hosted Justin Bieber and President Obama, the executive producer told Politico Thursday. The nearly six-minute interview was filmed on Sept. 9, the same day Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia.

In addition to the absurd questions he asks Clinton, Mr. Galifianakis lampoons Donald Trump, her opponent.

"When you see how well it works for Donald Trump, do you ever think to yourself, 'Oh, maybe I should be more racist?' " Galifianakis asks Clinton. "When he's elected president, and Kid Rock is secretary of State, are you going to move to Canada? Or one of the Arctics?"

Mr. Trump said via Twitter Thursday Clinton’s attempt to appear relatable was ineffective.

Trump has attempted to court a young audience through television, too. He appeared on Jimmy Fallon's "The Tonight Show," letting the former "Saturday Night Live" cast member ruffle his hair.

Throughout much of the election, Clinton has led Trump among voters under 30, which comprise about one-third of the electorate. Recent polls, however, show many Millennial voters would choose third-party candidates such as Gary Johnson or Jill Stein over Clinton.

In response, Clinton's campaign has prioritized this month winning over Millennials. Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s communication director, said ahead of a speech the candidate was scheduled to deliver about Millennial voters at Temple University Monday that the campaign must do a better job of convincing Millennials why they should vote for Clinton, not why they should vote against Donald Trump.

"The Millennial generation is a key voting bloc in this election, and it’s clear that the campaign must do more to earn their vote," Mr. Palmieri said in a statement.

And that would involve a more progressive shift in policies instead of PR gimmicks.

David Cahn, a 20-year-old who co-authored "When Millennials Rule: The Reshaping of America" with his twin brother, Jack, doesn't expect the video to resonate among his generation, adding that the idea of it just feels "very forced."

Cahn said it would be more effective if Clinton adopts policies important to Millennials, such as lowering student debt, and if she dispatches surrogates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont to spread that message.

Obama appeared on "Between Two Ferns" in 2014, to both fanfare and surprise.

"This was perhaps the boldest – or most outrageous – example yet of the White House attempt to market the Affordable Care Act to young people using nontraditional media," wrote the Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Grier at the time.

Beyond the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Grier added, it might have been the administration's goal to sell the Democratic brand to young people.

But both the president and the Democratic candidates' appearances on the series could be part of their efforts to reach their audiences directly, instead of through the traditional press. The Obama administration has sidestepped the press, for instance, by creating its own Instagram and Flickr accounts, New York Times reporter Amy Chozick told "The Brian Lehrer Show" on WNYC radio. The Clinton campaign has launched its own "apolitical" podcast, added Ms. Chozick. 

"It's an incredibly controlled outlet," said Chozick, who has covered Clinton since 2007. She said doesn't expect Clinton to veer off her campaign message, making news, instead of responding to reporters' questions.

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