Small Talk

Brad Jenkins Bridges Hollywood and D.C.

Remember when President Obama was on Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis? Funny or Die DC's Brad Jenkins tells us exactly how that happened, and why it was so important to the Affordable Care Act.

Brad Jenkins is the Executive Producer of “Funny or Die DC,” the new Washington branch of the Emmy-winning comedy website. But Brad’s last gig was in the Obama Administration, where he was a Director Of Engagement to the creative community. He gave us an inside look at his role in the Obama White House, and why it was so important for the President to appear on Between Two Ferns.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Did you make mix tapes for the President that explained True Detective? What was your job?

Brad Jenkins: In our office, there had to be someone when a celebrity was in town. If someone asks to have dinner or there’s a celebrity who wants a tour, there would just be someone at the White House who would have to do that. And so it was awesome. My wife was so jealous because I would come home each day and tell her that I like hung out with Rihanna for eight hours. It’s a cool world.

That was not my only job. I did a lot of outreach to the progressive community as well, but the creative community was important for a lot of the president’s agenda items. Working with the creative community, they all have very large platforms and then you had to reach people so we would also be proactive about reaching the creative community as well.

Rico Gagliano: Speaking of which, you got the president to appear on Zach Galifianakis, the comedian’s rather absurd talk show, “Between Two Ferns.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: I feel like after you pulled that off there would just be an urge to get the President on everything. Just his being there is hilarious. Give us an example of something you were like, “You have to do this,” and the President just said, “Nope, I’m not going to do that.”

Brad Jenkins: Honestly, most things. Most things you pitch to the president similar to this, there’s a huge, “No.” The reason why that worked and the reason why we did it was, it was a little bit of crisis control, because we had a number of ideas for the President to get out the word about the Affordable Care Act.

Most of them got batted down because they were mostly silly ideas like this. But then the website didn’t work and we were down. The website didn’t work for two months, which was very embarrassing, but it was also very important for us to reach young people. We needed young people to enroll on these exchanges in order for it to work. We had to do something very big and bold, and we had all this data and all these metrics to prove that this video is actually going to reach the demographic that we had to reach.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Zach Galifianakis would not be my first conduit to the people.

Brad Jenkins: Right. We had to reach largely men. the vast majority of young uninsured were young men, and those videos each averaged like ten to fifteen million (views) a piece.

Rico Gagliano:  Oh my god.

Brad Jenkins: And it’s in an interview format that allows the President to kind of poke fun at himself and the Affordable Care Act, and we can do it very quickly. From when we decided to do it with the help of Bradley Cooper, which is another story, to when we actually released it, it was two weeks. The video was viewed 40 million times in three days. It was incredible.

Brendan Francis Newnam: And YouTube didn’t crash.

Brad Jenkins: We actually had to talk to the Center for Medicaid Services, who does the website, and we had to let them know that this was going to happen. We’re going to get traffic like we’ve never received before.

Rico Gagliano: Forty million high guys at home are about to call in.

Brendan Francis Newnam: The optometrists were overjoyed.

[This interview has been edited and condensed.]