Continuing her quest for the ever-elusive millennial vote, on Thursday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton appeared on Zach Galifianakis’ Between Two Ferns . Some are calling this a smart move on Clinton’s part, taking a page out of President Barack Obama’s book — he appeared on Galifianakis’ show in 2014 to encourage young people to sign up for health care. Unfortunately for her campaign, Clinton forgot to do the one thing she went there to do: Ask people to vote for her. Perhaps even more problematic, Clinton also doesn’t look like she’s having very much fun (even though I’m certain that making this show was a lot of fun); if one of the goals of the appearance was to help her connect with young voters, I’m not sure it worked.
The show’s setup — an inept, bumbling interviewer on a low-rate set who somehow manages to get reluctant, top-flight guests — makes for excellent (if not sometimes painful) comedy. But as much as it thrives on the tension between Galifainakis’ variously inane, idiotic, and insensitive questions and the disdain with which his interviewees hold him, the key ingredient that makes it work is the wink-and-nod — sometimes so slight as to be nearly invisible — that really, everyone’s just playin’.
Clinton, however, plays it so dry (or was directed to play it so dry) that it’s easy to miss some of her funniest lines. Galifianakis starts off the interview by saying, “Critics have questioned some of your decision-making recently, and by you doing this show I hope it finally lays that to rest,” to which Clinton responds, “Oh, I think it absolutely proves their case, don’t you?” It’s a Dowager Countess-level burn, but it passes by so fast that I almost missed it.
This isn’t to say Clinton can’t do comedy — her appearance on Saturday Night Live last October was thoroughly enjoyable, but also played to her own comedic strengths. When Kate McKinnon, playing Clinton, says to the real Clinton (who’s playing a bartender) “I wish you could be President,” Clinton responds with an enthusiastic, “Me too!” It was an authentic moment, but funny, as well.
On the other hand, when Obama appeared on BTF, it was clear that, as much as he was playing into the guest’s role of lightly (or maybe not-so-lightly) abusing the host, he was having a good time. (You can tell early on in the episode that POTUS is enjoying himself, when after being asked an inane question about Thanksgiving turkey pardons, he says to Galifianakis, “Was that depressing to you? Seeing one turkey taken out of circulation? A turkey you couldn’t eat?” When Galifianakis only stares at him in response, Obama can’t help but smile.)
But because Obama was there with a clear purpose — to reach out to young people and get them to sign up for health care, a crucial component for the success of Obamacare’s marketplaces — when the time finally comes for his pitch, Galifianakis groans and begrudgingly asks, “What’d you come here to plug?” which makes the hard sell easier to swallow.
Clinton, on the other hand, never actually makes a pitch for anything. She doesn’t ask for people's votes; she doesn’t talk about how Trump’s presidency could hurt the nation for decades to come, nor does she discuss his most poisonous policies (or, for that matter, her more progressive ones).
By failing to use the conceit of the show — which allows for earnest pitches to be made to jaded millennials — she’s leaving votes on the table. And in a race this close, that’s a luxury she can’t afford.